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Lessons for Tamil Nadu…

I’m an avid traveller. I moved out of Chennai to Stockholm. Living in a city with -20 degree temperature and no sign of sun for days was initially uncomfortable. I understand change is the only thing that never changes. I have started to appreciate the several better things out here like the Swede’s environment and other social concerns.

A thing close to my heart is waste management. I used to segregate waste in my home in Chennai and maintained the weight of the waste that went to the landfill. To see that being practised as a habit and the well established system in Sweden have great lessons.

Sweden and Tamil Nadu – far yet near…

Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe. Two-thirds of its land is covered by forest. 99 per cent of the waste is recycled. While Sweden is three times larger than Tamil Nadu, the population of Sweden is just one-eighth of the state’s. In renewable energy, Sweden aims to become one of the first countries to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2040. It has already reached its 2020 target of 50 per cent. On the same lines, Tamil Nadu stands a leader in renewable energy with an installed capacity of 16,223 MW.

While Tamil Nadu does not have efficient systems like Sweden’s, it has taken a firm first step by banning single-use plastics. (This has still not been done in Sweden!). By adopting effective waste management practices Tamil Nadu could become a role model in yet another aspect.

Sweden’s recycling excellence

Traditionally, Sweden has been a waste-segregating nation. Along all roads one sees an array of bins designated to specific wastes like plastics, metals, packaging papers, newspapers and other papers, transparent glass, coloured glass, batteries and one to drop used clothes, shoes… The waste hierarchy of Sweden starts from waste prevention followed by reuse, recycling and biological treatment, energy recovery and disposal to landfills.

Sweden uses advanced technologies and methods in its waste treatment plants to segregate wastes and to treat them accordingly. Different kinds of by-products are reused, burnt for electricity and heating or sent to landfills.

Extensive use of Data

Sweden gathers and uses data extensively to devise strategies and to predict future trends. According to
Avfall Sverige’s Swedish Waste Management 2018 report, the quantity of household waste treated was 4,771,450 tonnes. Every Swede produced on an average 466 kg of household waste in 2018, compared to 473 kg per person in 2017. See the graphical representation below on how the waste is managed effectively.

Energy from waste

Sweden recovers more energy from waste than any other country in Europe – approximately 3 MWh per tonne. During winter, temperatures can drop to -39 degree celsius in northern Sweden. Waste is used as a fuel in the district heating systems. In 2018, 17.5 TWh of energy was produced, of which 15.3 TWh was used for heating and 2.2 TWh for electricity.

The capacity of the energy recovery plants in Sweden is greater than the domestic generation of combustible waste. In 2018, to feed these plants, Sweden imported, 1,534,100 tonnes of waste from other European countries.
Also, more than 200 buses, fleets of garbage collection trucks and some taxis and private cars are powered by methane biogas produced from 100,000 tonnes of food and organic waste each year.

In Sweden when a landfill is full, it is capped with material (in multiple layers) inter alia, to prevent rainwater from penetrating the landfill site and becoming contaminated through contact with the waste.

Prevention and reuse

The two main pillars are prevention and reuse. Avfall Sverige has adopted a tough target: by 2025, the total volume of food and residual waste shall be decreased by 25 per cent per person in comparison to 2015. This is known as the 25/25 target. In 2015, the average volume of food and residual waste was 225 kilogrammes per person nationally and a 25 per cent reduction means 168.75 kg per person.

Sweden has a large reuse market. Approximately 26,800 tonnes of materials and textiles were collected for reuse in 2018. The world’s first recycling mall, ReTuna, is located in Eskilstuna and run by a municipality-owned company. Here it is easy for visitors to just drop off reusable toys, furniture, clothes, decorative items and electronic devices in the mall’s depot. The staff assesses what is usable and not and the items are then distributed to the recycling shops in the mall. The shop’s staff then do a second assessment, when they choose things that could be repaired, fixed, converted, refined and ultimately sold. This business concept is working well since 2015; and in 2018, the mall earned SEK 11.7 million in sales for recycled products.

Lessons for Tamil Nadu

There are 12 corporations, 124 municipalities and 528 town panchayats in Tamil Nadu. According to the Annual Report 2017-18 of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, solid waste generation averaged 14,600 tonnes per day (TPD). 14,417 TPD was collected of which 4776 TPD treated and 7337 TPD sent as a landfill. The Greater Chennai Corporation generates the highest at 5000; 11 Corporations and all municipalities generate about 7600 TPD and all the town panchayats generate 2000 TPD.

There is still a long way to go for the state. But its firm first step in abolishing single-use plastics is in the right direction. Tamil Nadu can consider using the energy produced from incinerating waste in factories and the biogas for fuelling transportation.

I feel that Tamil Nadu can lead to managing waste. The core to this lies in waste prevention going back to basics: eg. wrapping flowers in banana leaves, using metal cutleries and not plastic, packing food in paper and leaves, carrying a cloth bag … All these were in vogue just 15 years ago! These will take us on to the global arena as a leader in waste management too.

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