Environment: Zero waste is possible

Published February 28, 2016
Garbage heaps along the streets in the city
Garbage heaps along the streets in the city

According to the preamble of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board Act, the board has been established “for the collection and disposal of solid and other waste in the province of Sindh.” It further says: “Whereas it is expedient and necessary to establish a board called the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board for collection and disposal of all solid waste, to arrange for effective delivery of ‘sanitation services’, to provide a pollution-free environment and to deal with other relevant matters”.

Established last year by the Sindh government, the board is responsible for executing projects of municipal, medical, hazardous and industrial wastes. Surprisingly, the provision and delivery of sanitation services (sewage collection, treatment and disposal, sanitation services in rural areas) is also the responsibility of the board.

While the establishment of a board is a welcome move, it is also a bit confusing as municipal functions are the responsibility of the local government. The Karachi Municipal Corporation looks after solid waste management in Karachi, while Hyderabad Municipal Corporation handles solid waste in Hyderabad.


Public awareness and attitudes to waste can substantially affect the overall solid waste management system


The board has issued an EoI (Expression of Interest) for waste-to-energy (WTE) projects in Karachi. This is rather surprising, as more essential functions need to be attended to first. Waste-to-energy projects are, in fact, ‘waste-of-energy’ projects. There are a few WTE plants in the developed countries and, almost none in developing countries.

WTE plants produce particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), oxides of nitrogen, dioxins and furans (the latter two being highly toxic substances). According to the World Health Organisation, “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” The US Environmental Protection Agency says, “Dioxins and furans can cause a number of health effects. It is likely to be a cancer- causing substance to humans.”

Since sanitation is also the responsibility of the board, it is of utmost importance that the board market sanitation in the rural areas of Sindh (availability of affordable toilets; strengthening the supply chain; creating demand; and working on behavioural change and hygiene), and provide cost-effective wastewater treatment plants in all towns of Sindh.

There are more pressing issues that affect people in Sindh. In Karachi, hardly 40pc of the waste is collected at a time due to lack of resources and a poorly administered collection and disposal system. Uncollected garbage in the form of garbage heaps along the roads is a common sight in Karachi and other towns.

Other pressing issues include roadside burning of solid waste in Karachi and Hyderabad, and dumping of industrial waste on the banks of Phuleli Canal, Hyderabad; waste reduction and recycling; improving waste collection; use of GPS (Global Positioning System) for improved collection routes; control and treatment of healthcare and industrial waste; treatment of sludge from industrial wastewater treatment plants; control of e-waste; and development of engineered landfills.

In addition to municipal, industrial and hospital waste issues, Karachi and Hyderabad face significant problems of disposal and elimination of waste. There is increasing trend of demolitioning old buildings. This would add a fairly large volume to the overall waste generation — nearly 10,000 tons / day in Karachi. This particular waste is troublesome, since it occupies a relatively large space and cannot be compressed. This, in turn, will increase cost of transportation of waste to landfill sites.

Public awareness and attitudes to waste can affect the solid waste management system. All steps in municipal waste management starts from households. In Karachi, rubbish is often thrown outside homes, instead of dustbins. Though, this is an issue of behavioural change, a simple and effective way out could be to educate school children. Children have proved to be instrumental in motivating behavioural change in their houses. They can motivate their mothers and maids to put household waste in dustbins.

Institutions should also develop a strategy for meeting challenges imposed by climate change on solid waste operations and, implement adaptation and resilience programmes. For example, increased precipitation will cause inundation of the road network and landfills; landfill slope instability; increase leachate (liquid runoff from the dump sites, containing high levels of contaminants that can pollute groundwater, upon seepage) from landfills requiring control and treatment. On the other hand, increased temperatures will impact biological processes (composting and anaerobic digestion) and can cause health problems for outdoor workers (skin and eye infections).

Over the years, new concepts and green initiatives have been developed in solid waste management. For example, new concepts exist for developing new techniques for landfills, leachate treatment, and minimising the environmental impact of landfilling. Another new and emerging green initiative is the adoption of zero waste, the idea of which is to convert the landfill site into a green area.

The writer earned his Master of Engineering in Water and Wastewater Engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 28th, 2016

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