The pristine beauty of goa is unparalleled not just in India, but all over the world. The clear beaches with it's luscious sand and sparking water have lured visitors as a safe haven to ride out the lockdown.
Unfortunately a growing sight all over the state have been the plumes of smoke that can be seen rising everywhere during sunrise and sunset. The smoke envelopes the rolling landscape in a haze. The stinging smoke is from residents burning plastic garbage, leaves and other waste!
I spoke to several of the residents to understand the reason for burning garbage instead of disposing it in a more sanitary manner. The reason is complicated and multifold. A few residents were unconcerned of the health and environmental impacts. They shrugged away the matter saying 'the smoke keeps mosquitoes and bugs away' and 'this is the way they've always done'.
Other residents knew that burning and inhaling plastic garbage is harmful but they said that the garbage pickup was too infrequent and not well managed. They either left the garbage on the roads or burned it.
"Our waste has been piling up for the last few months", says Manorath, a resident of Sangolda. "The van is so overloaded in when it arrives, it can only take a little bit of waste from everyone. The rest is left behind. So a lot get tired of waiting and burn it"
The waste management infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the exploding waste that is being created by consumers today. Average waste generated by Indians was 9kg/year in 2010, this has increased to 20kg/year. Americans create the highest amount of waste at 100kg/year, Indian consumption is trending towards these numbers as well.
Municipal facilities are completely overwhelmed in managing this waste creation. Trucks are loaded well beyond capacity. With waste being loaded over the cabine and even in the passenger seat! But it's nowhere near the collection capacity that is required.
The problem unfortunately doesn't end with collection. Landfills in goa are completely overcapacity as well. According to (Das et al., 1998) in India, more than 90% of the MSW generated finds its way to the landfill sites to be incinerated or landfilled. Landfills regularly catch fire. Residents feel they might as well burn the garbage rather than transport it somewhere else and burn it!
Unfortunately, none of the 191 village panchayats furnished waste management data to any government agency for the last 5 years. As a result, the state government has no data on waste generated, collected, and processed
In the works now are new landfills and energy-to-waste plant that hopes to convert some of this plastic to energy. We will discuss more about the viability of energy-to-waste plants in an upcoming posts. Meanwhile 1000s of crores of taxpayer money continues to be spent to pay for packaging waste generated by a few companies. The responsibility and cost has been shifted to consumers and taxpayers.
"Corporates must pay for the pollution created by their packaging", says Pritika Kumar, an advocate of public policy platform People-India. She considers the recent fines against PepsiCo, Bisleri and Coca Cola a huge success. "These companies must be held responsible for the millions of tonnes of plastic sold. They must take back their plastic and be responsible for it's proper disposal" she says.