Nov 13, 2005

Waste management

(Pic adopoted from Global Development Research Center)

This post is a sequel to my previous post on safety in the laboratory. In India, the awareness on waste management can be described in one word - pathetic. Only in high-profile multi-national industries, there is a proper safety system in place. In a nation where anyone who provides employment is more than welcome, this is the trade-off we get. A few points in this sensitive issue:

* Bhopal gas leak - There are/were many more chemical industries in developed nations than in India... Any disaster of this magnitude elsewhere?

* Even in reputed research institutions like IISc, the waste-management was in an appalling state until a few years ago.. The reason? Proper waste disposal was expensive. As a result, bio wastes were dumped on roadside and toxic stinking chemicals would be just drained into the sink and into the soil of the campus. Now, the chemistry departments pay a sum to a waste-picker who takes care of everywaste, thanks mainly to the efforts of my research supervisor.

* In all metros, the junk near the slums has gone out of hand. Chennai's 'Koovam' river's (!??) smell (?!??) is notoriously infamous. Ganga river is spoilt half the way. This is all due to the negligence of a simple fact that, you cant just dump all the waste (domestic and industrial) into any moving water or a open space near where you live.

* In Tiruppur, the textile-center of South India, the underground water is so badly spoilt that people living in the region are affected by unique, hard-to-recover, expensive-to-cure diseases. That was mainly due to the dyeing industry. A few years ago, there was a huge hue and cry on the possible carcinogenic effect of hair dyes and even shampoos. While much of that was unfounded, the fact that the dyes are bad for health is a bitter truth.

* There was a deadlock between the industries, government and the public on this issue about Tiruppur chemical wastes. After a strict supreme court verdict, the industries' negligence was made aware to the public and there was a situation in which the industries might be closed if they dont put their waste refinement into place. It was politicized and the state government has agreed to help setup a water refinery which would purify all the waste water from industries. Certainly a welcome step, though late, but God knows when it would be implemented.

* One thing is for sure - we (industries, government, public, scientists and officials) are notoriously negligent of the danger of this important issue. We are directly and indirectly playing with the lives of our future generation.


Vanathi said...

Useful post...

ada-paavi!!!! said...

raju that link is regarding a serious economic problem, the tragedy of commons, basically once property isnt privately owned, there is no incentive to maintain it primarily cause the benefits cannot be limited to one person, and this encourages free-loaders. if i implement rainwater harvesting methods in my house, i cannot deny my neighbour th ebenefit my efforts, and he mite not take any effort, it essentially becomes free for him, this means even i wont take the effort.

the same is the case with waste disposal on public property, its cheaper to dump waste on open land and rather than invest in expensive treatment equipment, cause my competitio doesnt invest, and if i invest (assuming i am a tirupur dyer) it affects my competitive ability.

and a private initiative wont work unless the private investor can make money which doesnt seem forthcoming as of now.

the issue of waste disposal is an important one, which needs to be looked at seriously.

ur graph is interesting, but agian i doubt if private investment will be forthcoming.

and no word verification, did u remove it?

Ananth said...


This is Ananth here. I am an avid reader of your Blog ( got the link from Prem P's Blog ) . An interesting post on Waste Management. btw, I am just wondering how wastages/junks are being handled in Western countries ?


NaiKutti said...

great post raju... as vatsan says, when things are to be done for public cause, it gets the least priorities... i think the govt. should "enforce" rules on everyone to get this up to the mark...

recent study of the mumbai beach waters showed that the mercury levels were around 250 times higher than what it should be and many more toxic chemicals at higher percentages... many fishes have died and this water when used for other puposes can affect humans...

Smyta said...


Brilliant post! Well said. For sure there should be a prime need to address such issues!

Hey here is the special invite.Vettala paakoda..Neenga kattayama ennoda tag accept panni, adha honour pannanum.

:-) :-)

Smiles etc.,


Ramana Siddharth said...

absolutely boss!in fact the north chennai thermal power station in madras has been dumping untreated waste and fly ash,hence causing severe depletion in the sea life of that area...also affecting the livlihood of the fisherfolk in and around the pulicat region..medical waste management is also pathetic here.i believe malar hospital dumps loads of hazardous waste into the adyar write more often about such issues!

a thosand bhopals are waiting 2 happen!

btw in the 80 in the ussr there was a disaster in the Chernobyl neclear was hushed up behind the iron curtain

Raju said...

Vanathi, romba santhosham... :-)
Vatsan, thanks for sharing the info on 'tragedy of the commons'. But, there is a difference between that and the current discussion. The problem is, we havent realized the difference. Let me explain:
Any industry has to ensure that the waste it disposes is devoid of harmful substances. In chemistry, we dont consider anything other than water as harmless, so, that translates to "The industry can only dispose pure, unadulterated water out of its drain". Any other thing has to be dealt according to the procedure. I am sure this clause is there in the "Environmental pollution act" but most of the concerned bodies dont follow it.

The example you mentioned, any "dyer from Tiruppur", however small scale his unit is, cant get away by throwing out polluted water. So, this rule, if followed strictly as it is supposed to be, would cover everyone and so there is no question of advantage to someone at the cost of the other..

The problem is, as I stated at the beginning of this comment, it looks like the industry is doing a favor to the society by refining the water.. No, dammit.. they HAVE TO DO IT.. Now, after the severness of the situation in Tiruppur and the politicizing of the issue, the government has agreed to setup a refinery.. That is not their job.. Even if the government sets it up, they cant afford to do it FREE for the industries.. That is equivalent to using the common man's tax money for the benefit of those industries.
Ananth, Welcome here!! Glad to know that I too have got an avid reader.. as you have seen, I do write about cricket too, so hopefully you would have many dishes to choose from.. :-)

In the West, the waste management is enforced extremely strictly. The awareness is very high. The industries are top-notch.. (Erin Brockovich is a good example of what can happen to an erring industry). They even fire people who dont follow safety and proper waste management in their work place.. These are the two things that one gets to learn first. In academic labs too, it is very good. We dont dump anything but water and, may be some harmless salt solutions into the drain. Everything else is stored as 'Waste' and is properly taken care (burnt/recycled, depending on the nature of the waste).

Raju said...

Karthik, thanks..
Yeah, there is no 'public cause'.. Several industries have their staff quarters close to the workplace. If waste are dumped nearby, their employees would be the first to get affected, right? Some of the effects wouldnt be seen immediately.. but could cause serious genetic effects. I agree with you about the government's role.. the problem is that, the government officials bribe money from the industrialists and dont take the proper action. They and their family can drink mineral water all the time but what about the poor public?

Mercury is terribly toxic.. All of its compounds would be lethal to humans after some threshold.. Mumbai's industries must have contributed to the raising mercury levels. Sad to know that.. Even taking bath in such waters would give rise to skin diseases.
Smyta, welcome and thanks..

hahaha.. i was just kidding about your tag invite.. I will, but plz give me some time..
Sid, see... if a public-sector industry such as the thermal power station doesnt clean up its waste water, what can we do to the private industries? As for Mumbai, sad to know about sealife depletion in Chennai.. If you break any small link in a ecosystem, the effects would be huge..

Medical waste.. OMG.. that is damn dangerous and the effects are immediate and lethal too.. I have read that rug-pickers go to such junkyards without any protection to collect disposable plastic waste.. They are putting their and their dear-ones' life into big risk..

Certain wastes like these are non-biodegradable, infectious and pose a grave danger to the environment..

Me too said...

I am not sure if it is an Indian quality but we want to be in par with the latest in every department but wouldn't learn/follow the full cycle.
On a related note, in those days it used to be the simple Vinayakar clay idols immersion in the water but now they have become colourful(chemicals added)gigantic idol procession increasing the unnecessary risk.

P.S. - Adede, 'WV' thookiteengala!

Raju said...

Aparna, I dont know about other developing nations but pollution in our country (air, water, ground, underground) is increasing day by day.. Something has to be done about it soon. Negligence and general lack of awareness are the reasons.
Your note on the pillaiyar idols is true.. The color and other additives do no good to our oceans, no matter how vast they are..

On the PS, Yes, WV gone.. Ennoda oru chinna comfort-kaaga unga ellaraiyum tough words type panna vaikkiradhu enakku sariya padalai.. Added to that the effect of my post on the possible future 'good words'.. :-)

ada-paavi!!!! said...

raju, neengal sollarathu is when u enforce it, india has an exhaustive enviromnental protection act, water act etc which covers all this, but th efact is that it isnt enforced.

since it isnt enforced it now depends on individual manufactureres, in that case this issue of common property comes in. otherwise like u say if it was enforced then the issue doesnt arise.

the important question is why cant we like follow certain ethical practises without a watchdog? do we always need some form of regulation to act??

Raju said...

Vatsan, there is no reason why we shouldnt enforce it... Income-tax, sales-tax, etc. are 'uncomfortable' for a majority of people, right? When they are enforced strictly, why not something as important as this? Just like how one doesnt bother about throwing garbages on the street, this one too has got neglected.

When it comes to the choice of individual manufacturers, all they look for is profit and more profit.. Why will they spend on something they can get away with?

We do require a watchdog until everyone concerned thinks with some common sense.. Do you think the industrialists dont know what they are doing? I am sure it would be there in several clauses that they have signed.. either they havent read it properly or most conveniently ignore that. Ivangalai ellam enna panrathu? (Anniyan style-le neenga kekkureenga.. naanumdhan..) :-)

kalai said...

nice post...i agree with u! :)

Raju said...

Kalai, thanks..

Anonymous said...

Could the use of Domestic Waste Disposal Units help to reduce the amount of actual waste?