The twelfth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal which calls for ensuring responsible consumption and production patterns, recognizes that consumption and production despite being drivers of the economy have destructive impacts on natural resources. It further goes on to say that sustainable consumption and production is about doing more and better with less. It is also about decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyles.
According to UN Environment Programme, sustainable consumption and production refer to “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” (UN Environment Programme).[i]
Some of the facts put out by the above UN report states that each year, an estimated one-third of all food produced, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion, ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices.
Furthermore, it estimates that if people worldwide switched to energy-efficient light bulbs the world would save US$120 billion annually. At the current pace of consumption and production, with the global population reaching 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.[ii]
Build back better
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected all countries of the world, it is also considered an opportunity to ‘build back better’ for doing more and better with less. “Sustainable consumption and production can also contribute substantially to poverty alleviation and the transition towards low-carbon and green economies.” (UN Environment Programme, 2020).
The outbreak of epidemics like COVID-19 reveal the fundamental tenets of the trade-off we consistently face: humans have unlimited needs, but the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them says Pushpam Kumar, Chief Economist of UN Environment Programme.[iii]
In India, we have opportunities for building back better in several sectors like water, energy, food security, waste management, health and habitation and these are all connected. It is well known that humanity has to rely on 0.5% of the freshwater for all its needs[iv]. It has now come to light that 2.1 billion people or 29% of the global population did not use a safely managed drinking water service in 2015, whereas 844 million people still lack even a basic drinking water service[v].
Water related issues in India
Although India is not a water-deficient country, non-availability and non-accessibility of safe drinking water is because both surface and groundwater are getting increasingly polluted due to inadequate and improper wastewater management.
According to the World Bank, India consumes 600 billion cubic metres of water annually, 245 billion cubic metres of this is drawn from aquifers making India one of the most aquifer dependent nations in the world.
More than 90% of the groundwater gets used in irrigation of especially water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane in states like Punjab, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra. These and other states are experiencing alarming rates of groundwater depletion in the absence of recharge plans.
Energy availability and access
While households consume 29% of global energy[vi] and consequently contribute to 21% of resultant CO2 emissions, the good news is that between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of the population relying on clean cooking solutions grew by an annual average of 0.5 percentage points[vii] and the global population without access to electricity fell from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 840 million in 2017[viii].
India won’t need any new power plants for the next three years as it is flush with generation capacity, according to a government assessment. As per the Ministry of Power, India has power plants with the capacity to generate 300 GW. These are operating at 64% capacity because of the inability of state distribution utilities to purchase electricity and sluggish economic growth.[ix]
Energy from renewable sources
Meanwhile, there are plans to build a renewable energy capacity of 175 GW by 2022. The energy deficiency is a low 2.1%, but experts feel latent demand from remote areas is not being accounted for. Ten states have joined the government’s Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna and the centre planned to electrify 18,000 villages by May 2018 to increase access to electrification, which is the bigger issue.
The report titled, ‘Transitions in the Indian Energy Sector - Macro-Level Analysis of Demand and Supply Side Options’ states that beyond 2023-24, new power generation capacity could be all renewables, based on the cost competitiveness of renewables as well as the ability of the grid to absorb large amounts of renewable energy together with battery-based balancing power. With power from solar being Rs.2 per kWh currently, India’s ambitious target of achieving 100,000 MW of solar power by 2022 is achievable.
Waste to energy
Although waste to energy (WTE) has been cited as a renewable energy method, the criteria for using waste as an energy source is non-recyclable waste having calorific value of 1500 Kcal/kg through refuse-derived fuel or by giving away as feedstock. However, with more than 50% of the waste being biodegradable kitchen waste[x] having over 50% moisture, the calorific value of mixed garbage in India is less than 800 Kcal/kg.
With high capital cost, high O&M expenses, the low calorific value of the fuel used and the additional fuel used to burn the waste WTE is unviable[xi] with over 50% of the mixed garbage landing in the landfill, further contributing to its increased size besides pollution of air, soil and water in the surroundings[xii].
This high moisture bio-degradable kitchen waste is unsuitable for incineration but if separated at source, is ideal for biomethanation and the purified biogas can be compressed as bio-CNG for running public transportation[xiii]. This would help in especially meeting the needs of an urbanized population of 51% by 2047 and excess gas can be used for supply to homes for cooking, heating or generating electricity.
Thus the pollution due to increased dumping of mixed waste including domestic hazardous waste in landfills[xiv] can be avoided and we can be ‘doing more and better with less’, which is what is the main goal of SDG 12.
Thus responsible consumption and production not only envisages delinking economic growth with increased stress on the environment and natural resources but it also entails better utilization of waste. For this segregation of different categories of waste at source is mandatory so that they can be obtained in the cleanest form and in adequate volumes to help us generate useful products and energy from it while preventing wastage, pollution due to unsegregated waste and instead find means of conserving our natural resources, air, water, soil and biodiversity, which are vital for our health and well-being.
The current waste management policies and regulations in India especially the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 in coordination with other Rules on Plastics, Construction and Demolition, E-waste point exactly in this direction.
Dr Shyamala Mani is Sr. Advisor, WASH and Waste Management, CEH, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Professor (Retd.) and Advisor, MPD 2041, SBM(U) & Climate Centre for Cities, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA).
[iii] https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/covid-19-and-nature-trade-paradigm accessed on December 21, 2020
[iv] ENSURING SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION PATTERNS https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25764/SDG12_Brief.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y accessed on December 26th, 2020
[v] UN World Water Development Report 2019 https://www.unwater.org/publications/world-water-development-report-2019/ accessed on December 26th, 2020
[vi] Drivers, Trends and Mitigation, Chapter 5, IPCC AR5 https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter5.pdf accessed on December 26th, 2020
[vii] The Energy Progress Report, Tracking SDG 7, 2019, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/2019_Tracking_SDG7_Report.pdf accessed on December 26th, 2020
[ix] National Sample Survey Office 2014; Central Electricity Authority 2014 and Indian Electricity Authority 2014
[x] Composition of Municipal Solid Waste in India, Earth Engineering Centre, 2012
[xi] Sebastian, RM, Kumar D, Alappat, BJ, Current Situation of WtE in Asia, Best Available Technologies (BAT) for WtE in Developing Countries pp 63-105. In: Municipal Solid Waste Energy Conversion in Developing Countries – Technologies, Best Practices, Challenges and Policy Edited Suani Coelho, Shyamala Mani (Regional Editor, Asia) et al, 2020, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
[xii] Samal B., Mani S., Madguni O. (2020).Open Dumping of Waste and Its Impact on Our Water Resources and Health—A Case of New Delhi, India. In: Kalamdhad A. (eds) Recent Developments in Waste Management. Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering, vol 57. Springer, Singapore
[xiii] Pandey S, Pant DC, Biomethanation (Anaerobic Digestion) systems for MSW to Energy in Asian countries, WtE Best Practices and Perspectives in Asia, Shyamala K. Mani, pp 147-184. In: Municipal Solid Waste Energy Conversion in Developing Countries – Technologies, Best Practices, Challenges and Policy Edited Suani Coelho, Shyamala Mani (Regional Editor, Asia) et al, 2020, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
[xiv] Samal B., Mani S., Madguni O. (2020).Open Dumping of Waste and Its Impact on Our Water Resources and Health—A Case of New Delhi, India. In: Kalamdhad A. (eds) Recent Developments in Waste Management. Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering, vol 57. Springer, Singapore.