Managing railway waste

  • 14/05/2003

Managing railway waste The Indian Railways (ir) is the second biggest railway network in Asia. It is the biggest public sector enterprise in India and connects the entire country. It is unfortunate that such a huge establishment does not have a specific policy vis-a-vis the environment. One of the biggest worries is the amount of solid waste (mainly paper and plastic) generated each day by train passengers across the country. As of now, there is no comprehensive system to collect and manage this enormous amount of waste.
Nature of waste It is necessary to understand the nature and amount of waste generated by ir every day in order to know the magnitude of the problem. Solid waste generated in trains can be categorised as biodegradable, slowly degradable and non-biodegradable. The biodegradable waste component consists primarily of leftover food of passengers; the slowly degradable waste component includes paper waste (like newspapers, disposable cups, food containers and lids); and the non-biodegradable waste component comprises plastic waste (like carry bags, bottles, cups and lids). The quantity of plastic and paper waste generated daily by the railways is vast.

Pantry car disposables   Daily express waste
Paper containers (meals)
Paper cups
Plastic water pouches
Paper containers
Paper cups (coffee/tea)
Mineral water bottles
Plastic bottles (mineral water)
Water pouches
Paper plates / containers (tiffin)
Note: Estimated waste generated by express trains

Amount of waste A random survey of four express trains was conducted at the Surat railway station in Gujarat to get an idea of the amount of solid waste generated per train per day. Managers of the pantry car were asked about the number of meals, coffee/tea cups, meal containers and mineral water bottles they sell (see table: Pantry car disposables). It was assumed that after consumption of food, the meal containers, coffee/tea cups and mineral water bottles would be thrown away as waste. Thus by counting the number of items sold per day the amount of waste generated was calculated. Assuming that these disposable items are thrown out of the train after consumption (the only option passengers have!), we found that each train generates 1,100 paper plates and containers, 1,750 paper cups and 800 plastic items (pouches and bottles) per day. These figures would assume alarming proportions when disposable items sold by other vendors as also the total number of trains plying per day in the country are considered.

According to our calculations, there are 842 express trains in India. We took only such trains into consideration, and used the figures arrived at in the Surat survey as the basis for the amount of waste generated by each train. The final results were shocking (see table: Daily express waste).

All this waste is spread across the length and breadth of the country, contaminating land and soil, and polluting waterbodies. It is imperative that the railways draws up an efficient waste management system. It simply cannot continue to pollute the entire country with its solid waste.

Jiju Cherian Vengal and Kota Sridhar are second year chemical engineering students at Sardar Vallabhai National Institute of Technology, Surat, Gujarat

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