Eradicating marine litter and mismanaged plastic waste in Kerala, India

Kerala is a state in the south west of India with a coastline stretching over 590km (roughly 10 per cent of India’s coastline). As many residents do not have access to formal waste management services – and due to the geography of the region – a lot of plastic waste can become marine litter.

The World Bank has been working closely with the Government of Kerala State to develop a strategic plan to improve waste management. To support these efforts, the World Bank commissioned Resource Futures in partnership with University of Leeds to conduct a technical analysis of plastic waste management issues in Kerala.

Objectives

The objectives of the analysis were to:

  • Understand the scale of plastic pollution in the Kerala state;
  • Provide technical rationale to identify the major coastal hotspots and land-based hotspots, which are connected through rivers that serve as conduits for marine litter;
  • Develop recommendations for improving solid waste management systems and reducing mismanaged plastic waste; and
  • Propose a strategy and action plan for policy and investments for plastic waste management as part of municipal waste management in Kerala.

Approach

We quantified the sources, pathways, and fates of plastic waste, including marine litter in Kerala. To ensure the most robust results possible, a value-chain approach was taken, involving detailed research on specific waste flows from households, commercial and industrial organisations, and institutes, as well as other related sectors such as the tourism and fishing industry.

Through analysis of multiple data sets and key stakeholder interviews, we established a baseline (2020) of waste arisings for the state. The University of Leeds SPOT model was used to analyse the sources and pathways of plastic waste, and how the dense network of rivers and waterways transports mismanaged waste to the marine environment. Based on our research of the plastics value chain, the solid waste management sector in Kerala and the related policy environment, we created forecasts for likely waste arising in the short (five year), medium (10 year) and long-term (20 year).

The business as usual (BAU) forecast projected both a growth in waste and a change in its composition due to the key socio-economic drivers of population growth, urbanisation, and economic development. These projections were based on the latest research and linked to public data of forecasts for these factors (population, GDP, etc.). Impacts of Covid-19, along with newly introduced legislation such as single-use plastics bans, were also accounted for.

Our team constructed two intervention scenarios representing different levels of policy and support to address mismanaged plastic waste and reduce marine plastic. We also built an impact model linked to the waste arisings forecasts. This estimated the social, economic and environmental impacts such as health impacts (from mismanaged plastic waste), wider economic impacts (in the form of loss of natural capital), greenhouse gas emissions and livelihoods/jobs.

Outcomes

The models were used to assess the plastic waste flows, costs, and benefits of intervention strategies over the time period 2020 to 2040.

  • Scenario 1 looked at the business as usual (BAU), showing what would happen without any intervention to improve plastic waste management;
  • Scenario 2 looked at a relatively low-cost approach with focussed interventions on plastic waste (albeit a linear economy waste management strategy); and
  • Scenario 3 explored a more ambitious scenario moving towards a circular economy.

Each scenario considered the operating expenses and capital investment costs required, as well as the wider opportunities and challenges associated with different options for plastic waste management. Policy, industry co-ordination and investment recommendations were made for each scenario to form a cohesive strategy for improving plastic waste management over the next 20 years.

Our mass forecasts of waste arisings and corresponding key statistics are shown here for business as usual (BAU), and the two intervention scenarios.

SPOT model results reveal (a) hotspots of plastic litter originating from land, and b) the main rivers transporting this plastic:

 

The main rivers transporting plastic

Note: Outputs are for illustrative purposes only and are not the actual results for Kerala.

Waste forecasts showing rising levels of plastic pollution (BAU), and how the two interventions can reduce plastic and divert mismanaged waste into formal waste management systems:

Waste forecasts showing rising levels of plastic pollution

Note: Outputs are for illustrative purposes only and are not the actual results for Kerala.

The interventions reduce mismanaged plastic waste and open burning, whilst increasing recycling rates. The third scenario uses circular economy principles to act faster with more profound effect:

Waste intervention data

Note: Outputs are for illustrative purposes only and are not the actual results for Kerala.

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