Environmental Issues: Pollution and Waste | UGC NET Paper 1

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Environmental Issues

Environmental Issues (Pollution Waste): Environment has been supplying us the different types of resources to live life since our appearance on the earth. In return, we have damaged the environment severely.

Environmental Issues: Local, Regional and Global

The human activities have polluted the ecology and have modified the environmental structure. Due to changes in the originality of nature, we are facing different types of environmental issues at local, regional and global levels.

Environmental Issues at Local level

  • Drinking water
  • Poor Air Quality
  • Infertility of soil
  • Health issues due to Hazardous waste

Environmental Issues at Regional Level

  • Deforestation
  • Desertification
  • Pollution
  • Diminishing of Fossil Fuels

Environmental Issues at Global Level

  • Global warming
  • Depletion of the Ozone layer
  • Acid Rain
  • Climate Change

Further reading: Human and Environment Interaction

UNIT IX – People, Development and Environment (Click below on the topic to read the study notes)
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The addition of unwanted substances in a concentration that has an adverse effect on organisms and the environment is called pollution.


  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Soil pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Waste (Solid, Liquid, Biomedical, Hazardous, Electronic)

Air Pollution

According to NASA, the composition of air (gases) in Earth’s atmosphere include:

Nitrogen — 78 per cent
Oxygen — 21 per cent
Argon — 0.93 per cent
Carbon dioxide — 0.04 per cent
Trace amounts of neon, helium, methane, krypton and hydrogen, as well as water vapour.

If there is some disturbance in the proportion of gases or the addition of some unwanted substances (like smoke, dust particles etc.) in atmospheric air, then it is called Air Pollution.

Sources of Air Pollution

The sources of air pollution can be divided into two categories (i) Natural, and (ii) Human-made

A. Natural sources

  • Ash from burning volcanoes, dust from the storm, forest fires
  • Pollen grains from flowers in the air are natural sources of pollution

B. Anthropogenic (human-made) sources

  • Power stations using coal or crude oil release CO2 in the air
  • Also, furnaces using coal, cattle dung cakes, firewood, kerosene,
  • Steam engines used in railways, steamers, motor vehicles, etc. give out CO2.
  • So do Motor and internal combustion engines which run on petrol, diesel, kerosene. Vegetable oils, kerosene, and coal as household fuels
  • Sewers and domestic drains emanating foul gases
  • Pesticide residues in air

Major Air Pollutants

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Fluorides
  • Oxides of Nitrogen
  • Smog
  • Aerosol Spray Propellants
  • Domestic Air Pollutants

Water Pollution

Any physical, biological or chemical change in water quality that adversely affects living organisms or makes water unsuitable for desired use is called water pollution.

Sources of Water Pollution

There are two sources of water pollution on the basis of the origin of pollutants: (i) Point sources and (ii) Non-point sources

(i) Point sources: Those sources which discharge water pollutants directly into the water are known as point sources of water pollution. Oil wells situated near water bodies, factories. power plants, underground coal mines, etc. are point sources of water pollution.

(ii) Non-point sources: Those sources which do not have any specific location for discharging pollutants, in the water body are known as non-point sources of water pollution. Run-offs from agricultural fields, lawns, gardens, construction sites, roads and streets are some non-point sources of water pollution.

Soil Pollution

Addition of substances that change the quality of soil by making it less fertile and unable to support life is called soil pollution.

Sources of soil pollution

Soil pollution is caused due to:

  • Domestic sources: plastic bags, kitchen waste, glass bottles, and paper
  • Industrial sources: chemical residue, fly ash, metallic waste, and
  • Agricultural residues: fertilizers and pesticides.

Soil Erosion

The process of detaching and removal of loosened soil particles by water (running water, groundwater, rain, sea waves) and the wind is known as soil erosion.

Soil may be eroded by water and wind, each contributing towards a significant amount of soil loss every year in our country.

Types of soil erosion

Wind erosion: Erosion of large quantity of fine soil particles and sand from deserts by wind is known as wind erosion. It is spread over the cultivated land and thus, destroys the fertility of that land.

Sheet erosion: When water moves over the land surface like a sheet, it takes away the topmost thin layer of soil. This phenomenon occurs uniformly on the slopes of hilly areas, riverbeds and areas affected by floods. This type of erosion is known as sheet erosion.

Gully erosion: When water moves down the slope as a channel, it scoops out the soil and forms gullies which gradually multiply and spread over a large area. This type of soil erosion is known as gully erosion.

Noise Pollution

Any unwanted sound is defined as noise. You know that the noises come from traffic, vehicles, especially at peak hour every day, loudspeakers and building construction work. Industries expose their workers to a high level of noises for a long period of work every day.

Prolonged exposure to a high level of noise is harmful. Noise is measured in terms of ‘decibel’ (dB) – a scale expressing the intensity of the sound.

Noise has harmful effects on the human body. The noise of 70-80 dB causes annoyance and irritation. Above this level, breathing rate may be affected, blood vessels may constrict, movement of the digestive canal is disturbed, glandular secretions may be affected. Long exposure to high noise levels can impair hearing.

Pollution Control Legislation in India

Acts Year
Indian Forest Act 1927
Wildlife Protection Act 1972
The water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974
The air (Prevention and control of Pollution) Act 1981
The Environmental (Protection) Act 1986
The National Environmental Tribunal Act 1995

The pollution-related laws like the Water Act (1974), Air Act (1981), and the Environmental Protection Act (1995) do not give the right to an individual to move the court under the environmental laws for damages caused to them by pollution. The right has been vested only in the agencies of the State Government.

Radiation: An Environmental Pollutant

Radiation is one of the chief forms of energy consisting of high energy particles. Radiation could be natural (solar and cosmic) or and human (nuclear). Radiation has also become a major factor causing environmental pollution.

Nuclear Radiation and its harmful effect

Radiations emitted by nuclear substances or wastes (fallout) or from an atomic power plant or an atomic explosion cause nuclear radiation. Nuclear wastes continue to emit radiation for a very long period.

Radioactive Iodine (I-131) and Strontium (Sr-30) are two nuclear wastes from an atomic explosion and may cause cancer of thyroid and cancer of bone narrow/ respectively. By entering the food chain they also get accumulated in high concentration in the body of the top consumer causing a harmful effect on the health of both humans and animals.


As per the oxford dictionary, wastes are the materials that are no longer needed and are thrown away. Waste is the unwanted and unusable materials and is regarded as a substance which is of no use.

Basel Convention by UNEP define wastes “as substances or objects, which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law”.

Types of Waste

  1. Solid Waste
  2. Liquid Waste
  3. Biomedical Waste
  4. Hazardous Waste
  5. Electronic Waste

Classification based on the Sources

Classification of Waste

Solid Waste

Solid waste is the unwanted or useless solid materials generated from human activities in residential, industrial or commercial areas.

It may be categorised in three ways. According to its:

  • origin (domestic, industrial, commercial, construction or institutional)
  • contents (organic material, glass, metal, plastic paper etc)
  • hazard potential (toxic, non-toxin, flammable, radioactive, infectious etc).

It can be classified into different types depending on their source:

  • Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): It consists of household waste, construction and demolition debris (CnD), sanitation residue, and waste from streets, generated mainly from residential and commercial complexes. As per the MoEF it includes commercial and residential waste generated in municipal or notified areas in either solid or semi-solid form excluding industrial hazardous wastes but including treated bio-medical wastes;
  • Industrial Solid Waste (ISW): In a majority of cases it is termed as hazardous waste as they may contain toxic substances, are corrosive, highly inflammable, or react when exposed to certain things e.g. gases.
  • Biomedical waste or hospital waste: It is usually infectious waste that may include waste like sharps, soiled waste, disposables, anatomical waste, cultures, discarded medicines, chemical wastes, etc., usually in the form of disposable syringes, swabs, bandages, body fluids, human excreta, etc. These can be a serious threat to human health if not managed in a scientific and discriminate manner.

Rules and regulations associated with Solid Waste Management (SWM)
Under the 74th Constitutional Amendment, Disposal and management of Municipal Solid Waste are one of the 18 functional domains of the Municipal Corporations and Nagar Panchayats. The various rules and regulations for solid waste management are:

  1. The Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998
  2. Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000
  3. The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011
  4. E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011

Liquid Waste

When water is used once and is no longer fit for human consumption or any other use, it is considered to be a liquid waste. Liquid waste is not only wastewater but also include fats, oils or grease (FOG), used oil, solids, gases, or sludges and hazardous household liquids. Liquid waste is commonly found both in households as well as in industries.

Biomedical Waste

Biomedical waste (BMW) comprises waste generated from hospitals, healthcare facilities and health research laboratories.

Biomedical waste is defined as any waste, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals, or in research activities pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biological.

Examples: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades, etc.

BMW is estimated to be only a small fraction of the MSW generation. About 80 per cent of this waste – called “general waste” – is non-infectious and if segregated can be managed as Municipal Solid Waste. However, the remaining 20 per cent is infectious and hazardous and hence is required to be treated in dedicated facilities.

The major sources of biomedical waste are:

  • Human anatomical waste like tissues, organs and body parts
  • Animal wastes generated during research from veterinary hospitals
  • Microbiology and biotechnology wastes
  • Waste sharps like hypodermic needles, syringes, scalpels and broken glass
  • Discarded medicines and cytotoxic drugs
  • Soiled waste such as dressing, bandages, plaster casts, material contaminated with blood, tubes and catheters
  • Liquid waste from any of the infected areas
  • Incineration ash and other chemical wastes

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous wastes can be defined as “wastes or combinations of wastes that pose a substantial present or potential hazard to humans or other living organisms or natural resources because they are nondegradable or persistent in nature, can be biologically magnified, can be toxic, or may otherwise cause detrimental cumulative effects.”

Hazardous wastes contain organic or inorganic elements that, due to their toxicological, physical, chemical, carcinogenic or persistency properties, may cause:

  • Explosion or fire;
  • Infection, including infection by parasites or their vectors;
  • Chemical instability, reactions or corrosion;
  • Acute or chronic toxic effects;
  • Cancer, mutations or birth defects; or
  • Damage to ecosystems or natural resources

Sources of Hazardous Waste

The term hazardous waste often includes by-products of industrial, domestic, commercial, and health care activities. Rapid development and improvement of various industrial technologies, products and practices may increase hazardous waste generation.

Hazardous waste sources include industry, institutional establishments, research laboratories, mining sites, mineral processing sites, agricultural facilities and the natural environment.

Major hazardous waste sources and their pollution routes in the environment are listed below.

Agricultural land and agro-industry: Hazardous wastes from agricultural land and agro-industry can expose people to pesticides, fertilizers and hazardous veterinary product wastes.

Domestic: Households stock various hazardous substances such as batteries and dry cells, furniture polishes, wood preservatives, stain removers, paint thinners, rat poisons, herbicides and pesticides, mosquito repellents, paints, disinfectants, and fuels (i.e. kerosene) and other automotive products. These can present a variety of dangers during storage, use and disposal.

Mines and mineral processing sites: Mining and mineral processing sites handle hazardous products that are present in the additives, the products and the wastes.

Health care facilities: Health care facilities are sources of pathological waste, human blood and contaminated needles. Specific sources of these wastes include dentists, morticians, veterinary clinics, home health care, blood banks, hospitals, clinics and medical laboratories.

Commercial wastes: Commercial waste sources include gasoline stations, dry cleaners and automobile repair shops (workshops). The types of hazardous wastes generated by these sources depend on the services provided.

Institutional hazardous waste sources: Institutional hazardous waste sources are mainly research laboratories, research centres and military installations.

Industrial hazardous waste sources: Hazardous wastes are created by many industrial activities. For example, the hazardous wastes from the petroleum fuel industry include the refinery products (fuels and tar), impurities like phenol and cyanides in the waste stream, and sludge flushed from the storage tanks.

Solid waste disposal sites: These are mainly disposal sites for municipal solid waste, but hazardous wastes that have not been properly separated from other wastes are also at these sites. In developing countries, solid waste disposal sites are a major source of pollutant-laden leachate to surrounding areas, as well as recyclable materials for scavengers, who can collect and resell waste materials that have been exposed to or that contain hazardous substances.

Contaminated sites: These are sites that are contaminated with hazardous wastes due to activities that use or produce hazardous substances or due to accidental spills. Former sites of industries that used or produced hazardous materials belong to this group.

Building materials: Roofs and pipes made of materials incorporating asbestos, copper, or other materials may present a source of hazardous waste.


Rapid growth of technology, up-gradation of technical innovations, and a high rate of obsolescence in the electronics industry have led to one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world which consist of end of life electrical and electronic equipment product such as: Refrigerator, Washing machines, Computers and Printers, Televisions, Mobiles, Ipods etc. Many of which contain toxic materials.

E-waste or electronic waste broadly describes loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, broken, electrical or electronic devices.

Pollutant Occurrence Liquid crystal, Lithium, Mercury Nickel Alloys, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) Selenium, Silver Zinc, etc.

The laws concerning Waste Management in India

Year Law
1974 The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
1975 The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules
1977 The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act
1978 Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules
1981 The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
1986 The Environment (Protection) Act
1989 The Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules
1991 The Public Liability Insurance Act
1995 The National Environment Tribunal Act
1997 The National Environment Appellate Authority Act
1998 The Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules
2001 Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules
2008 Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling & Transboundary Movement) Notified 2008
2010 National Green Tribunal Act
2011 The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules
2011 E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules


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