Fold mountains

Solid waste management in India: the challenge of growing mountains of garbage – Landfills

New Delhi: In the national capital Delhi, about 13 km from India Gate, stands a 65 meter high mountain, a mountain of waste in the Ghazipur area. The height of the accumulated waste at the Ghazipur landfill is only eight meters from the iconic Qutub Minar, which is 73 meters high. The landfill, commissioned in 1984 and overflowing since 2002, exceeded capacity two decades ago, but garbage continues to be dumped here. It is not just the story of Ghazipur. There are two other such dumps in Delhi and other cities as well.

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Interestingly, these sites – Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalswa – are actually dumps, not sanitary landfills. What is the difference? Well, a controlled landfill or a scientifically developed landfill is designed to accommodate only residual solid waste and inert waste. Elaborating on the same, Subhasish Parida, Program Manager, Center for Science and Environment, said:

A scientific discharge must have a gas collection system, as some organic materials can also end up in the landfill along with inert materials that can generate methane. There must be a system to collect and treat leachate (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents). The municipal corporation must monitor groundwater, surface water and ambient air, ensuring that the landfill does not cause any kind of pollution.

Read also : National Green Tribunal orders Delhi government and municipalities to clean up old waste dumps

Why open dumping of waste is a health hazard

A Dump is essentially land used by a local agency for solid waste disposal without following sanitary landfill principles. Speaking specifically about Delhi, Richa Singh, a landfill expert from the Center for Science and the Environment, said:

These landfills are just a land used for dumping the waste, so there is no barrier layer at the bottom, no facility to treat the hazardous liquid generated by the waste and also the gases emitted from the landfill. During this whole waste dumping process, there is a lot of leachate that is produced, as well as a lot of gases such as H2S gas (hydrogen sulfide or sewage gas), which is carcinogenic in nature, and gas methane, which has enormous global warming potential.

Ideally, there should be a system to collect the leachate and burn off the methane in the air so the landfill doesn’t catch fire. However, this does not seem to be the case with landfills in Delhi at least. Elaborating further on the impact of landfills being used as landfill, Ms Singh added,

People who live close to 5 km are exposed to many types of contamination. As we all know that underground water is the real source of drinking water, now even if you don’t use this water for drinking purposes, people living nearby use it for washing and cleaning their utensils. As a result, they are exposed to the development of many acute and chronic diseases.

Are sanitary landfills a good option for managing waste?

Sourabh Manuja, a Delhi-based waste management specialist, believes that science dumps are not bad. He says,

Scientific landfills simply take up useful space and are examples of a linear economy concept. Scientific landfills are encapsulated buckets that hold waste, we capture landfill gas and use it, collect leachate and treat it and of course when they are filled they must be scientifically closed, capped and monitored. In the long term, these are much more expensive than waste treatment.

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The Experts’ View on Waste Management in India

The waste problem in India is huge. With the increase in population, the amount of waste generated each day is set to increase. Increasing the number of landfills and dumping waste there is not a solution because landfills can accommodate a limited amount of waste. Unless we want a situation like Delhi where the Ghazipur landfill often catches fire, acting as a health hazard to people living nearby and an environmental hazard as well. So what is the solution? Segregation of waste at source. Poor segregation at source due either to lack of interest of people and companies and/or lack of resources constitutes an obstacle to waste management. Explaining how this can help with waste management, Mr. Manuja said:

Generators must segregate waste at source; collect and transport dry waste to material recovery centers, where it is sorted and sold. Wet waste enters the treatment facility to generate biogas or compost. The products are sold in the market to recover part of the operating costs. Only process rejects and inerts are disposed of in scientifically constructed and operated cells (landfills). Remember that you cannot operate a processing facility without properly linking releases.

Swati Sambyal, independent waste and circular economy expert, resonated with Mr. Manuja’s views and emphasized source separation of waste, which is mandated by law under SWM rules 2016. Ms. Sambyal also insisted on reducing waste at source and managing her waste such as composting wet waste at source.

Many cities also use waste-to-energy plants – waste management facilities that burn waste to generate electricity. Currently, 11 waste-to-energy plants are operational in India. But, to function well, these factories require sorted waste and even then, they do not produce enough energy. Chitra Mukherjee, Consultant, Waste and Sustainable Livelihoods, believes it is time to move from installing WTE plants to creating landfills to focus on decentralized management, i.e. managing local waste. Ms. Mukherjee said,

Whether it is the household, the colony, the market or the office, the waste they produce must be managed at source by them and we must not think about obsolete technologies. We should rely on our waste pickers to sort waste and opt for options such as recycling and reuse.

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NDTV – Dettol has been working for a clean and healthy India since 2014 through the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is led by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, and of humans to each other, with a focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. He insists on the need to take care and consider the health of everyone in India – especially the vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous peoples, different tribes of India, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. With the current Covid-19 pandemicthe need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed because handwashing is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same with emphasizing the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, tackling malnutritionmental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign realized the need to also take care of the health of the ecosystem. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits available resources, but also generates immense pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in an immense loss of biodiversity which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. He has now been described as a “code red for humanity.“The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, Waste Management, plastic ban, manual scan and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also advance the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only a clean Swachh or India where bathroom are used and without open defecation (ODF) status obtained under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a healthy Swasth or India.