Clean Tech

Time to dump the dumpyard

Preethi Mehra | Updated on: Oct 23, 2018

Will a decentralised model of solid waste management work better?

Away from the headlines, October 20 saw a fire raging through a 40-acre garbage dump in Delhi. Bhalswa, in the north of the city, is one of the three landfills and receives around 2,700 tonnes of the 9,500 tonnes of trash generated in a day.

This is not the first time a landfill has caught fire. With the Capital already reeling under “very poor” air quality, the smoke and toxic methane gas generated from the decomposing waste in Bhalswa has added to the smog and severely reduced visibility in the vicinity of Azadpur Mandi where it is located. Apart from increasing pollution levels, the fire has once again brought into focus the larger question of municipal solid waste and whether we will ever find a way to dispose it in an eco-friendly, safe manner.

Firefighting was on at Bhalswa at the time of going to press. But it was a grim reminder that we cannot forget the flames that engulfed Mumbai’s Deonar landfill for weeks in 2016. So massive were the flames that at that time, images sent back from NASA satellites showed swirls of smoke rising from Deonar and spreading over the densely populated city, resulting in severe deterioration of air quality and closure of 70 schools.

Delhi’s Bhalswa site was saturated in 2006, with authorities declaring that it had reached the limit of its capacity. However, garbage still continues to be dumped there. The 70-acre Ghazipur landfill site in the national capital is also prone to fires and has been a challenge for fire brigades every time it set itself ablaze due to rotting garbage giving off methane.

At the root of the problem is poor or no segregation of garbage by the municipalities and lack of ‘engineered’ landfills in Delhi. The only scientific landfill site in the city that captures leachate (liquid) and vapours is at Narela-Bawana. According to experts, unless garbage is handled in a more systematic manner, pollution levels in the national capital will spike alarmingly with each passing year.

Points out Chitra Mukherjee, head of programmes at the Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group: “In the long run we must do away with landfills and follow a decentralised model of solid waste management.”

According to her, that would entail handling waste at the local level along with its collection, segregation, transportation, treatment and disposal. It would also require waste segregation at source into organic, recyclable and injurious materials. Chintan recently brought out a book on the ‘State of Waste in India’ where it recommended an end-to-end process for segregated wastes and detailed zero waste initiatives in India.

Environment experts question the very concept of landfills and argue that door-to-door collection and local disposal using domestic and international best practices would be a better way forward. In Britain, a high level of waste segregation is done at source and different waste is collected on different days of the week. Citizens pay for the services except in the case of food waste. The staggering helps as the same vehicles are used for the purpose on different days. If this is attempted in Indian cities, it could well help to reduce the number of landfill areas, check unprecedented dumpyard fires and bring down pollution from this source.

Published on October 23, 2018
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