Insights into Editorial: Ghazipur disaster: Stop our cities from becoming choked with garbage

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Insights into Editorial: Ghazipur disaster: Stop our cities from becoming choked with garbage


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Context:

One of the big problems of massive urban agglomerations and cosmopolitan cities such as Delhi and Mumbai is that of waste management. Solid waste generated in a city the size of Delhi needs to be immediately reduced, reused, and recycled if we want to save our cities from becoming choked with garbage.

The collapse in the Ghazipur landfill that led to the death of two people is a warning to all civic agencies. National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued show cause notices to Delhi government, East Delhi Municipal Corporation and National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) over Ghazipur landfill collapse.

Municipality officials said they were investigating the reason for the collapse, but experts said a recent spell of heavy rains was possibly one of the triggers. Whatever may be the reason but still such incidents must be an eye opener for everyone.

Recent Ghazipur disaster:

Ghazipur landfill in the East Corporation is the oldest functional landfill in the city. Recently, two people died in East Delhi after a large part of the Ghazipur landfill — which should have been closed 15 years ago — collapsed, sweeping several people on a road nearby into a canal.

The Ghazipur landfill is among four dumpsites in the national capital, spread over 70 acres and towering to a height taller than a 15-storey building. The mountain of trash is a stark reminder of administrative apathy and the capital’s struggle with waste management.

Around 200 metres from landfill is the Ghazipur slum. It is home to about 1500 families of rag pickers.  The residents claim that proximity to the landfill leads to various problems. Landfill often catches fire due to release of methane.  Municipal Corporation of Delhi is burning garbage for electricityDue to low quality of waste, little energy is generated. According to experts, due to lack of leachate treatment facility by-products released during decomposition seep into the ground water and pollute it.

There are more such hillocks in our Indian cities.

Causes of the incident:

  • Half-hearted attempts have been made to segregate waste at source and to create waste to energy plants within these landfills.
  • There has been no real change in the way that Delhi deals with the problem of waste management– be it e-waste, biodegradable waste or plastic.
  • One recent report  has highlighted, 50% of the generated garbageis fit for composting and 30% is recyclable; which means that only 20% should reach the landfill.
  • Dumping should have been halted when the landfill reached a height of 20 metres, but when it collapsed, it was 50 metres high.

With no alternatives to dispose the 10,000 tonne of garbage generated by Delhi every day, the city keeps adding to the mountain of stinking, towering eyesore daily. The East Delhi Municipal Corporation officials said the threats of more such landslides remain.

Building new landfills is not the solution

Building new dumpsites is not easy. There is no shortage of land. But who would want a giant landfill in their backyard?

  • Building new landfills is not the solution. Apart from the fact that they are dangerous and dumping garbagelike this causes the leaching of hazardous chemicals into the soil, it would be unfair to citizens of that neighbourhood to export the city’s garbage to their locality.
  • The Waste Atlas 2014, a compilation of data on the 50 biggest dumpsites of the world, listed asthma, tuberculosis, skin diseases as some common health conditions among the rag pickers working at Ghazipur.

The need of the hour is to focus more on Urban Solid Waste Management.

Solid waste is defined as discarded solid fractions, generated from domestic units, trade centres, commercial establishments, industries, and agriculture, institutions, public services and mining activities. Characteristics of waste vary based on place of generation and season in which it is generated.

Solid waste is classified into several categories based on source; origin and type of waste. These include domestic waste, municipal waste, commercial waste, institutional waste, garbage, rubbish, ashes, bulky waste, street sweepings, dead animals, construction and demolition waste, industrial waste, hazardous waste and sewage waste.

A solid waste management (SWM) system includes collection, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of waste.

Several cities in India have taken positive steps towards implementing sustainable waste management practices by involving the community in segregation, by enforcing better PPP contracts and by investing in modern technology for transportation, processing and disposal. The role of waste pickers/ informal sector in SWM is also increasingly being recognized. These interventions have great potential for wider replication in other cities in the country.

  • Improvements in Waste Segregation, Collection and Transportation
    • Segregated waste collection from households is the key to reducing landfilling. Segregation ensures maximum recycling and treatment at the local level. The emphasis in this category is on initiatives that have strengthened the door to door collection system and have involved informal sector/waste pickers and citizen groups to collect segregated waste.
    • Segregation should at least be at the level of separation of wet and dry waste at the source, that is, at the household or establishment level. Ideally, the separation should be in the following categories:
      • biodegradable waste, waste that is non-biodegradable, and
      • Hazardous domestic waste such as batteries, etc.

 

  • Waste Recovery
    • The high degree of biodegradable content in municipal solid waste in India makes it ideal for techniques like composting wherein the chemical and biological transformation processes reduces the quantity of waste and products of economic value are recovered.
    • Various initiatives being undertaken by cities to incorporate decentralized waste treatment options such as composting units, bio gas plants, waste to energy plants

 

  • Scientific waste disposal

ULBs are challenged to dispose waste in engineered/ sanitary landfill sites. The various issues that have been cited include lack of land, lack of capacity to design and operate a landfill site.

  • The unscientific waste disposal at the landfill is a source of nuisance in the surrounding areas. During summers the terrible stink of the leachate used to engulf the entire city. The leachate also polluted the underground water in the region.
  • Modernization of the Landfills accompanied by improvements in overall SWM services in the city to be taken as a priority.

 

  • Planning for improved solid waste management

Comprehensive planning is the first step towards achieving an efficient and robust solid waste management system in a city. Many cities in India are keen to achieve “zero-waste” status by improving and strengthening their waste management practices. The concept of Zero Waste aims to minimize use of resources and maximize the on-going benefits of the intrinsic value within the waste generated by society.

  • Preparing an integrated solid waste management master plan, allows an urban local body to assess its current and future waste management needs, identify problems and efficiencies within the current system and identify strategies and solutions to address those gaps.
  • The solid waste master plan also provides a framework for prioritization of various initiatives and resource allocation.
  • For a solid waste management plan to be effective and implementable, it should be accompanied with a strong enforcement framework, community involvement and awareness campaigns.

 

  • Involving community in solid waste management

Many cities in India have initiated programs for waste recycling and processing to minimize the amount of garbage going into landfills.

  • The success of these initiatives is fundamentally based on proper segregation of waste at source, for which the involvement of community is imperative.
  • Bangalore faced a severe garbage crisis in August 2012 when two dumpsites in the outskirts of the city were shut following protests by villagers against deteriorating environmental and health conditions. The city came to a standstill as vast mounds of garbage lay scattered on streets and open plots all across the city.
  • The crisis situation pushed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to initiate a change in course towards more sustainable waste management practices.
  • The BBMP decided to enforce waste segregation and decentralize waste processing to divert waste away from the landfills, and actively involve the community and large corporations in this endeavour as part of the zero-garbage program initiated by the BBMP with an emphasis on the Information Education and Communication (IEC) activities that were started and continue to be undertaken to inform and educate citizens about waste segregation and make them active stakeholders in the waste management

 

  • Reaching out to school students to generate awareness about sustainable waste management
    • The ‘Engage 14’ outreach initiative was launched by the GMC(Gangtok Municipal Corporation) to engage school students from classes 4 to 12 in the process of understanding aspects of waste management

Conclusion

What is needed is dedication and discipline from both the civic agencies and the citizens to effectively implement segregation of waste at source to reduce the amount of garbage that reaches landfills.