Crisis recycled: Landfill search

Crisis recycled: Landfill search

Garbage dumping_search

To battle every garbage crisis, the city’s civic agencies always had a ready reckoner: A new landfill to dump over 5,000 tons of unsegregated waste, an unscientific yet inevitable reality. But this time, even that option lies thoroughly unexplored as the city’s only landfill is about to be waste-full!

Flooding roads, clogged drains and vacant plots, the monsoon is here to test every agency’s preparedness. But this also leaves the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) with little room to evade another crisis. The garbage trucks will stop heading to the last landfill on August 20, and that means absolutely no time to find an alternative.

Despite hard lessons learnt from past crises of imposing magnitudes, why was the scene allowed to hit this panic stage? As the city struggles to tackle a messy monsoon season in a chaotic mix of death, disease and dirt, a garbage crisis could be catastrophic.

Urgency missing

The sense of urgency is clearly missing. At a meeting recently, the government had pulled up the concerned Palike officials for the undue delay in kicking off the tender process to build a scientific landfill for the city. The focus, as BBMP insiders say, was on trying to bypass the process itself.

Six months have passed since the Urban Development Department directed the Palike to invite tenders. It had rejected the Palike’s proposal to award the work to the Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development Limited (KRIDL). Another short-term tender to set up a landfill in Mitiganahalli is also stuck, despite knowing that this process would take another three months.

But the Palike sees no crisis any time soon. BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad is certain that additional landfills, Mitiganahalli included, will be adequate to take another two years of the city’s solid waste output.

E-procurement issue

On the delay in the tendering process, Prasad attributes it to the issues with e-procurement. But this would be sorted out by August 14, and the obstacles cleared, he assures.

Segregation at source to minimise outflow of waste to the landfills has remained a pipedream despite a few success stories. But a bigger question remains, as articulated by Sandya Narayan from the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT): Why have no processing capabilities come up at the ward-level, a strategy long cited as a potential solution to the recurring crisis?

The Palike should have ramped up the ward-level capabilities, notes Narayan. “Efforts to create the required infrastructure has found no support from the government, both in terms of land and finances.”

Poor allocation

The government’s allocation of Rs 25 lakh per ward is a pittance, grossly inadequate to address the waste problem of a city of 1.3 billion. “This amount is nothing close to what every ward requires. At least Rs 1 crore / ward should be spent on infrastructure creation alone,” she points out.

Infrastructure implies more Dry Waste Collection Centres (DWCCs), wet waste processing units, bio-methanisation plants, leaf-cutter plants and more at the ward level. This would mean local processing of locally generated waste, and eventually a substantial drop in garbage volumes to the landfills.

No land in wards

Besides money, the government / BBMP will have to find land to put up these centres. “But no ward is willing to give any land. The State needs to take some hard decisions,” says Narayan. Decisions that could potentially alter the very fabric of the city’s solid waste management methods.

Only 140 wards have set up DWCCs of some merit. That leaves out 58 wards, where the dry waste is mixed to get carted away to the landfill. A big push for home-composting would have made a difference to wet waste management. On-site waste management by the bulk generators has remained a non-starter.

Recurring landfill crisis, mounting waste transportation bills and the potential for garbage-triggered disease outbreaks should have forced the government to formulate long-term strategies, contend most solid waste management experts.

Planning gaps

A well thought-out three or five-year plan to tackle the problem would have shown results, they feel. “If there had been political will, such a plan would have started to yield results by now. For instance, we had suggested a plan to treat poultry waste. Nobody showed interest,” a SWMRT member notes.

Even a simple leaf-shredder system can work wonders at the ward level. “Every ward generates about 3-4 tons of garden waste every day. Tamilnadu, which had no such system, has phenomenally ramped up over the last 12-15 months, showing remarkable progress.”

Bulk generators included, the city currently generates about 6,000 Metric Tons of solid waste every day. Only about 1,000 MT is processed, implying that landfills remain the only way out. Most of this mixed waste heads to a quarry in Bellahalli.

Landfill reliance

For nearly three years since September 2016, over 300 truckloads of untreated garbage have been dumped every single day into the Bellahalli quarry. Groundwater contamination that devastated the lives of Mandur villagers a few years ago, is a fact of life here too.

Studies in Mavallipura, Mandur and other landfill sites have clearly established the multiple dangers posed by heavy metal contamination of ground water, air pollution and long-term health hazards.

Yet, despite a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) direction to eliminate all landfills, the city sees only one workable waste management strategy in the foreseeable future: More landfills!

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