Making mountain out of waste

Last Updated 19 April 2014, 20:38 IST

Every day, every household across the city dumps enough waste to form a heap of at least 8,000 metric tonnes of garbage.

It’s business as usual for them to give their garbage to a wastepicker. They don’t really much care about its disposal, which is the biggest challenge for the capital.

The three municipal corporations controlled landfills at Bhalaswa, Okhla and Ghazipur reached their saturation point way back in 2006, but dumping still continues there.

For the past two years, the North Corporation has been trying to give Delhiites a new dumping site – the Narela-Bawana waste-to-energy plant. But the ‘futuristic’ landfill has hit a roadblock and may not get commissioned in the near future.

“The Narela-Bawana site is the biggest plant and it has a capacity to generate 13 MW electricity with 1,300 metric tonnes of garbage. Once the plant is commissioned, it will solve almost half of the city’s garbage management woes,” North and East Corporation spokesperson Yogendra Mann said.

The waste-to-energy plant in Okhla has had its own share of controversies. In January this year, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee issued a show cause notice to the plant seeking explanation for the uncontrolled emission of pollutants causing serious health concerns to nearby residents in violation of environment norms.

But experts say that landfill sites and waste-to-energy plants are not the solution. “The government is investing money at the bottom of the pyramid. Waste-to-energy plants and landfill sites should be the last choice. All the waste is burnt in these plants using petrol and other fuel, in the process emitting carcinogenic gases,” outreach and advocacy manager at Chintan Chitra Mukherjee says.

“Methane gas, which has a tendency to catch fire, is generated in landfills. There are pockets at Ghazipur landfill site that are burnt. It not only harms the atmosphere but it is also dangerous for people working there,” she adds. “Norway is one such example where there is ban on landfill sites.”

The NGO Chintan works in the field of solid waste management with the East Delhi Municipal Corporation in Kishan Kunj and Usmanpur, covering 25,000 households. The NGO, which also caters to 5,000 households under the New Delhi Municipal Council, says there is an urgent need to generate awareness among people to segregate kitchen or wet waste from recyclable waste-like plastic wrappers and plastic bottles, among others items.

“So that the agencies involved in solid waste management can better dispose of garbage. It will save time, and recyclable waste won’t be dumped at landfills, which generates hazardous green gases,” Mukherjee says.

But people don’t have time for segregating their organic waste from recyclable one.
“Our domestic help gives the garbage to the wastepicker. We don’t have time to either explain the whole concept to her or keep an eye so that she doesn’t give the mixed garbage to the wastepicker,” Mayur Vihar Phase-I resident Sarita Lata says.

“In morning, we have to get the kids ready for school and prepare breakfast and lunch. We hardly get time to do anything else.”

Experts say that people can keep separate bin for kitchen waste and another for dry waste. But the general public doesn’t seem to care as they say it won’t serve the purpose as the maid mix both kinds of waste.

“What’s the use of going through the pain of separating the garbage when it will mixed by your maid and given to the wastepicker,” Mukherjee Nagar resident Rohan Mishra says.

Despite such attitude of people, Chintan goes one step ahead and ask people to start composting their own organic or kitchen waste.

An organisation, Daily Dump, sells kitchen composter – a three terracotta pot composter is available between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500 in the market. One just has to dump the waste into the pots and the rest will be taken care of, the NGO says.

Environmentalists say the kitchen composter is being used in Bangalore at a huge level.
“The government should follow the three-step process: segregate, recycle and compost,” Mukherjee says.

The solid waste management process in the city should involve as many wastepickers as they are on the lookout for recyclable waste. “They should be allowed to collect door-to-door garbage as they make money by selling plastic bottles and other non-degradable items. So they provide a huge help in the segregation process as the quantity of garbage is increasing day by day,” Mukherjee adds.

According to a parliamentary panel, the volume of garbage in Delhi will jump by 107 per cent by 2024. Delhi will be needing an additional 28 sqkm, more than the entire spread of Lutyens’ bungalow zone, to dump 15,000 tonnes of garbage by 2020.

The North and South corporations have involved private companies to tackle the humongous task of garbage disposal. The north civic agency has a tie-up with Mumbai-based company AG Environment  Pvt Ltd for Karol Bagh and Sadar Paharganj Zones, while the south corporation has involved Ramky Environment Group to dispose of garbage.

These private players say they face a lot of challenges from collection to dumping of waste.

“There is shortage of garbage collection sites known as dhalaos. The government should be allowed in the no-entry zones as 60 per cent of the waste is collected during the day and 40 per cent at night,” AG Environment Pvt Ltd north India head P K Panda says.
The trucks are not allowed in no entry zones from 8 am to 11 am and between 5 pm and 9.30 pm, Panda adds.

Even the landfills should remain open 24x7, companies say. “The dumping sites remain closed from 6 am to 9 am and between 6 pm and 10 pm,” Panda says.
These private players say they don’t get paid on time. “We invest Rs 2 crore to Rs 3 crore per month, but we get payment after three to four months,” says Panda.

The North Corporation official says the corporation get money from the city government, which only sanctions money after verifying the details of transactions.

Waste management professional say that these companies give little thought to segregating organic waste from recyclable waste.

“They are paid per tonne of garbage. So they are just worried about the quantity they dump at landfills,” Mukherjee says.

But the companies say that they sell plastics and other recyclable waste. “It’s a big business for us. Why will we not segregate garbage?” Panda says.

Environmentalists say that resident welfare associations can also be roped in to develop a local composting unit. “We should aim to create zero waste colonies, where kitchen waste is composted and recyclable waste can be sold,” Mukherjee says.

One such example is south Delhi’s Defence Colony, where the RWA collects wet waste from 1,600 houses having 4,000 kitchens. The RWA dumps the waste in one of the six pits it has developed around a park in C Block.

“We only dump organic waste like rotten vegetables, fruit peal, egg shell, tea leaves and leftover food in the pits, which are 4 feet deep and 6 feet in length. We add Effective Microbe solution, which is a mixture of jaggery and vinegar to it. It helps bacteria to grow. We turn the garbage upside down every two days and after three months we get manure,” Defence Colony RWA joint secretary Shammi Talwar says.

“It’s a cheap process to reduce stress on the environment,” she adds.

The RWA has been composting since 2005. “I started with two pits. Now we have six pits for wet waste and two for fallen leaves. Whether I stay a member of the RWA I won’t stop this initiative as it’s eco-friendly,” says the 57-year-old mother of two, who has been living in the colony since 1980.

“The manure we make we sell for Rs 10 per kg to our parks. We make 200 kg to 250 kg manure from one pit. We have kept two boys to look after the pits, do the mulching and all. We pay Rs 4,500 to one of them and Rs 3,500 to the other,” Shammi adds.

There are 16 garbage collectors who get between Rs 75 and Rs 100 from each household. “They also get recyclable waste, which they sell and earn Rs 100 to Rs 200 daily,” she says.

Other localities have been adopting our model, she adds.

“Sarita Vihar RWA visited us and took all the information of developing a local composting unit,” she says.

(Published 19 April 2014, 20:38 IST)

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