Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi in the same waste boat

Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi in the same waste boat

Bangalore is not alone in facing garbage disposal problems. Mumbai and Delhi too face the disposal crisis. If Bangalore can’t dispose off 4,000 odd tonnes of waste generated every day, Mumbai and Delhi can’t treat the 7,500 tonnes and 8,500 tonnes of waste they generate everyday. Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi face an identical problem: acute shortage of landfills and the lack of additional physical space to create new ones and enormous risks posed by existing landfills.

Bangalore has two landfills. People living close to both have been opposing their continuation. Two landfills in Mumbai have been shut, two more are reaching saturation point and one more has not yet completely been developed. Delhi has three landfills reaching saturation point. Looking for land outside city limits has become difficult with residents in villages rightly unwilling to live with poisonous dumps around them both in Bangalore and Mumbai.

What does the immediate future of garbage generation look like? By 2020, Bangalore may generate around 7000-8000 tonnes, Mumbai around 9,000 tonnes and Delhi around 11,000 tonnes every day. If new landfills is not the answer, the only solution is a scientific-technological one that helps dipose of the waste. This would make space for the landfill to be used again. But expert caution against re-use of landfills beyond a certain point.

Two immediate solutions are available for disposal - 1. Turning waste into energy by composting techniques and 2. Recycling the waste. If these methods are implemented in a time-bound manner, waste disposal will not only be easy, you can make money too. If this is done at on mass scale, disposal is automatically taken care of.

Environmentalist Yellappa Reddy says the first step in waste disposal is separating re-cyclable and non-re-cyclable material in homes. If done, this reduces the quantum of waste taken to landfills.

Estimates are that nearly 30 per cent less waste is generated at the first stage itself. Alternatively, if separation is not done at homes, a ready team has to be deployed, says Reddy, at the landfill site to separate organic waste and inorganic waste. After segregation, the organic matter gets broken down by bacteria, after which the remaining matter can be converted into bio-gas that can be used for lighting, cooking, transportation etc. Says Reddy: “Post segregation, organic matter can be converted into fuel. It is precisely out of the organic matter that petrol, diesel, coal and hydrocarbons originate. This organic matter should be converted into energy which will help reduce cost of fuel generation.”

The organic matter is broken down into compostable material, which can then be converted into bio-gas which is nothing but energy. Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment and is a key ingredient in organic farming. Composting is simple and requires making a heap of wetted organic matter like green waste (leaves, food waste) and wait for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months. Worms and fungi further break up the material.

Compost can be rich in nutrients.  The compost is beneficial for the land in many ways - soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil. In ecosystems, compost is useful for erosion control, land and stream reclamation, wetland construction, and as landfill cover. Organic ingredients intended for composting can alternatively be used to generate biogas through anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is fast overtaking composting in some parts of the world (especially central Europe) as a primary means of downcycling waste organic matter. The waste generated in the kitchen thus ultimately becomes energy.

Materials like paper, pens, glass and aluminium can be re-cycled to cut costs of producing them.

What is used once can be used several times over thus reducing costs and pre-empting excess production of material. Reddy says if paper alone is recycled, India could save upto Rs 30,000-40,000 crores. Europe is already into recycling massively and has come to a point where it is almost a rule to re-cycle paper. Delhi's informal sector collects daily about 1,088 tonnes of recyclables, reducing load on the corporation. Recycling these items is saving the corporation about Rs 795 million per year as transportation and collection costs, a 2012 study has claimed.

It is clear that the three metros have similar problems and may have to adopt a technological solution that is common to them. What has been lacking in the three metros is political will. Why would a network making Rs 350-400 crores out of garbage want to adopt a solution at all?

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