Dire need to handle city's waste well

At three different locations, Delhi has its landfills. Every day, municipal authorities dump truckloads of solid waste from households and other sources at these sprawling sites in Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla. The growing mountains of garbage are a serious health hazard to people living in localities close by. The landfills also release methane, triggering small fires and adding to the pollution in the city. But more than that, they are an ugly reminder that Indian cities are decades behind when it comes to managing their waste. The capital, for example, not only lets much of its sewage flow untreated into the Yamuna, it handles its solid waste in this primitive manner – simply piling unsegregated garbage over waste that has been accumulating there for decades.
There is now some realisation, though without the necessary urgency of purpose, that this is an unsustainable method of dealing with the 8,500 tonnes of solid municipal waste generated every single day. The three landfills are overflowing and Delhi needs more such spaces to dump its garbage. Finding land is a problem mainly because of the multiplicity of civic agencies: the municipal corporations charged with dealing with garbage have to knock at the doors of other agencies, which are reluctant to part with their land. But even if land was easily available, simply creating more piles of garbage is not the way to manage waste. A more sophisticated approach is badly needed. The aim should be to ensure that only a small proportion of waste ends up at landfills. Much of it should be segregated at source – voluntary organisations have floated ideas that benefit both householders and ragpickers – and then composted or recycled. Municipal authorities should also incentivise residents and resident welfare associations which cooperate with them. Perhaps, discounts on the house tax they pay every year would help. 
Instead of primitive landfills, the remaining waste should be dispatched to ‘engineered’ landfills which prevent garbage from contaminating the soil or the groundwater – and to waste-to-energy plants. These plants have their critics who point out that they, too, release toxins into the atmosphere. Local residents have protested over the Okhla-Timarpur plant which is the only operational plant turning garbage into electricity right now. Two more such plants are in the works. The municipal authorities need to address the concerns raised over them and monitor their impact on environment. But on the face of it, they appear to be a better solution than simply piling garbage atop garbage, allowing it to literally fester over decades.

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