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Explained: Why Delhi Fails To Deal With Its Landfills

These mountains of garbage have been in the news for being on fire recently, huge fires that went on for days.

Published
Climate Change
4 min read
Explained: Why Delhi Fails To Deal With Its Landfills
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Video editor: Rahul Sanpui

If you live in Delhi-NCR you would have driven past one of the three huge mountains of garbage in Ghazipur, Bhalswa or Okhla and if this drive was recent you would’ve also seen clouds of smoke above them.

These mountains of garbage or landfills have been in the news for being on fire recently, huge fires that went on for days. And like most landfills, it was an uphill task dousing these fires.

So let's look at the big questions here. Why does the city have these mountains of garbage? Why have they existed for so long and why do they keep growing in size?

Is there not a better way to deal with this garbage? And if there is why are we not able to do it? Here we try to answer a few of these questions and breakdown the challenges of waste management in Delhi.

Explained: Why Delhi Fails To Deal With Its Landfills

  1. 1. Legacy Garbage and 'Complex' Waste

    What these landfills house is called legacy garbage, which is almost impossible to deal with because we keep dumping fresh garbage on it every day.

    If you keep piling more and more on what already exists how will you deal with what lies underneath all of it?

    What also makes it a little more impossible is the plastic that we are dumping is becoming more and more complex. The garbage has e-waste, medical waste and to use and over-simplifid term, we can say varieties of complex waste and plastics among tonnes of other things.

    This makes segregation a huge challenge.

    Expand
  2. 2. Waste Segregation- A Huge Challenge

    The technology that we have at segregation facilities to deal with the existing waste is inadequate and outdated. But the more realistic thing that we should be doing is segregating it at multiple levels before the waste is dumped in the landfills.

    The Solid Waste Management Bylaws for Delhi, speak of segregating waste in three primary categories-- wet waste , dry waste , and domestic hazardous waste. This segregation has to happen at the source, households, for example. Violators who don't abide are liable to pay a fine of Rs 200.

    But only 94 out of 294 wards in Delhi practice this, most of these are in the Delhi cantonment area, according to the Indian Express.

    Expand
  3. 3. Stage of Waste Segregation

    First is segregation at the source, segregation at home where people dispose all waste generated in the households in different bins.

    Then the garbage is locally collected by MCD in colonies. This waste is also collected as one bulk, without any segregation, which shouldn't be the case. However, the expectation of collecting segregated waste is a far fetched idea since even daily collection across the city is still a challenge.

    Once it is locally collected, all waste is dumped outside colonies in huge dumping yards. This is where it needs to be dumped separately, already segregated.

    From these yards, this waste is then transported in trucks to the landfills. At the landfills it is segregated again– what needs to be burnt down is put in incinerators, what needs to be recycled is separated, medical waste, depending on what it is further treated differently biodegradable waste is treated differently, and so on and so forth.

    But when a truckload of all waste is all dumped together, lack of technology, lack of systems, political will and lousy adherence to procedures means it all just sits there on the mountain.

    Expand
  4. 4. Why Landfills at All?

    Dumping solid waste in a landfill is not a very smart idea in 2022 anyway. They are a menace for those who live near them, often they catch fire, they pollute the air, the groundwater under and around the landfills is toxic and these are just the very obvious and major fallouts of these landfills.

    Ideally, we should be a zero landfill city because all waste can be scientifically managed and treated.

    While we can’t remove these landfills altogether now. We can deal with what are dumping into it and manage that, so the problem doesn’t keep getting bigger each day.

    Expand
  5. 5. Indore's Example & Lessons for Delhi

    Indore has mostly known what to do and how for a while now when it comes to waste management and treatment. Here is what they are doing that Delhi is not: The first and the most important thing that they have got right is waste segregation at source. People are dumping their waste in segregated bins and waste collection maintains this segregation at each level and keeps refining it further. They have also completed bio-mining of their landfills. Bio-mining basically is a huge step in treating legacy waste that has been lying in landfills for ages.

    Bio-mining means excavating this waste from landfills, segregation it, treating it and then reclaiming the landfill land.

    In Indore, a lot of this land has been utilised to set up different waste processing and treatment facilities, including bio-CNG plants. Their Bio CNG plant treats 550 tonnes of biodegradable and wet waste every day, which is not only making them a cleaner city but also brings in good revenue.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Legacy Garbage and 'Complex' Waste

What these landfills house is called legacy garbage, which is almost impossible to deal with because we keep dumping fresh garbage on it every day.

If you keep piling more and more on what already exists how will you deal with what lies underneath all of it?

What also makes it a little more impossible is the plastic that we are dumping is becoming more and more complex. The garbage has e-waste, medical waste and to use and over-simplifid term, we can say varieties of complex waste and plastics among tonnes of other things.

This makes segregation a huge challenge.

ADVERTISEMENT

Waste Segregation- A Huge Challenge

The technology that we have at segregation facilities to deal with the existing waste is inadequate and outdated. But the more realistic thing that we should be doing is segregating it at multiple levels before the waste is dumped in the landfills.

The Solid Waste Management Bylaws for Delhi, speak of segregating waste in three primary categories-- wet waste , dry waste , and domestic hazardous waste. This segregation has to happen at the source, households, for example. Violators who don't abide are liable to pay a fine of Rs 200.

But only 94 out of 294 wards in Delhi practice this, most of these are in the Delhi cantonment area, according to the Indian Express.

Stage of Waste Segregation

First is segregation at the source, segregation at home where people dispose all waste generated in the households in different bins.

Then the garbage is locally collected by MCD in colonies. This waste is also collected as one bulk, without any segregation, which shouldn't be the case. However, the expectation of collecting segregated waste is a far fetched idea since even daily collection across the city is still a challenge.

Once it is locally collected, all waste is dumped outside colonies in huge dumping yards. This is where it needs to be dumped separately, already segregated.

From these yards, this waste is then transported in trucks to the landfills. At the landfills it is segregated again– what needs to be burnt down is put in incinerators, what needs to be recycled is separated, medical waste, depending on what it is further treated differently biodegradable waste is treated differently, and so on and so forth.

But when a truckload of all waste is all dumped together, lack of technology, lack of systems, political will and lousy adherence to procedures means it all just sits there on the mountain.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why Landfills at All?

Dumping solid waste in a landfill is not a very smart idea in 2022 anyway. They are a menace for those who live near them, often they catch fire, they pollute the air, the groundwater under and around the landfills is toxic and these are just the very obvious and major fallouts of these landfills.

Ideally, we should be a zero landfill city because all waste can be scientifically managed and treated.

While we can’t remove these landfills altogether now. We can deal with what are dumping into it and manage that, so the problem doesn’t keep getting bigger each day.

Indore's Example & Lessons for Delhi

Indore has mostly known what to do and how for a while now when it comes to waste management and treatment. Here is what they are doing that Delhi is not: The first and the most important thing that they have got right is waste segregation at source. People are dumping their waste in segregated bins and waste collection maintains this segregation at each level and keeps refining it further. They have also completed bio-mining of their landfills. Bio-mining basically is a huge step in treating legacy waste that has been lying in landfills for ages.

Bio-mining means excavating this waste from landfills, segregation it, treating it and then reclaiming the landfill land.

In Indore, a lot of this land has been utilised to set up different waste processing and treatment facilities, including bio-CNG plants. Their Bio CNG plant treats 550 tonnes of biodegradable and wet waste every day, which is not only making them a cleaner city but also brings in good revenue.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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