Repeat After Me, Segregation at Source is Key to Solving Delhi’s Landfills Issue

New Delhi witnessed three dumpsite fires in a month, including Bhalswa fire and previous two fires at Ghazipur.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Delhi’s mounting dumpsites, raging with fire for over 10 days, is a crucial reality check for everyone as citizens and professionals alike, especially those at a decision-making capacity, to step back and pause for a moment and look at how we may have, or haven’t at all, played a role in this disastrous state of our waste systems in India, especially the capital city.

The dumpsites in Delhi’s Ghazipur, Bhalswa, and Okhla have been soaring for so many years, receiving humongous amounts of fresh mixed waste daily, mounting on top of the legacy waste that lies in the dumpsites for years.

With new mixed waste reaching the dumpsites every day as production and consumption rates keep soaring, the currently complex problem at the dumpsite multiplies.

Mixed waste includes organic and wet waste, solid and dry waste such as plastics, hazardous e-waste and biomedical waste among various other kinds piling one over the other, releasing a combination of gases harmful to the environment and life in the city.

Although the authorities introduced bio-mining at these dumpsites in 2019, the rate at which this is taking place with the mixed waste add-on, the resolution exercise seems inadequate.


Segregation is Key

But imagine if segregation at source and segregated collections could enable wet waste reaching a dumpsite or a landfill to become feedstock for farms as big as 20,000 sq kms?

The question then arises – how can this freshly added unsegregated, mixed waste be stopped or diverted from entering the dumpsites?

While there is no one simple answer to this complex ecosystem, segregation at source and segregated collections can guarantee how this mixed waste reaches the dumpsite.
New Delhi witnessed three dumpsite fires in a month, including Bhalswa fire and previous two fires at Ghazipur.

A dumpsite fire in Delhi.

(Photo: PTI)

According to the Economic Survey of Delhi 2020-2021, only 32 percent municipal wards see source segregation, despite being the first and mandatory step as per the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. That leads to 68 percent mixed waste added to the legacy waste day after day.

Evidently, the fires at Delhi’s dumpsites are outcomes to the mixed waste challenges.

Solving for mixed and unsegregated waste is an easy activity when done at the source. But it requires consistent and repeated external intervention to create a change in the convenient lifestyles and behaviours of the waste generators.

Strategically and scientifically designed behaviour-change programmes play a very critical role in influencing the journey of waste from generation to entering the environment.

Waste generators at various levels can be informed, educated, and influenced when it comes to segregation at source.

Not only residents but also Bulk Waste Generators (BWGs) at commercial and institutional bodies, marketplaces, religious institutions, hospitals, hospitality services should be prioritised with customised behaviour change strategies for ensuring segregation of waste at source is achieved.

Non biodegradable waste, such as plastics, land up in the dumpsites and other eco-sensitive areas, as they are mixed with wet waste making it unrecyclable for authorities – a challenge that can be solved at the source, but becomes a mountain in itself when it lies in the landfills.

It is crucial that the local governments, even in Delhi, not only mandate BWGs to own the responsibility of managing their wet waste at their facility itself but also create the capability to manage dry waste in a decentralised manner.

Additionally, changing the lens and integrating source segregation as an outcome of successful intervention as opposed to focusing on the process of segregation can enable cities to take a step towards a circular economy.


The ‘Waste to Value’ Approach

New Delhi witnessed three dumpsite fires in a month, including Bhalswa fire and previous two fires at Ghazipur.

A dumpsite fire in Delhi.

(Photo: PTI)

While the magic quotient to solve for the burdening dumpsites can stem from segregation at source by changing attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours deep-rooted in the waste generators’ beliefs and lifestyles, effective business models complemented by robust policies can further enable private sector interventions to sustain the solutions on a systems-level.

But currently, businesses and the overall private sector is struggling to thrive in the waste landscape in India as the processes are unregulated and profit-making models are difficult to attain.

Due to the lack of such a system, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been bridging these gaps in terms of investment and action. While CSRs are equivalent to an impact-vehicle, it is important to share responsibility with the private sector as it can bring in a multitude of solutions with its ‘waste to value’ approach.

Working alongside governments to sustain waste management in cities can oftentimes lead to a slow and gradual progress, becoming one of the barriers of private companies entering into or investing in this sector.

The need for governments to ease this process is very crucial. Single window approval systems and fast-track approaches can enable solving the bottlenecks caused by political influence and the bureaucratic nature of the processes.

Opportunities to create Public Private Partnership (PPP) models can become a turning point for young start-ups to enter the sector as well as thriving companies to sustain themselves while impacting the cities.

Responsibility of Government and Citizens

The governments can also support businesses by creating access to incentivised/ subsidised capital through various instruments available to scale the program across states, as well as create opportunities to sell the material in a mutually agreeable and viable profit-sharing model.

Prioritising immediate, mid-term, and long-term strategies to solve the currently raging dumpsite fires and the overall waste management landscape in Delhi is a non-negotiable for the authorities now.

Meanwhile, it is extremely essential to share the responsibility of channelling waste, especially plastics, out of the environment as key stakeholders of this ecosystem – whether as residents, investors, regulators or brand owners.

This isn’t only a capital-city-problem, but rather a global one, and the only way forward is circular economy interventions where the ecosystem players catalyse it by sharing the same vision and committing to take equal responsibility.

(Suraj Nandakumar is co-founder and CEO of Recity, a Mumbai-based circular waste management company. Meha Lahiri is co-founder, COO, and CFO at Recity. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  New Delhi   Fire   Waste Management 

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