India is the 5th largest economy in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the 3rd largest economy in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), a fast-developing nation. It is witnessing a massive boom in industrialization, urbanization and population explosion which is putting a surmounting pressure on the nation’s resources and generating a proliferating amount of waste (Economy of India, 2020).
India being the second-most populous country in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion, is witnessing a strong declining thrust on the nation’s resources. Therefore, if optimum resource utilization is not taken into consideration, it may lead to an increase in waste generation and pollution, thereby contributing to downfall in the economy. Not only can it downgrade the economy, but also take a toll on the environment and the health of the citizens through harmful emissions. Thus, it is of utmost importance to keep an eye constantly on the utilization and recovery of resources to address the problem associated with municipal solid waste.
Municipal solid waste is generally a combination of household and commercial refuse which is generated due to heavy consumerism pattern. The continuous indiscriminate disposal of municipal solid waste is accelerating and is linked to poverty, poor governance, urbanization, population growth, poor standards of living, low level of environmental awareness and inadequate management.
The towns and cities of India are still not able to cope up with the uncontrolled urbanization, massive industrialization. It would not be factually wrong if we state that India lacks basic amenities like a proper sewage system, drainage system and integrated solid waste management approaches.
With urbanization, there is an influx of population from the rural areas to the urban landscape which thereby contributes to upgrading in lifestyle, consumerism pattern and fashion choices. All these factors have led to a drastic change in the amount of waste generated over the years lately. This has also led to an increased burden on the government, local authorities and the urban local bodies to manage the collection, processing and disposal of waste.
According to (Das et al., 1998) in India, more than 90% of the MSW generated finds its way to the landfill sites, often in the most unhygienic manner possible. The landfilling process of the municipal solid waste management (MSWM) is the most unorganized one, albeit the most used one. The entire process is in omnishambles.
In India, the meaning of landfilling process has changed to simply dumping the waste in areas outside the city without taking any kind of sanitary measures. The landfills are meant for reducing the exposure between human and environment from toxic waste but it takes a toll on the human as we are exposed to the problems associated with the waste directly i.e from the soil and the groundwater pollution.
The improper segregation or lack of segregation facility at the waste generation site, causes the accumulation of toxic waste mixture in landfills. The disposal of these toxic chemicals leads to the exposure of rag pickers to these chemicals.
The rag picker’s only means of income is by collecting waste but they are not aware of the fact that these waste will be toxic for them, their health as well as their surrounding. The most vulnerable people are the one’s living near the landfills cause it may collapse anytime and thereby claim lives.
The chaotic landfills act as a ticking bomb and could create havoc by catching fire anytime. The mountain of waste catches fire when it surmounts the saturation point and no longer withstand the heat due to pilling up of waste.
The excessive rainwater percolation through the different layers of landfill generates a contaminant laden liquid called leachate-‘toxic soup’. According to (Christensen and Kjeldsen, 1989) the leachate is the primary cause of mobilization of waste from the landfill site to the surrounding environment.
“The methane released from landfills has a great global warming potential which is 23 times greater than that of the same amount of carbon dioxide”- (EIA, 2003)
Historically, landfills were built to protect the environment and society from adverse impacts of alternative methods of refuse disposal such as open-air burning, open-pit dumping, and ocean dumping. Although landfills eliminated some impacts of old practices but new ones arose, primarily due to gas and leachate formation.
The health problems related to various emissions from landfills include high PM10 exposure, breathing problems, bacterial infections, asthma, elevated cardiovascular risk, and other infections. In India scenario, open dumps are highly prevailing which causes the breeding of mosquitoes, flies, rats, cockroach, and other pests. Some diseases are very common in the population living near the landfill site such as plague, histoplasmosis, murine typhus, malaria, dengue, West Nile fever, etc. as they are caused by the pests breeding in the landfills.
Besides potential health hazards, there are concerns regarding the flow of toxins in the food chain of birds and animals, fires and explosions, vegetation damage, unpleasant odour, landfill settlement, groundwater pollution, air pollution and global warming.
Waste generation has tremendously increased in the past decade and reached 62 million tonnes each year in India. Out of 62 million tonnes of waste, only 43 million tonnes is collected annually and only 28% of it is treated. The rest is dumped in landfills. It is estimated that, by 2030, the waste generation will increase to 165 million tonnes. India is on the verge of becoming the most populated country in the world. Considering that population explosion is a primary factor, it is directly proportional to the amount of waste generation. If the improper treatment of waste and dumping persists, soon the whole country will be under the muck.
We, the young generation, should be aware of the environmental issues and happening in our own country. If we do not address the current dilemma of waste, who will? Young minds and researchers are working in this field to address the problems and even coming up with alternative technologies for more sustainable treatment of MSW, but proper implementation is a myth.
There is a prevalence of legal loopholes in every stage of waste management. To save our leftover pristine environment, there should be the implementation of ‘green protocol in every state of India. Authorities should buck up and honestly take charge of the whole situation of the blame game between the state and central government.
If Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha can show the way to waste minimization by decentralizing of waste, then why can’t the rest of the country follow the footsteps? Every state can be a pioneer on zero waste if we the people take hold of consumerism pattern and by proper implementation of government policies. Remember, it starts with us and ends at the trash kingdom. Waste should be considered as a resource which can be utilized to extract energy. This notion can only solve the problem related to landfills.