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Will ‘Decentralising Waste’ Make India’s Landfills Less ‘Trashy’?

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State of India’s Landfill. Source: Source: Ritika Goswami via Flickr 

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.

Image used for representation purpose. Source: Vivek Mathuramalingam via Flickr

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 ultimate kingdom of waste. Source: Gregoire Dubois via Flickr
https://flic.kr/p/26HtapP

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.

Conclusion

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.

Way Forward

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.

It’s time to go the Trivandrum and Alleppey way! Some more articles on ‘zero waste’ cities of India can be found here and here.

References
  1. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050.” Overview Booklet. World Bank, Washington, DC.
  2. World Bank data. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=IN (accessed on 1200 01/07/2020)
  3. UNEP-IETC (1999) International sourcebook on environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) for municipal solid waste management (MSWM). http://www.unep.or.jp/ietc/ESTdir/Pub/MSW/index. asp
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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