An urban habitat can sometimes have a quaint flora and fauna. A mighty mountain range made of garbage. A black placid river carrying chemical effluents. Eagles diving in circles, competing with crows to nibble on the leftover of meat pieces. Dogs and young kids trek up the mountains to find something else worthwhile to fill their stomach. If I would have seen it in a movie, I would have bashed it for glorifying poverty. But sadly, I see it daily en route to my office. It is a shortcut that we take through the Gazipur Murga Mandi located on Delhi-U.P. border to enter into the posh locality of Noida. It is a short cut we take and seal our cars 10 minutes prior to it.
Gazipur is one of the three main sites of landfill in Delhi, other than Bhalaswa and Okhla. Together, these three are piled daily with about 6000 metric tonnes of waste which capital generates. To give you an idea, one metric tonne is 1,000 kg. The capacity of a normal truck is a 6-8 tonnes, thus 1000-750 trucks loaded with garbage dump into the landfill. Mayor of the MCD, Arti Mehra, has declared that if it continues like business as usual, then by 2024, Delhi would produce 14,300 metric tones of garbage daily. The present scenario is that all the three sites are exhausted and no alternative site is ready. I must repeat, so that you don’t miss the point, the government has failed miserably with incineration and waste-to-energy projects and now dilly-dallying with other options, but till now doesn’t have a new landfill site or a reliable technology to manage waste.
We cannot incinerate because as Kushal Yadav from CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) tells, “Indian waste is very high moisture content and does not have the required calorific value for incineration to be effective. To increase the calorific value, plastic needs to be added but that only makes it worse. The one plant that was set up in Delhi shut in 21 days. Incineration as a technology has not worked for India,”.
A Plasma technology which is used in Gujarat, cannot be replicated in Delhi particularly. Ravi Agarwal, a Central Pollution Control Board official and Director of Toxics Link, explains further in detail: “Plasma technology is a high temperature technology in which plasma torches are used in an inert environment to burn waste to a glass-like residue called slag. It is an extremely expensive technology and not suitable for city waste. In Gujarat, the burning of waste took place in the presence of oxygen to bring down costs but it resulted in tremendous carbon emissions.”
With the lack of option as a sustainable solution, it is actually a ‘jugaad’ mechanism which is in place right now. People at the lowest rung in society form a brigade who, akin brave miners, delve into depths of dump to fetch some worthy recyclable stuff. Pheriwallahs and boriwallahs, are the most visible stereotypical ‘ragpickers’, shouldering a plastic gunny bag roaming from one dumpyard to another scouring for stuff that can fetch some money like paper, glass or plastic. Binnewallahs pick stuff only from territorially demarcated municipal bins, while khattewallahs collect office waste. Thiawallahs and kabaris buy maal from offices or households; and usually command higher prices as their material is of much higher quality.
All the collections are taken to a godown where its recycling would happen. These godown, or refined garbage dumps, can be found anywhere and everywhere in the city. Every market place, every drain, or a huge open space usually has one. Even a commercial upmarket area like Connaught Places has one in vicinity called Takiya Kale Khan, the biggest godown-cum-market in Delhi. It is here that one may realize value of all that we chunk as useless waste. Waste plastics fall into more than 40 different categories that sell from Rs.2 a kg to Rs.200 a kg. And paper is mainly of five types namely road-sweep, press cutting, newspaper, office waste and cardboard – and they fetch anywhere between Rs.1.50 and Rs.12 a kg. Similarly, there are three major categories of glass – white, red and multi-coloured, collected from dumps and sold.
And Delhi is now increasingly becoming the capital for e-waste, with as many as 900 personal computers and 3,500 TV sets being dismantled in the city every day for reuse of their component parts and materials. “Delhi alone gets around 70% of the electronic waste generated in the developed world. Delhi has become the capital of e-waste what with as many as 900 personal computers and 3,500 TV sets are dismantled every day. Conservative estimates put the annual volume of electronic junki at around 10,000 metric tonnes, but experts say the actual figure is even higher. “In 2012, it will reach up to 20,000 MT per year,” says Ravi Agarwal of NGO Toxics Link, which conducted the study. The study also brought to fore that chemicals such as beryllium, found in computer motherboards, and cadmium, found in semiconductors, can lead to cancer. Chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors, and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps also pose a significant health risk.
This makes me recall a movie that I recently saw called Wall-E. The animated fiction can in which humans have shifted out of Earth because it was too full of garbage doesn’t seem far from reality. Every time you throw something, you don’t throw it in the dustbin, but into a mountain of garbage carpeting the earth.