Overflowing Landfills, Shrinking Land


Global population is growing rapidly, especially in certain geographical regions, and with it there has been an increase in a number of other things, such as use of energy resources and food requirement. While the immediate and urgent nature of these problems has drawn much attention, the issue of waste management has only recently gained momentum, with efforts being made to reclaim land that is currently occupied by landfills overflowing with garbage, much of which is non-biodegradable and so may sit there permanently. Landfills are generally used for household waste, without much effort at sorting and recycling. The waste dumped there may include, but is not limited to mixed metals, food scraps and other kitchen waste, paper, plastic and glass. Though no toxic or hazardous materials ought to be present, their presence is inevitable due to general ignorance, thoughtlessness or sheer indifference to the possible environmental consequences of these activities. While many communities do have systems in place to tackle the problem, the minute that waste segregation becomes expensive or complex, it gets abandoned.

Landfills are no longer thought to be the best method of waste disposal as they not only use up vast amount of land but also pose a hazard to health. However the alternative most commonly used is incineration of waste, which is extremely damaging for the environment as it releases large amounts of carcinogens and particulate matter into the air. The two best alternatives are waste segregation and commercial usage of gases produced by a landfill.

The organic waste dumped in a landfill site decomposes over time. With an impervious surface below it, the waste becomes waterlogged and decomposition that takes place is primarily anaerobic i.e. it occurs in the absence of oxygen. The mixture of gases released consists mainly of methane which gets vented slowly into the atmosphere, while other gases emitted lead to the peculiar odor that fills most landfills. However in more efficiently drained landfills the form of decomposition is mixed, anaerobic near the base and aerobic decomposition producing carbon dioxide near the top of the heap. In covered landfills i.e. those sealed after use, the methane produced seeps through the earth covering the landfill, filtering into the atmosphere as a pollutant and possible irritant for the local population. Since methane is one of the primary components of natural gas, it can be harnessed commercially to provide energy, making the landfill productive and less harmful to the environment.

Waste segregation and reduction as well as recycling are key components of eco-friendly waste management. For recycling, one great option is the indigenous one of selling plastics, old newspapers etc to kabadiwallas who in turn sell them for recycling or reuse. Segregation of kitchen wastes is also crucial as these can be used for the production of compost and natural gas, even in small compost pits in every neighbourhood.

All these measures are necessary to ensure that waste production does not become synonymous with environmental degradation. As the number of people in any nation grows, the pressure on agricultural land, as well as need for housing etc make it necessary to reclaim every bit land that has potential for productivity; even if it lies dormant now, it may well be extremely useful in the future. To do this, different Non Governmental Organisations, civic bodies and communities need to work together, but what is required most is the need for awareness and a sense of civic duty amongst people, so that the present and future good of all is not compromised by the laziness and lack of consideration of a fraction of people who choose their own convenience over all else.

Ketaki Misra

[Image source:http://recycleraccoon.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/landfill.jpg]