Waste Disposal in India

The stench and ugly sight of garbage dumped on the roadside, sometimes overflowing from drains or floating on the surface of rivers, is not at all uncommon in India. It is disgusting, until you get used to it and begin to ignore it.

Where Does Your Garbage Go?

India’s garbage generation stands at 0.2 to 0.6 kilograms of garbage per head per day. Also, it is a well known fact that land in India is scarce. The garbage collector who comes to your house every morning to empty your dustbins inside his truck, takes all the garbage from your neighborhood and dumps it on an abandoned piece of land. Garbage collectors from all parts of the city meet there to do the same. Such a land is called a landfill.

India’s per capita waste generation is so high, that it creates a crisis if the garbage collector doesn’t visit a neighborhood for a couple of days. Typically, each household waits for the garbage boy with two or three bags of trash. If he doesn’t turn up, the garbage becomes too much to store in the house. The household help or maid of the house will then be instructed to take the bags, walk a few yards away – probably towards the end of the lane – and dump the bags there. Seeing one household, all the others in the neighborhood immediately follow suit. This land, at the end of the lane, soon becomes the neighborhood’s very own garbage dump – a convenient place to dump anything if the garbage boy doesn’t show up. Of course, when the quantity of the waste becomes too much to bear then diseases are feared, the residents would march up to their colony’s welfare association and demand for the waste to be cleaned up at once. The waste will then be picked up from there and dumped in another piece of land – this time further away from the colony – probably in a landfill.

People in India also litter excessively. The sweeper again sends all this garbage to the local dump, from where it finally goes to a landfill.

At the end of the day, it is safe to say that all garbage gets dumped in a certain piece of land (called a landfill).

Why is Waste a Problem?

As already mentioned, waste disposal in India simply involves rounding up the waste from different parts of the city, and dumping everything in a landfill. Once a landfill is completely occupied, a new landfill is discovered in a different part of the city. The Energy Research Institute estimates that 1400 sq. km. of land would be required by 2047 for municipal waste!

Cities those are fortunate enough to have a river passing through them, have an additional dump for all their garbage. The state of the Yamuna River in Delhi is a testimony to this fact. The river practically doesn’t flow at all. Expansive white deposits can be seen on their surfaces that prevent the flow. The deposits are nothing but toxic wastes that have reacted with the water. Practically no living creature lives in this section of the river.

The landfill method is simply one that creates land pollution (and in some cases, ground water contamination). The waste is not subjected to recycling, composting, or any other form of environmental treatment. Hazardous toxic wastes lie side by side with the organic wastes in the landfill.

The waste disposal issue has been given a small budget by the Government. Limited by this, the municipalities are ill-equipped to deal with the massive amounts of waste they collect everyday. Another problem is their inefficiency in collecting the waste. Currently, their efficiency is only about 50 to 80 per cent. The common man living in a populated urban city can tell you that the garbage boy seems to take holidays every now and then. The real problem is that he has collected so much that he can’t store any more trash in his truck for the day, which is why he seems to take a “holiday” and does not come to your house. On the one hand, we can blame the municipality for not having enough resources to collect all the garbage. On the other hand, we ourselves are to blame for generating such huge amounts of garbage.

What Can be Done About it?

Firstly, it is imperative on the part of municipalities to separate the biodegradable from non-biodegradable waste. Biodegradable wastes can then be subjected to composting, which is a process of converting plant and animal wastes to humus by soil microorganisms. Humus enhances the fertility of soil.

Non-biodegradable wastes then further have to be categorized on the basis of their toxicity. Toxic wastes, when dumped in the land, may eventually contaminate and poison ground water. They have to be stored in tightly sealed underground containers.

Wastes like plastic, metal, paper etc can also be subjected to recycling. In some ways, the waste can actually serve as a resource!

Of course, all of the above requires a hike in the waste disposal budget. The municipalities need to be taught the technologies described above so that they can deal with the waste effectively.

As individuals, we need to realize that we do generate quite a lot of waste – we dispose of containers that can be reused and we throw away papers that can be recycled. It is important to reduce our wastage of resources so that we don’t pressurize our weak waste disposal system.

Harshini Shanker

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