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India's Waste Management Moving Forward; However Slowly

Photo by Surya Prakash.S.A. / Wikimedia Commons

 

In India, most cities are surrounded by mounds of garbage.  This displays a neglectful mindset over the long-term in disposal of waste, both from commercial and household entities.

The waste has been dumped for decades, wet, dry, plastic, textiles, and whatnot, without sorting, on the outskirts of the cities.

 

 

The Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000, directly stated landfills need be allocated on which sanitary landfills should be developed to receive the final residual waste; the sites have been used only as open dumpsites for all kinds of waste, mixed together.

Emissions of methane, which are highly problematic comes from airless open dumpsites.  Methane is even 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.  As well as a black liquid (leachate) this oozes out from waste over the course of a 25-30 year decompression period contaminating groundwater used for drinking in urban areas and the soil.  Another byproduct of this is the horrid odor emanating from these sites as fires burn from the trash heaps. 

The gap between city living and the trash heaps is closing due to commercial and residential growth.  City residents have run the gamut of resources in trying to rectify this growing problem, much to no avail, however. 

 

Photo by Scott Dexter / Wikimedia Commons

 

In December 1996 A Public Interest Litigation at the Supreme Court finally put solid waste management on the map to government officials.  The court issued an order to set up an expert committee in January 1998 to submit a report on sustainable techniques of managing waste. Based on this committee’s report, the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000 were notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The progress has moved at a snail’s pace, however, at least there are now solid waste management rules which were expanded outside of strictly municipal areas while imposing penalties on those not complying with the regulations and rules.  The current rules state waste generators must separate wet waste from dry waste or face fines. (in Article 51A (g) of the Constitution which lists among every citizen’s fundamental duties, “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife.”)

 

 

There is also a progressive area of the current laws calling for “appropriate biological processing for stabilization of waste”, whether or not the processed waste can be used or sold as compost while landfilling is restricted to non-biodegradable inert wastes or pre- and post-processing rejects.

The trick here is implementing these new rules and laws. 

Covering the old landfills is not an option since it leaves leachate and methane which forms for decades inside the covered rubbish because the dumps weren’t originally lined with bottom and side liners.  At Malad in Mumbai, the treacherous effects of building on a closed landfill were evident as gases seeped sideways through the soil into the basement of the adjoining Mindspace Commercial Complex, wreaking havoc on every possible piece of electronic equipment and causing sickness for residents nearby.

 

 

On the bright side, there is a low-cost fix for this now.  Bioremediation can remove the garbage from the mounds and eliminate the lingering negative side effects.  This in turn permanently attains almost zero-emission of harmful gases like hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, leachate, and of course methane.  Since 1998 there have been several attempts at bioremediation along with bio-mining, while the past couple years has seen the most action of this. 

Raaginii Jaain, a national expert on the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission, has developed a rapid bioremediation process for old dumps (wrongly called landfills) and has successfully used it on old waste.

There were some earlier attempts which loosened thin surface layers of the garbage mound and was amalgamated into windrows before screening.  The difference in the earlier methods and Raaginii’s rapid method is that the hill is terraced, grooved and then slashed to form high slices to let air into the waste and drain out leachate.

Every week each trash heap is turned four times ensuring aeration to the whole of the waste and then sprayed with composting microbes accelerating biological decomposition.  When the fourth turning finishes you then have around a 40 percent volume reduction in waste as the organic fraction of the original waste is degraded biologically by the bio-culture.  There are special microbes used to treat leachate as well.

Many innovators and entrepreneurs are trying their hands at bioremediation in India these days.   What is happening is very promising, as land which was hosting dumpsites has recovered in full and healthy enough to be used for something other than trash dumping.  Along with being environmentally friendly Bioremediation is also cost effective.  With lobbying, the best interests of the people of India are not always at stake.  Equipment suppliers push their product as well even when it can be inferior as seems to be the case when compared to bioremediation.  So it should be said how important it is that alternative technologies be given their chance to thrive, especially then more simple low-cost methods, which ultimately benefit the citizens of the country.

 

Photo by McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons

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