New Delhi: Ghazipur – Asia’s largest dumpsite has been making international and national headlines for some time now. The landfill that was commissioned by the Delhi government in 1984, crossed the capacity in 2002 itself. Despite this, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) continued to keep the landfill working, as a result the problem aggravated with each passing day. What’s worse is the fact that back in 2017, two people lost their lives when this garbage dump collapsed and five were injured. Even after the collapse, the landfill continued to get the waste from all parts of Delhi. The waste dump is also known for major fire breakouts. In March 2022, a major fire broke out at the site, which was on for approximately 55 hours non-stop.
Today, according to the statistics shared by Centre for Science and Environment and experts, the dump site receives almost 3,000 metric tonnes of waste from the national capital every day. The garbage mountain as per the last count done in 2019 by the municipal corporation is around 65 metres tall (around 213 ft), which is almost at par with the height of the Taj Mahal, which is around 73 metres and just 8 metres short of the Qutub Minar.
So, what is wrong with Ghazipur exactly and why haven’t we able to control all these mishaps over the years? Team Banega Swasth India speaks with experts to get a detailed insight on what is not right with Delhi’s waste management system and the solutions on the road ahead. This is what we discussed:
NDTV: Are these mishaps in Ghazipur landfill the warnings signs that we are sitting on a time bomb and perhaps India should start managing its waste properly?
Richa Singh, Landfill expert from Centre for Science and Environment: Dumpsites in general are one of the biggest challenge that our country is facing today. Even after the mandate under Swachh Bharat 2.0, which requires cities to clear the dumpsites within a particular timeline, our cities are not being able to do so as it is very challenging. For big dumpsite like Ghazipur it is even more challenging, first because it is very big, second because authorities doesn’t have any solution for managing the fresh waste. The very first rule of landfill or dumpsite is that once it pass its limit, one needs to stop dumping the fresh waste. But what is happening in Ghazipur and other dumpsites in India is that even if the authorities are doing bioremediation and decreasing the height of the landfill, the problem is that they are continuously dumping the fresh waste in it. One needs to stop dumping the fresh waste otherwise it will become a vicious circle.
In Ghazipur for example, East Delhi Municipal Corporation is treating around 2,000 tones of legacy waste or old municipal solid waste everyday and then they are also dumping nearly 2,500 tonnes of waste daily. Like this, the process becomes a never ending cycle. We need to have a mechanism in place for treating the legacy waste which is already lying in the dumpsite and at the same time we need to have some concrete solid waste management action plan for treating the fresh waste so negligible amount of waste is being left at the dumpsites. Unfortunately, most of the waste across cities ends up in our already died landfills and that’s why it is bit challenging for the authorities to clear the site.
Chitra Mukherjee, Consultant, Waste and Sustainable Livelihood: The history of landfills in Delhi or in India is very sad. For example, the Ghazipur landfill, it is basically a dumpsite where all the waste from Delhi is just thrown into. There is no leachate collection system, there are no layers at the base that you put in the landfill when the waste is collected, as a result it simply pollutes the air, water and land. The Ghazipur landfill was first made in 1984 and in 2002 it reached the saturation limit as it has crossed 20 metre of height. According to the guidelines, when landfills cross a certain mark, they should be closed. But nothing like that happened with Ghazipur. We have still not closed Ghazipur, so, obviously the height will continue to grow and the accidents like 2017 and fires will be rampant. We only talk about fires, when we actually see it but the fact is that there is always smouldering going on inside the landfill because of all the decomposition of the wet waste happening that gives out methane gas. Landfills are something which city needs to really really consider as these are not landfills but just a mere dumpsite and they all have reach their saturation limit. Also, we should not be wasting more and more money in buying priced lands for landfills, instead, we should think of reusing, recycling.
Swati Singh Sambyal, Independent Waste and Circular Economy Expert: All the landfills we have in India are not sanitary landfills these are simply dumpsites and that is one of the biggest challenge. These sites are not constructed under any guidelines. There is no concept of top and bottom layers in these sites, which is an important part of constructing any landfill so as it doesn’t pollute the environment. Coming to Delhi, the landfills in the national capital are like ticking time bomb, not just Ghazipur but all the three landfills – Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla. These landfills have been in use since 1984, 1994 and 1996 and they all are still receiving fresh waste approximately 2600, 2200 and 1500 tonnes per day respectively. So, given a scenario where these sites are a challenge and we are still putting so much of fresh waste on a daily basis, it obviously will burden the resources. And in such a scenario wherein the city is producing 11,500 tonnes of waste every day, of which, only 40 per cent is getting processed, we are not really working on closing the tap. Talking about Ghazipur, whatever remediation activities have gone in there have not been completed so far.
NDTV: How Ghazipur is affecting the health and lives of the locals and polluting the environment?
Chitra Mukherjee: Landfills like Ghazipur is highly hazardous to the environment. There is always wet waste that is rotting, polluting the groundwater and soil, methane gas is coming out because of the decomposition of the wet waste, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Secondly, the gas is also a part of whole the climate change thing and lastly there is always a risk of diseases as there are a lot of flies and mosquitoes which breed on this waste. Currently, at the Ghazipur landfill we have all kind of waste – be it sanitary waste, covid masks, battery or e-waste. The landfill is basically a dumpsite, which gets each and everything that the city uses. Not just environment, it is very harmful for the people living nearby. Daily inhalation of all the toxic fumes coming out of the landfill is very dangerous. You can imagine, when you pass by the landfill or the garbage dump you close your mouth because the smell is just unbearable. Imagine, the life of people who work in the landfill. They have constant headaches, nausea, vomits, bronchitis, spinal problem, all this is part of their daily life. People are living all around the landfills, this in itself is a big no no.
Richa Singh: Ghazipur or most of the Indian landfills are not made scientifically and does not follow regulatory guidelines. They are just a piece of land which is used for dumping waste as a result there is no barrier layer at the bottom, there is no facility to treat the hazardous liquid that is generated because of the waste and also the gassed which is emitted in the landfill. During this entire process of dumping the waste, there is a lot of leachate that is produced, along with a lot of gasses such as H2S gas, which is carcinogenic in nature, the methane gas, which has huge global warming potential. So, overall, all of these things contribute and affect the environment and people living around landfills. In fact, the people who are living in the close proximity of 5 km, they are exposed to a lot of different types of contamination. As we all know that the ground water is the actual source of drinking water, now even if you don’t use that water for drinking purposes then people living near the vicinity use it for bathing and cleaning their utensils.
As a result they are exposed to developing many acute and chronic diseases. Lastly, the air, which people breathe is also very hazardous as it will have high concentration of oxides like sulphur, nitrogen and carcinogenic gases such as dioxygen fluoride, which is of course a kind of episodic pollutant, which is generated during landfill fire outbreaks. So, overall, landfills are just bad and impact the lives of people and environment negatively.
Swati Singh Sambyal: Dumping of mixed waste is a huge challenge – there is not only the environmental damage but also the damage caused to the people living around. Overall the leachate, which is generated from such sites is not only contaminating the ground water because these sites are more than 20 years old but also the emissions that are being released from such sites are polluting the air when they are burning and these sites are on fires every now and then that releases methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Initially, when these sites were planned maybe they were 30-40 kms away from the city but today we have reached to point wherein they are very much part of our nearby vicinity. Ghazipur landfill has become a face of Delhi, there are apartments facing the landfill, there is a mandi, poultry – so clearly it is the right time to act. We need to go back and understand the crucks of waste management and rather than addressing step G, we should really work on step a to g. Disposal is clearly not a solution, we need to think of segregation, recycling, reusing and minimizing our waste and dependence on landfills.
NDTV: What is wrong with Delhi’s waste management system?
Chitra Mukherjee: Not just Delhi, most of our cities waste management practices are wrong and in a total mess. They all should have started thinking about their waste management few decades back. All our cities, including Delhi, so far, have thought that by installing incinerators and waste to energy plants and putting up more and more landfills is the way to go. We still talk about centralised processing of the waste but what we should really be talking about is the decentralised waste management which just means that the waste is managed locally at the source where it is produced. So, whether it is the household, colony, market, office – the waste they are producing should be managed at source by them and we should not be thinking of outdated technologies. We should rely on our waste pickers, opt for options like recycling, reusing. I, sincerely hope that EDMC finds a way of not making Ghazipur higher and higher and not finding fresher and fresher dumpsites like Ghazipur. We need to understand, we cannot get rid of waste or landfills until unless we start source segregation, which is also one of the mandates and one of the first rules of solid waste management rules. It is not like a landfill is not required, it will be required, but we need to build it in a scientific way. Only, inert waste should be sent to landfills – even in the waste management pyramid – the top options are reusing, recycling – landfills and waste to energy are the last options – that’s how it is supposed to be and we need to understand that pyramid.
Richa Singh: Most of the cities are presently struggling to even achieve two way segregation, which is to separate your waste into two categories – wet and dry waste but having said that there have been many success stories in our country like Indore, Bhopal, Ambikapur, Karad in Maharashtra – they have done so well in waste segregation. Indore is the city that is segregating waste into six categories – wet, dry, plastic, hazardous, sanitary and e-waste and it is not that they achieved all this in one day. We need to understand that waste management is a process which will take time, willingness is very important. Indore started with two way segregation with an extensive awareness campaign by the local bodies and they achieved this in just three years. The city was able to motivate the citizens to adopt the practice of waste segregation and treat their 95 per cent of waste. Today they are making sure that only 5 to 10 per cent of the rejected waste or waste which is not recyclable only goes to the scientifically designed dumping ground. The same thing is being done in Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur. All these are good examples that Delhi should learn from.
Swati Singh Sambyal: Delhi’s waste management system is heavily centralized, right from collection to taking to processing, wherein the 80 percent of processing is happening via incinerations, there is less focus on decentralization. Delhi is the city where decentralization can happen very quickly, we have over 1200 dhallos in place, why can’t we convert it into material recovery facility, which is always been on debate. And why can’t we utilize so much land which is available for parks and garden where we can create micro processing entities for managing wet waste at source. This is a major flaw, even in so many years, we have not been able to switch from centralized system to decentralized system.
NDTV: Highlight some of the solutions Delhi should start in bid to fix the waste crisis?
Richa Singh: I think, authorities should focus on waste segregation for starters and come out with an action plan to treat fresh waste, only then the landfills height can be decreased and we can get rid of the legacy waste. We also need to understand that dumpsites and landfills are the least preferred option in the solid waste management pyramid – recycling is something that needs to be done, it is the most preferred option. Delhi needs to make sure that most of the waste the city is producing is getting treated and it can be achieved only by motivating the citizens, we need to educate them to segregate their waste at source itself and then channelise the waste to various facilities.
The six steps that the city should start focussing at on an urgent basis is – first and foremost, start source segregation, we should not mix the waste at source, as waste generators we all should follow this practice, we should start segregating. Second is that city authorities should have right treatment mechanism. If citizens are segregating their waste at source then the authority should also collect waste separately. Currently, even if waste segregation is being followed, by the time it is given to the waste collector it is mixed again as the authorities don’t have facilities to take the segregated waste. There also should be infrastructure, if you see Indore and Bhopal they have customised machinery or vehicles to collect segregated waste, Delhi, currently doesn’t have that system in place. Thirdly, we need to have sufficient numbers of recycling facilities where we channelise different type of waste, fourth thing is the integration of informal sector, there are many people who help manage our waste but they are not recognised in our waste management chain. Fifth thing is of course we need to construct scientific types of landfill which are not like these dumpsites, last and the sixth thing is remediating the existing waste from the landfills without adding fresh waste into these sites. All these six steps taken together can change the face of our waste management and reduce the huge garbage mountains.
Chitra Mukherjee: The key is source segregation and the community involvement. We need to get RWAs, community, people, local authorities all involved and ensure that people are segregating their waste at source at least into two categories – wet and dry. There are cities in India and world today who are segregating their waste in 5-6 categories but I would say, we should at least start with the basic two way segregation – dry and wet. The whole thing of waste management is that we need to reduce the waste we generate, and we need to get back the materials. We don’t have to landfill everything. For starters, I think municipalities need to have an inventory on how much waste is being collected, how much is getting reused and how much is being recycled. Once you have this data, then you are able to take good policy measures and then you should get the community involved – get them to locally compost, segregate and start recycling.
Swati Singh Sambyal: For waste management to work in cities, both political and administration needs to go hand in hand along with people’s will. Delhi has very robust waste management bylaws, it came in 2018, it not only mandates source segregation but also push for waste minimization and processing with penalties and fines for non-compliance. It is almost the fifth year after the bylaws were passed, but not much has changed on ground. so it is about time we implement the same. Also, it is important to understand as a generator – individual or bulk, we need to work on reducing the waste at source, segregation should be done, it is no more optional. Once we achieve this, waset generators should move a step forward and think of waste minimization. We have seen successful models in bigger cities like Indore, Mysuru, Ambikapur, Panaji, including some wards in Delhi itself, wherein the generators decided to treat their wet waste at source itself.
When we talk about MCDs, it is important that they create appropriate systems to manage this waste. They should process as much as possible without depending on landfills also ensuring compliance. It is not just municipalities job at the end of the day, it is a huge value chain – it is the formal sector, informal sector, corporations, pollution control board – so everyone in a way has to come together. The informal sector plays an important role in managing our waste, for me they are the real waste warriors.
NDTV: Lessons Delhi should learn from other cities when it comes to waste management?
Richa Singh: In Indore, everyday, 550 tonnes of wet waste is being converted into 17,000 kg of bio-CNG. Whereas, Delhi is generating nearly 11,000 tonnes of waste a day and out of which 50-60 is organic or wet in nature. So, if we go by this statistics, imagine how sustainable option it can become in a city like Delhi, where the cost of CNG is also very much.
Chitra Mukherjee: There have been many good examples of waste management within India itself. For example in Mysuru, the citizen involvement is so much that today the whole city’s waste is being managed at the source itself. They kick-started by getting all its citizen do waste segregation at home, then they have dry waste material recovery facilities where all the recyclables are collected and source recovery is done. There is a small place in Maharashtra called Vengurla – they have set up their own small plastic ban, then there is Alleppey in Kerala, Panaji in Goa, Delhi has lessons to learn from all these cites. The lesson, Delhi should learn is that the waste management should be broken down into smaller sections – we should not think of Delhi as a whole, we need to break the city in smaller parts and that is where decentralised systems come in place, so we need to focus on waste management in a ward, colony – and then target the whole city. It is very simple to get all your waste management in place if you simply achieve source segregation and waste recovery. That’s the key really. Currently, in Delhi only 60 per cent of waste is actually being collected and rest of it is being dumped into the landfills.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.