Cities & Architecture

As Delhi Prepares to Segregate Its Waste at Source, Lessons From Other Such Efforts

While Mumbai has introduced e-waste segregation, Bengaluru has imposed penalties to ensure waste segregation at source.

The existing landfills are overflowing and new land is not available. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: A waste segregation drive covering the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and East Delhi Municipal Corporations (EDMC) was launched in Delhi on June 5. This pilot project will require residents to separate biodegradable waste and non-biodegradable waste to be put into green and blue bins. Kitchen waste will go into compost plants while the non-biodegradable waste will go to recycling plants.

The NDMC and EDMC have appointed waste pickers to go from house-to-house to collect this trash and dump it into customised tippers.

Residents of the corporations are still coming to terms with having to segregate their garbage because the majority are not aware of the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. One middle-aged housewife living in R.K. Puram said, “I have never segregated waste earlier. It becomes difficult to make sure that all your family members are putting plastic bags, empty glass bottles, batteries, etc in the right bag.”

Composting being implemented in a South Delhi colony

This small beginning is seeing its share of teething troubles but citizens can take heart from the fact that the posh Shanti Niketan housing colony in South Delhi tried composting a few years ago. Waste segregation at source remains a thorn in the flesh of the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of Shanti Niketan but even so, they have gone ahead and made their venture successful.

Urvashi Dhamija, a retired teacher from Miranda House college and a member of the Shanti Niketan RWA, said, “We are following the approach adopted by the Mumbai NGO called Clean Air Island. One of their members, Shanta Chatterjee addressed our RWA in which she explained the importance of waste segregation. They advocate the composting approach in which we put deep burrowing worms into the pits. When the worms come up to eat the waste they help aerate the soil and encourage faster composting.”

“We built eight pits lined with bricks where this segregated waste is being dumped. There was an initial infrastructure cost but we were lucky that we received the support from the Sonalika Tractor company that gave us Rs 50,000. Residents also contributed their mite. Last year, we were able to harvest 600 kilos of compost from two beds which we sold at Rs 20 per kilo,” said Dhamija with a confident smile.

The efforts of the Shanti Niketan RWA received recognition when their compost was tested at the Sadhu Vaswani laboratory.

Compost being harvested in Shanti Niketan park. Courtesy: Rashme Sehgal

“Ours turned out to be completely organic while the compost being sold by the IL&FS wing under the nomenclature of Environmental Structure and Service Ltd was found to contain aluminium,” Dhamija added. “All our waste separation is done by hand.”

According to resident Sujata Madhok, the biggest obstacle faced by the Shanti Niketan project is that the residents often do not segregate their waste at source. “We have had to hire waste pickers to segregate it and put it into the compost pits. These waste pickers are paid monthly wages.”

In neighbouring Vasant Vihar, waste segregation and vermicomposting was pioneered several years ago by Primila Vohra who continues in a systematic fashion to produce quality compost for residents’ gardens and pots.

On the other hand, an NGO in Sangam Vihar has taught slum women how to segregate waste, and make and sell compost as a way of earning a living.

It is too soon to tell how the residents of the ten neighbourhoods selected by the NDMC and EDMC will fare in the area of waste segregation. Residents will be charged a user fee ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 150 per month. The waste is being divided into three separate groups – biodegradable, non-biodegradable and domestic hazardous waste. The fee for malls and vegetable markets is much higher with malls expected to shell out as much as Rs 30,000 per month.

Bengaluru – a success story 

Delhi residents have their Bengaluru counterparts to learn from. Bengaluru is presently segregating almost 50% of its waste.

According to the latest report of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) solid waste management wing released in April, over 4,000 tonnes of waste was generated from which over 1,677 tonnes of wet waste and 263 tonnes of dry waste was segregated at source.

The BBMP joint commissioner for health and solid waste management pointed out that a feather in Bengaluru’s cap is the fact that it is the first city in the country where sanitary waste is being collected separately from households. Bengaluru collects over 25 tonnes of sanitary waste.

The garden city’s reputation had taken a hit in 2012 when it gained the moniker of ‘garbage city’ after villagers from the surrounding villages blockaded trucks that were carrying untreated waste to landfill sites located close to their homes. BBMP then realised it was about time the city treated its own waste.

Leo Saldanha of the Bengaluru-based Environment Support Group said, “From the start, the BBMP has stressed the importance of having separate fibre bins for wet and dry garbage in blue and green of 120-litre and 240-litre capacity outside societies. In public areas, metal bins of 1,100 litres have been kept to collect waste. Initially, the societies were warned that if they did not segregate, their garbage would not be picked up. Penalties were imposed on those societies where waste was not segregated so people were forced to fall in line. More than 600 societies were fined up to Rs 2 lakhs in a period of six months to press the point that BBMP meant business.”

“More than 20,000 workers have been contracted by the state government to help in this entire waste disposal process and the state government is planning to regularise these workers because they realise just how important they are for the efficient and clean functioning of the city.”

Failures of the landfill approach

The simple fact is that the landfill approach is unsustainable for cities drowning in waste. The existing landfills are overflowing and new land is not available. Landfills stink and they poison the ground water and air. Spontaneous fires erupt in landfills – some which last for weeks – sending air pollution levels sky high. Residents often resist attempts to set up landfills in their areas, so do inhabitants of surrounding villages. This is a problem across all municipalities.

Many of the landfills in our metros are facing encroachment, with people living around these stench-filled zones because they have no place to go. Ghazipur, the land fill between Delhi and UP, has several residents.

India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, has also introduced some amount of waste segregation. But this covers only 10-12% of the population so far. Of the 9,400 tonnes of municipal solid waste generated in Mumbai each day, 3,500 tonnes makes its way to the infamous Deonar dumping ground while 2,200 tonnes is dumped in the Mulund dumping ground. Most of this is unsegregated and untreated garbage. Neither of these dumping grounds has a waste processing unit.

The recently-opened Kanjurmarg dumping ground is processing 3,000 tonnes of waste in a much more scientific manner. The garbage is generating methane gas but it has to produce much more gas before electricity can be generated from it.

E-waste segregation

The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has gone one step further and to collect a third category of waste – electronic waste (e-waste). The proposal was the brainchild of the NMMC commissioner Tukaram Mundhe who felt that increasing quantities of hazardous electronic waste must also be segregated at source. The NMMC generates 650 metric tonnes (mt) of garbage per day, of which 190-200 mt is wet waste while 190 mt is dry waste (including e-waste). Around 25-30 mt is green waste and the rest is mixed garbage.

The NMMC’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) Department started wet and dry segregation from June 1, 2016, making it mandatory for all housing societies, residents’ associations, industries and hotels to separate wet (biodegradable) and dry (recyclable) waste before handing it over to the municipal staff, said Tushar Pawar, the deputy municipal commissioner of SWM.

The Central Pollution Control Board has warned that municipal solid waste generated from our cities has crossed 1,42,870 (1.43 lakh) tonnes per day from which a substantial 12,858 tonnes is not even collected. Of the 91% (1.3 lakh tonnes) collected, around 65,000 tonnes  is being dumped or disposed off in the most unscientific and unhygienic manner. Only 23% is being treated while 27% is dumped into landfills.

In all, 1.13 lakh tonnes or 70% of the 1.43 lakh tonnes of waste is being disposed off unscientifically and unsustainably. Urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu wrote a letter on April 5 to all mayors and heads of municipalities declaring that, “Municipal solid waste management is one of the biggest challenges that confronts our cities. Improper and unscientific handling of waste has its impact not only in terms of environment and aesthetics of the surroundings but also poses a serious potential threat to public health.”

Naidu stated that from June 5 (World Environment Day) the urban development ministry would start a massive movement to begin segregation at source in 4,041 towns. October 2 is the target date to achieve 100% segregation.

Government agencies divided on how to manage waste

Not all government agencies are aboard on waste segregation. Swati Singh Sambhyal, the programme officer of sustainable industrialisation at the Centre for Science and Environment claims she was taken aback to find that NITI Aayog’s three-year action plan states that for 100 smart cities, decentralised technologies such as composting are not sustainable. They believe that incineration is the only sustainable solution.

“I find that very shocking. We have made a success of waste segregation in Panjim, Goa and also in Bhutan. Pune is another city which has done well to ensure that no dump sites be allowed to come up near people’s homes. But there is an insidious plan to kill decentralisation wherever it is working well. The Pune Municipal Corporation wants to revise their waste segregation laws. We have to ensure these systems continue to work,” said Sambhyal.

Sambhyal pointed out that of the 50 cities surveyed under the Swachh Survekshan 2017 by the Centre for Science and Environment, 90% of the cities do not have a waste segregation at source model.”We need more local and sustainable solutions,” she emphasised.

Unconventional solution for tackling waste

One city which found an unusual solution was Kerala’s Alappuzha. Here the municipality does not collect waste because it has no place to take it to for disposal. The city’s only landfill was sealed by villagers who lived around it and since the municipality has withdrawn from waste management, the people had to devise their own methods. They now segregate and compost their waste while non-biodegradable waste – paper, plastic and metal – is recycled by waste pickers.

Indore was declared the cleanest city in India by a survey conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development but it had no waste management system in place till World Environment Day. The Smart City plans are not giving enough weightage to waste management. This is a shame because the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 provide detailed specifications for collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of MSW and need to be implemented.

Gopal Krishna of the ToxicsWatch Alliance feels it is time for a strict implementation of these laws. “The government has to penalise all households and institutions that do not segregate at source.”

It is also time the public recognises the key role being played by waste pickers who are helping to recycle up to 25% of the waste generated in India. The majority must be made contract employees with regulated work hours and with proper health benefits.

The present policy of the government of going in for more landfills when even the existing ones are not functioning properly has drawn criticism from activists as an unsustainable strategy. Landfilling should be done only for inorganic wastes and the rejects after processing.

Indian cities have reached critical levels of waste, and there are no magic solutions like waste-to-energy plants as is often believed by many of our bureaucrats.

If by now we had implemented proper segregation schemes, we would have been able to create valuable compost that could have boosted gardening and urban agriculture – and greener cities.

Rashme Sehgal is a freelance journalist in Delhi.