Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[op-ed snap] Cities at crossroads: No more cover-ups


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization , their problems & remedies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Increasing number of landfill sites of waste in Indian cities and their ill effects on human health as well as environment


Managing solid waste in cities

  1. There are two separate challenges of solid waste management in our cities
  2. One, managing the continuous flow of solid waste on a daily basis
  3. Two, dealing with the legacy of neglect which has resulted in garbage hills having been built up at dumpsites that were meant for waste processing and landfills

Lanfills: Overburdened by garbage

  1. The sites for landfills were originally located outside of the cities, but as the cities have expanded the dumpsites are now almost inside the cities
  2. It is estimated that more than 10,000 hectares of urban land is locked in these dumpsites in India
  3. Delhi’s open dumps at Ghazipur (69 metres high), Okhla (55 metres high) and Bhalswa (56 metres high), for example, are all much higher than the permissible height limit of up to 20 metres
  4. They are also way past their capacity for holding the amount of waste for which they were set up

Bad effects of landfills

  1. In the absence of exposure to air, the high-rises of rotting mixed waste on these sites generate methane (a greenhouse gas) and other landfill gases which contribute to global warming
  2. They also produce leachate (liquid generated by airless waste), which pollutes groundwater
  3. Frequent outbreaks of fire at the dumpsites lead to air pollution

Using bio-remediation and bio-mining to get rid of waste

  1. Bio-remediation and bio-mining are clearly specified as the first choice under Rule 15 (zj) of The Rules for the Safe Treatment of Legacy Waste in all open dumpsites and existing operational dumpsites in India
  2. The low-cost solution of bioremediation to remove the garbage hills and their lingering ill effects permanently achieves near-zero emission of harmful gases (such as methane, hydrogen sulphide, and ammonia) and leachate
  3. In rapid bioremediation method, the hill is terraced, grooved and then slashed to form high slices to let air into the waste and drain out leachate
  4. Each heap is turned weekly, four times to ensure aeration of all parts of the waste and sprayed with composting microbes to accelerate biological decomposition
  5. After four turnings, there is about 40 per cent volume reduction in the waste as the organic fraction of the original waste is degraded biologically by the bioculture
  6. Specific microbes are also used for leachate treatment. Once the waste is stabilised, it is ready for bio-mining
  7. Bio-mining efforts include loosening thin surface layers of the garbage hill and forming this into windrows before screening
  8. These fractions can then be used for different purposes — for compost, road sub-grade, making RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) pellets, recycling plastics, or inerts for landfills

Why is this method useful for growing cities?

  1. The most valuable part of this exercise is that the land which was hosting waste dumps is now fully recovered for alternate uses
  2. Since it is very hard to win local acceptance for new waste processing sites, the recovered land can be used for waste management

Way Forward

  1. Capping is being projected in Indian cities as a solution to the challenges posed by our unlined open dumps even where bio-remediation and bio-mining are feasible and desirable
  2. The Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Central Pollution Control Board should swing into action immediately to issue guidelines on the capping of dumpsites, taking account of health, environment and financial perspectives
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