New DELHI: Delhi government calls its three garbage dumps at Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalswa landfills. In reality, they are far from what a landfill should be. These are monstrous trash mountains, including hazardous waste, leaching out toxic liquids and emanating noxious fumes. Thousands of scavenging birds swarm over them as they grow larger every day.
The problem of Garbage:
The current situation could have been different if the corporations gave more thought to managing them. Ask any waste picker who scavenges on these dump yards about why this waste could have been a treasure. Shakil (10) is happy when he finds bricks in the dump. Even a broken brick can fetch him a rupee. “I earn Rs 150 to Rs 200 daily by selling the metal, paper, plastic and bricks I find here,” he says.
Scavenging at the Ghazipur dump yard begins early. By 6.30am, there are hundreds of waste pickers who pick up whatever they can without using masks, gloves or any other protection. Some even tie a magnet to a long stick to pull up metal objects.
Understanding the problem:
The most precious in the dump yard is construction and demolition waste (C and D) like bricks, concrete, wood, and rubble. We can recycle most of C and D waste. Why is it even reaching the landfill? It remains the heaviest waste. And if once mixed cannot be recycled. New York taxes over C and D waste. You should know that the UK recycles over 70% of its garbage and Singapore over 90%,” says Avikal Somvanshi, a research associate at Centre for Science and Environment. As of now, 3000 metric tonnes of C and D waste is going to the landfills in Delhi. Burari has a recycling facility for C and D wastes that recycle about 500MT. According to corporation officials.
Delhi hasn’t managed to successfully recycle the organic waste either that reaches its landfills every day. Bhalswa and Okhla Only compromise about 500MT of waste. A corporation official said that they cannot quantify the amount of organic waste reaching to them because it’s all mixed now. Apart of it is being composed by a private party but we are not sure about the quality,”.
Heavy metals found in solid waste samples from Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla landfills are alarmingly high. For this reason, the pollution pollutes the groundwater. An ongoing study by scientists at the School of Environmental Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had found high levels of nickel, zinc, arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals in the solid waste samples collected before and after the rains in 2010 winter and 2011 summer.
There is smoke all around these landfills. The waste often catches fire due to heat generated from decomposition of waste. Waste pickers also set fire to the waste by mistake when they throw cigarette butts or matches. The air is extremely polluted in these parts of the city as the burning of mixed waste can release even dioxins, but Delhi Pollution Control Committee doesn’t monitor air quality around landfills. “These are open dump sites. We don’t monitor them. They are not scientific landfills and hence there is a problem of leachate too. In the case of a scientific landfill. We need to cover the surface to stop the pollution in groundwater. The top is also covered so that the rain water doesn’t form leachate,” said Sandeep Mishra, member-secretary, DPCC.
The Rising pollution:
The three landfills are not recognized by DPCC. It has however given an environmental clearance to the “scientific” landfill at Narela.
Nearly 20% of methane gas emissions in India are caused by landfills which indicate their high global warming potential. Ghazipur has set up a methane trapping plant only recently. The waste pickers from the informal sector would much rather do away with recyclable waste at the source than pick stuff from landfills.
“The landfills are growing because 50% of organic waste and 30% of recyclables are landing up there. Delhi’s landfills are creating a health crisis because most waste workers who go there contract asthma, TB and skin diseases or are bitten by stray dogs. Sometimes fire burns these stray dogs. They could have collected all this at people’s homes if the municipality had involved them,” said Shashi Bhushan Pandit, secretary of All-India Kabari Mazdoor Mahasangh.