Are Zero-Waste Cities Possible?
Many of us, including politicians and actors, are taking a keen interest in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government's Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. But, what a majority of lawmakers don’t understand is that a proper mechanism needs to be put in place to dispose of what has been swept from homes and streets.
India generates about 60 million tonnes of trash every year. Now, the billion-dollar question is- Are zero-waste cities in India a possibility?
The answer is yes, but, some effort is required by each one of us.
The first step
As a first step, the civic administration has to ensure that segregated waste is collected from homes or other establishments, and after providing for recycling, whatever little is left is disposed off in a scientific manner.
The Solid Waste Rules of 2016 and the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 2000 mandate the door-to-door collection of segregated waste, but most municipal corporations and municipalities make "secondary" collection of unsegregated waste from community bins. Therefore, the torchbearers of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan should motivate people to reduce their waste and separate them into dry, wet, recyclables, etc, and civic bodies should collect this waste and put them through separate treatment processes.
Another problem is that of landfills or 'mountains of garbage' where garbage is stacked for years or decades altogether. As community bins are temporary dump sites, the unsegregated waste is often transported to landfill sites either in a city or on its outskirts. A huge public health hazard, these landfill sites — Bhalswa and Ghazipur in Delhi and Deonar in Mumbai — spew poisonous gases, pollute underground water and have become permanent breeding grounds for diseases.
In June last year, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in collaboration with the East Delhi Municipal Corporation decided to use the Ghazipur landfill’s solid waste to construct the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. If the garbage is effectively utilised to build the highway, then it might solve the waste management problem of Delhi for now.
To effectively manage the waste, all the residue of the segregated waste should be rested in a sanitary landfill site. Sanitary landfills are sites where waste is isolated from the environment until it is safe, that is until it has completely degraded biologically, chemically and physically. By digging large, deep underground pits, residual waste is deposited in them and the site is sealed and compacted using bulldozers so that harmful chemicals don’t percolate downwards and pollute the groundwater. After closing a landfill scientifically, a cover of topsoil is placed and the land is reclaimed for making public parks or other green spaces. Given the scarcity of land, landfills must be only for the residual waste after the waste has been reduced, segregated, recycled, and resource recovery been accomplished.
In our effort to clean or homes or locality, we should not end up dirtying our cities.