Zero Landfill Model: To Tackle The Challenge Of Mounting Garbage, We Need To Go The Ambikapur Way

by Amit Mishra - Apr 26, 2022 01:57 PM +05:30 IST
Zero Landfill Model: To Tackle The Challenge Of Mounting Garbage, We Need To Go The Ambikapur WayLandfill
  • In contrast to the “zero-landfill model” adopted by Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur, the national capital’s biggest landfill in the Ghazipur area has seen at least three fire incidents in the last month, starting from 28 March.

The national capital’s biggest landfill located at East Delhi's Ghazipur area has seen at least three fire incidents in the last month, starting from 28 March. The latest episode of fire started on last Wednesday (20 April) leading to a huge cloud of smoke enveloping the region and neighboring areas.

Contrast this to the “zero-landfill model” adopted by Chhattisgarh’s Ambikapur, Maharashtra’s Chandrapur and Kerala’s Taliparamba, which seeks to phase out dependency on new landfills. At a time when garbage disposal sites have become a massive problem for most urban centres, the three cities have stood out in urban waste management.

The cities have been identified and praised by the NITI Aayog in its report titled “Waste-wise Cities: Best Practices in Municipal Solid Waste Management” released in collaboration with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in December 2021.

The saga of landfills

In the year 2000, when solid waste management was being prioritised, they were based on the idea - prevalent in most countries of the world at that time - that waste had to be collected, transported and then disposed of in secure landfills. The objective was to ‘clean’ cities of waste by removing it from the vicinity.

But this policy failed in practice and mountains of waste grew in our cities. What could not be collected or transported because of paucity of municipal services fouled up our streets and neighbourhoods. What was collected got dumped and is today visible as “mountains” of shame.

The stakeholders soon realised that the country must not use scarce and prized land for disposing of waste.

It was also found that whereas in the past, waste could be dumped in the backyards of poor communities as the richer sections of society said ‘not in my backyard’. This scenario has now changed - increasingly and rightly, the poor too are saying ‘not in my backyard’. This essentially means that it is no longer possible for city planners to find new lands for landfill sites.

Problem with landfills

Landfills are not the solution to a city’s waste management problems. In almost every city that has them, old landfills have become environmental and health hazards.

Improper and unorganised disposal in open areas and landfills result in the spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and affect the welfare, livelihood and economic productivity of the local population. It also diminishes the value of the surrounding real estate. Further, the leachates contaminate the soil, polluting the groundwater.

The most pressing environmental concern regarding landfills is their release of Methane gas. As the organic masses in landfills decompose, Methane gas is released. Methane's lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a huge contributor to climate change.

Why fire at landfills?

Fires at landfills are natural. When municipal solid waste is first deposited in a landfill, the waste undergoes aerobic (in the presence of Oxygen) decomposition where little Methane is generated. However, typically within less than a year, anaerobic conditions (absence of Oxygen) are established in these landfills. Under anaerobic conditions, Methane-producing bacteria begin to decompose the waste and generate Methane.

When Oxygen in the air comes in contact with Methane gas released by decomposing solid waste, it results in a combustible reaction, causing a fire. The reaction can occur more easily at higher temperatures. Methane self-ignites at temperatures of 60-70 degrees Celsius, which can easily be reached at landfill sites during summer.

Highly combustible waste like plastic is also dumped in abundance at the landfills, the presence of which aids in triggering a raging inferno. This is what is happening at Ghazipur.

Mounting garbage: A country wide challenge

It is estimated that urban India generates between 1,30,000 to 1,50,000 metric tonne (MT) of municipal solid waste every day - some 330-550 gram per urban inhabitant a day. This adds up to roughly 50 million MT per year; at current rates, this will jump to some 125 million MT a year by 2031.

The Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a heterogeneous mixture of paper, plastic, cloth, metal, glass, organic matter, construction and demolition debris, dust, etc., generated from households, commercial establishments, markets and road cleaning activities.

A major concern in this regard is that with increase in the quantity of the waste, the composition of waste is also changing - from high percentage of biodegradable waste to non-biodegradable waste. The waste characterisation determines the strategy for its management.

The quantity of the waste (on a per capita basis) increases as well, as wealth increases in society. India has crossed the crux of this waste trajectory in many of its urban areas where waste generation has increased exponentially.

The ‘nature’ of solid waste changes as societies get richer and more urbanised. Instead of biodegradable (wet) waste, households generate more and more quantities of plastics, paper, metals and other non-biodegradable (dry) waste.

Add to the increasing waste generation, we also have the problem of legacy waste lying in dump yards scattered across cities. It is estimated that some 800 million MT has been ‘disposed of’ in the 3,159 dump sites across the country, according to data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the pollution watchdog of the country.

Solid Waste Management Hierarchy

Over the past few years, there has been a rapid shift in the strategic direction of waste management and Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) has become the guiding principle for Municipal Solid waste Management (MSWM).

ISWM proposes a waste management hierarchy by considering the generation, segregation, transfer, sorting, treatment, recovery, and disposal of waste in an integrated manner, with the aim to reduce the amount of waste being disposed of, while maximizing resource conservation and resource efficiency.

The ISWM hierarchy ranks waste management operations according to their environmental, economic, and energy impacts. Source reduction or waste prevention, which includes reuse, is considered the best approach (tier 1); followed by recycling (tier 2); and composting of organic matter of waste, resulting in recovery of material (tier 3).The components of waste that cannot be prevented or recycled can be processed for energy recovery (tier 4). Tier 5 is disposal of waste in sanitary landfill, which is the last preferred option.

Legal Framework

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had earlier notified the Municipal Solid Waste (M&H) Rules in September 2000, which were revised after 16 years and renamed as Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rule, 2016.

The ISWM hierarchy clearly indicates that landfilling of municipal solid waste is the least preferred option for MSW management. However, given that the municipal solid waste management system in the country has not yet reached a stage where landfilling can be avoided, the SWM rules 2016 provide for design guidelines and operational guidance on sanitary landfill. Rehabilitation of old dump sites is also addressed.

Residual inert wastes at the end of the hierarchy are to be disposed of in sanitary lined landfills, which are constructed in accordance with stipulations prescribed in SWM Rules, 2016.

All over the world, landfills which integrate the capture and use of Methane are preferred over landfills which do not capture the landfill gas. As per the hierarchy, the least preferred option is the disposal of waste in open dumpsites.

However, Indian laws and rules do not permit disposal of organic matter into sanitary landfills and mandate that only inert rejects (residual waste) from the processing facilities, inert street sweepings, etc. can be landfilled. In cases where old dumps are to be closed, there is a possibility of capturing Methane gas for further use. However, repeated burning of waste significantly decreases the potential of capturing Methane.

Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) - Urban launched in October 2014 led to a radical change in the urban sanitation scenario in India. In order to sustain the outcomes achieved under SBM-Urban, the SBM-Urban 2.0 was launched by the Prime Minister on 1 October 2021.

With an ever increasing population and rapid pace of urbanisation, the country is facing a huge challenge of waste management. Indiscriminate dumping of garbage at the current rate without appropriate scientific treatment would impose a huge requirement of landfill area per year. This necessitates the importance of scientific solid waste management in today’s context. SBM 2.0 is being implemented with an ambitious vision of creating “Garbage-free cities”.

"The garbage mountains in cities will be processed and removed completely as part of Swachta's second phase. One such garbage mountain has been in Delhi for long, it's also waiting to be removed...," PM Modi said during the launch event of SBM-U 2.0 in New Delhi.

To achieve the stated vision, the SBM 2.0 envisages 100 per cent scientific management of all fractions of waste, including safe disposal in scientific landfills. According to the guidelines of SBM 2.0, only the inert waste and process rejects - in no case to exceed 20 per cent of the total waste - which are not suitable for either biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste treatment, can be sent to landfill sites. It, therefore, works towards a zero-landfill city concept in the country.

One of the critical components of the mission is to remediate all legacy dumpsites and convert them into green zones. The legacy waste not only disturbs the ecological balance of its surroundings but also deteriorates and muddles the overall aesthetics of the urban landscapes. According to a government release, the mission of ‘Lakshya Zero’ Dumpsite involves remediating around 16 crore MT of legacy waste dumpsites occupying over 14,000 acres of city land.

To this end, under SBM-U, Government of India provides Additional Central Assistance (ACA) for creating infrastructure for management of solid waste addressing inter-alia, processing of municipal solid waste, management of construction and demolition waste and bioremediation of all legacy dumpsites.

Zero-landfill model

A zero-landfill model advocates the need for continuous effort to phase out the dependency on landfills for waste disposal.

A zero-landfill city ensures that maximum quantities of waste is subjected to scientific treatment and recycling measures and negligible waste is generated as residual solid waste or rejects, thereby minimising the need to construct new landfills. It is a holistic and multi-stakeholder approach that ensures that waste is segregated at the source itself, recyclables are extracted and channelised to the recycling industries for various gainful applications, and biodegradable waste is treated in a decentralised manner.

Ambikapur, in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, calls itself a ‘zero landfill’ town. It generates nearly 48 tonnes of waste every day. Before 2015, Ambikapur displayed the usual manifestations of a town – overflowing community bins and waste dumped indiscriminately near roads, streets and a garbage mountain containing legacy waste.

With the intervention of the local administration and women self-help groups and inspired by the concept of the Garbage Clinic Model, the city is now able to achieve 100 per cent segregation, collection and processing of waste. The waste is brought to the Solid and Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) Centre, where the recyclables are first extracted into 20 inorganic fractions by secondary segregation, followed by 156 categories in the tertiary segregation. The legacy waste dumpsite is cleared by the urban local bodies and is now being used as a waste recycling centre.

It’s time to go Ambikapur way!

Also Read: Plugging The Gaps In Swachh Cities Through Effective Landfill Management

Amit Mishra is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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