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The Mumbai Project: Climbing Mount Garbage

While Mumbai gets loaded by its 10,000 tonnes of daily refuse, Johannesburg studies solutions we have on paper and quietly implements them. Gigil Varghese finds out...Talk to us...Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 17:28 IST
Gigil Varghese

“Mumbai is only lifting and shifting its garbage, but not solving the problem. The civic body does not process even one tonne of the total domestic waste generated in the city.” - SR Maley, Consultant to the government bodies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka (Check out the special on The Mumbai Project)

The strawberry has vanished from Arnaz Patel’s chewing gum. Her jaws ache from prolonged chewing.Conscience, however, aches a lot more for the 25-year-old who works for the Human Resource Department of a consultancy firm. She holds her rubbery, emaciated gum and looks for a bin to dispose it as she shops on Bandra’s Linking Road, little knowing that the next bin is near Khar station, a 20-minute walk. This bin, into which the gum eventually goes, is among the 700 in a city of more than 14 million Mumbaikars: one for every 20,000 people.

The chewing gum will now have to wait for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s new, green Clean Up trucks to arrive in the next 24 hours to collect trash from the overflowing bin. In Mumbai, 1,500 vehicles and 25,000 civic workers collect 10,000 tonnes of garbage (about 100 full-grown blue whales) daily from 6,000 community bins and six lakh homes— a force woefully stretched.

From the bin, Patel’s gum travels about 20 km north to the Gorai dumping ground, where it will remain buried in 40 metre-high garbage heaps. Typical of a dumping system that is overburdened, has not put basic garbage treatment technologies in place and where garbage still comes in largely without dry and wet waste being segregated to help recycling. If we keep dumping garbage without treating it, space-starved Mumbai will soon run out of space.

“We are 50-60 years behind the US and European nations in treating garbage and implementing waste technologies. Mumbai is even behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” said Almitra Patel, garbologist, who was on the Supreme Court committee that framed the municipal solid waste rules for the country. She visited 20 foreign countries and 136 Indian cities in 12 years to study garbage disposal. Ironically, four years ago the Johannesburg Mayor had visited to Mumbai to study its garbage problems.

He found all the solutions here, but on paper. He and his team went home, and quietly implemented all that Mumbai had been meticulously planning for years. Johannesburg has a new goal now: turning itself into one of the cleanest cities in Africa while supporting the national vision of ‘Zero waste to landfills by 2022’.

A company called Pikitup manages Johannesburg’s garbage collection. It has modernised the collection system by systematically replacing the refuse bag system with 240-litre wheeled bins, which are easier to handle. Pikitup sweeps and clears litter from approximately 9,000 km of roads throughout Johannesburg’s 11 regions. Each year, the city generates a total of 1,6 million tonnes of waste.

Or, for instance, Beijing, which has17 garbage treatment plants, will now build another 15 new waste-handling centers, hoping to raise its daily garbage treatment capacity to 12,500 tonnes in 2008 from the current 8,800 tonnes. Mumbai does not even have a single garbage treatment plant. If Mumbai were to recycle all its garbage, it would at least add Rs 27,000 to the municipal kitty every day. The recyclable waste can be sold and the organic waste can easily be converted into organic manure.

Johannesburg holds exhibitions where this organic manure is sold to the citizens. The Mumbai authorities’ approach to the dumping problem has always been half-hearted. In 2005, infrastructure consultants IL&FS was appointed as consultants to help BMC implement solutions to put an end to random dumping of garbage.

IL&FS was appointed to give consultancy to BMC to prepare, float, invite, evaluate, and assist BMC in awarding tenders to implement the solutions. These included scientific handling of garbage, whereby poisonous gases would be tapped and ground-water contamination prevented by avoiding direct contact with the soil. The company has done no such evaluation so far and the BMC has not awarded a single contract. IL&FS declined to comment because of a secrecy pact with the civic body.

The collection fleet is woefully stretched, dump yards are fast filling out, recycling facilities are absent, lofty projects and proposals have been rotting for years - Mumbai's garbage disposal system is a mess.

Clean-up perks

* Offer tax incentives to zero-garbage communities.
* Create separate channels for collection and disposal of dry and wet waste.
* Reserve land for treating organic waste.
* Set up booths where dry recyclable waste can be sold.
* Have a pay-as-you-throw scheme like the US, in which households pay charges depending on the amount of garbage they throw.

Our markets, their markets

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne Busy markets generate enormous amount of waste and Queen Victoria Market (QVM) is a classic example. Every year at QVM, more than 1,000 traders and over 10 million shoppers do business.

"This year, the market expects to clean up and remove 6,000 tonnes of rubbish. Cleaning and waste removal have to be done unobtrusively and continuously while shoppers are present, so it's a challenge," said Jim Monaghan, the market's managing director.

"Shoppers expect hygienic facilities, particularly when food is being sold." The QVM market - Melbourne's icon for almost 130 years - has a monitoring body that checks for cleanliness at different times of the day. Waste collection and disposal are tightly defined with a big focus on recycling.

"Ten years ago, much of the waste was sent to the tip (dump yard)," said John Podlena, senior operations supervisor. "Now, almost 100 per cent paper, cardboard wastes and polystyrene boxes are recycled."

Dadar Municipal Market, Mumbai

The 100 tonnes of organic waste generated daily at the Dadar Municipal Market - a historic address since the early 1900s - is dumped on the road outside Dadar station and near the drains. Municipal trucks come at night to clear the rubbish, leaving much of it behind, and head for the Mulund dump yard. There is no monitoring and no recycling plan in place.

Empire of rubbish After the green, muddy municipal dumper empties its garbage at Deonar, seven-year-old Allam Sheikh takes over the heap of trash, rummaging through it. His aim is to find plastics, milk packets. "If it is too thin or dirty, it is of no use," said Sheikh.

But plastics are not the only things treasured in the heap of trash. Glass bottles, cans and cardboard boxes are unearthed from the mountain of garbage and sent to the recycling industry. Adding up 10,000 tonnes of waste generated every day 1,500 tonnes is recyclable waste worth Rs 15,000 6,000 tonnes is organic waste worth Rs 12,000 2,500 tonnes of garbage has no value Rs 27,000 per day is the potential revenue from the waste industry

In the dumps

Malad: 15 hectares
Status: A sprawling office complex and malls have come up over it, but the dead dump yard continues to emit poisonous gases from untreated waste.

The Mindspace complex, which houses more than 100 infotech offices and call centres, was built on this garbage-filled marshland. The BMC acquired the 15-hectare plot in 1968. For the next 30 years, 1,000 tonnes of garbage was dumped here daily. The Supreme Court ordered the closure of the dumping ground in 2002, following a plea that it had exhausted its capacity. The garbage was not treated during the site's closure.

Deonar: 100 hectares
Status: The city's first and the oldest dump yard, set up in 1927, will retire soon. The civic body has invited bids and a technical scrutiny of the site is pending. Companies from France, South American countries and the US have participated in the bidding. The dump yard will be partially closed; about 13 hectares will continue to be used for dumping garbage.
Mulund: 25 hectares
Status: It will be closed soon and five hectares will be converted into a green belt. This is mainly used for dumping market waste. There are plans of composting 1,000 tonnes of garbage and generating gas fuel out of 500 tonnes more.

Kanjurmarg: 143 hectares
Status: It will be ready to accept trash in one-and-a-half years. About 4,000 tonnes of garbage will be composted. The BMC will soon award contracts in the Rs 150-crore project after a technical feasibility study.

Dahisar: 14 hectares
Status: The BMC plans to use the 14-hectare quarry to exclusively dump construction debris. "The proposal is pending approval in the civic house," said R.A. Rajeev. Currently, there is no dump that accepts only debris.

Garbage angels

The Pali Hill crusaders

Madhu Poplai is believed to be one of the first people in the city to segregate household waste into wet and dry types. She also leads an informal awareness campaign in Bandra (west) on the need to segregate for better recycling. "I absolutely insist that everybody in my house segregates garbage into two bins," said the Pali Hill resident, who has had two bins at home for the past nine years. The wet waste goes to the BMC trucks that come to her building every day and the dry waste, like plastic bottles and cardboard, is given to her domestic help. "Pali Hill was one of the first areas in Mumbai to start garbage segregation," said Dr Amitav Shukla, a surgeon and the chairman of Pali Hill Residents' Association. Shukla has instructed the staff in his building Neptune not to pick up garbage from any apartment that has not segregated waste.

The peel-to-pearl man

Ten years ago, a 13-year-old was fascinated by the concept of turning the banana peel he threw away into compost. His fancy made him the pioneer in garbage segregation in not only his building but also the entire street. Jared D'Silva went out on the road with scrap dealers to help them collect dry waste from all the buildings on Peter Dias Road in Bandra and was instrumental in setting up the first composting pit in his building Marinisha. Inspired by his efforts, an award was constituted after the building by the BMC.

Soon, several other buildings, especially in Bandra and Khar, began segregation. Sixty of them went on to win the Zero-Garbage Marinisha Award. Jared has not outgrown his fascination. Though he spends most of his day at work, he still makes time to look into the functioning of the six-apartment composting pit in his building.

The buck stops here

RA Rajeev, Additional Municipal Commissioner

Why haven't you made it compulsory to segregate garbage and have a separate channel for collection of dry and wet waste?
Garbage is segregated at a basic level by ragpickers once it is in the community bins. Making separate channels for wet and dry waste would be too expensive; no other city has done it fully. |In London too, the same vehicle collects both wet and dry garbage but in different coloured bags. It is segregated at the dump yard.

Why don't you insist on backyard composting for societies and make it a part of the eco-housing project?
Composting leads to the emission of greenhouse gases, according to a UK study. It is harmful to the environment and we don't want to make it compulsory.

Break it down

** Segregation
We need to start with two bins at home, one for the kitchen waste (wet) and the other for recyclable (dry) waste.
Countries that do this: UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany.
In Mumbai: Less than 500 tonnes of the 10,000 tonnes of daily waste is segregated.

** Composting
Organic waste is converted into fertiliser. "All the BMC needs is 20 days and 20 pits to recycle waste," said P.R. Sanglikar, retired deputy municipal commissioner.
Countries that do this: Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore.
In Mumbai: Nothing's being done.

** Bio methanation
This process generates gas and can be used on wet garbage.
Countries that do this: Sri Lanka, China, Singapore.
In Mumbai: 20-30 tonnes processed daily at Govandi Centenary Hospital, Deonar abattoir.

** Sanitary landfill
The refuse is deposited in layers, compacted and covered to form a seal. It is used to get rid of tins, clothes and debris.
Countries that do this: UAE, UK, France, South Africa, Kuwait.
In Mumbai: Nothing's being done.

For more details: Check out the special on The Mumbai Project