Mumbai’s Covid-19 waste doubles in 3 months, treatment facility runs out of storage space
With a 104 percent increase in Covid-19 and associated biomedical waste generated in Mumbai over the past three months, the city’s waste incineration unit has run out of storage space at their one-acre plant in Deonar.
Private waste operator SMS Envoclean Pvt Ltd, appointed by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to deal with the city’s entire Covid-19 waste, said plastic waste comprising syringes, saline bottles, masks, gloves, discarded medicines, equipment, empty ampules etc., weighing 2,000 kilograms, was piling up daily at the plant.
“As per Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines, we have been instructed to segregate plastic waste received from healthcare facilities (collected separately) in red bags. Each waste product is disinfected and kept aside to be sent to private recyclers. However, with hardly any recycling units functioning and less number of vehicles with us, we have completely run out of space to store any additional quantity,” said Amit Nilawar, director, SMS Envoclean.
The rise in waste restricts the movement of people within the plant as well, said Nilawar. In June, HT had reported that 20 sanitation workers had quit the waste treatment centre in fear of being infected by the Sars-Cov-2 virus.
According to SMS, the quantity of Covid-19 and biomedical waste increased from an average of 12,200 kilograms per day in June to 24,880 kilograms per day average in August being brought in yellow bags from across 12,000 healthcare facilities in Mumbai. Every Monday, the quantity of Covid-19 waste reduces to 18,000-19,000 kilograms.
Additionally, 6,000 kilograms of recyclable waste is being presently brought to the plant. While SMS has 60 vehicles catering to only hospitals, another 35 vehicles from the BMC are bringing waste from quarantine camps and homes, containment zones in yellow bags. “The entire load of 24,880 kilograms is being incinerated daily but we are managing to send only 4,000 kilograms of the plastic waste to functional waste recyclers. The pile of treated waste stock has increased so much that we don’t have any space to park our vehicles,” said Nilawar. Each vehicle can carry an average of 250 kilograms of waste (ranging between 100 to 400 kilograms depending on the size of the vehicle).
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in April appointed a committee that directed all states to look into the expansion of waste treatment facilities apprehending additional Covid-19 waste. Then state chief secretary Ajoy Mehta had asked all municipal corporations to audit their respective facilities.
“The BMC had asked us whether we would like to increase our capacity. We asked for 3-acres but they agreed and approved the handover of a one-acre plot adjacent to our facility in June,” said Nilawar adding, “Once we have the land, we will procure 10 vehicles immediately and build a storage shed for additional waste.”
The BMC confirmed that the approval to hand over the land had been issued. “It will take some time to complete all formalities but will be done soon,” said a senior civic official.
Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner said, “We are meeting with the contractor soon. We will try to come up with a way out of the matter. At the moment, we have asked all solid waste management staff to focus only on Covid-19 waste. We are getting very few complaints about the non-lifting of waste, and I am personally monitoring the progress on a weekly basis.”
He added that antigen testing camps had been organised for all sanitation workers. “Only one or two persons handling and transporting waste have been infected so far since March, and as restrictions have eased in the city, the workforce has increased,” said Kakani.
How the waste plant controls air pollution from excessive waste burning
With almost 25,000 kilograms of Covid-19 and associated biomedical waste being incinerated daily at the private waste treatment centre in Deonar, air pollution is a concern for the operator and residents. However, they have built a mechanism to ensure minimal emission.
The waste treatment centre follows a process of second combustion followed by scrubbing and water sprinkling to remove hazardous pollutants. First, the waste is incinerated in a chamber and resultant hazardous smoke is transferred to another chamber where it is burnt for the second time ridding the air of harmful pollutants. Then it is sent to a third chamber where the air is filtered using a scrubber, and finally to a fourth chamber where a water sprinkler using chemicals further purifies the air before residual steam is released from the chimney.
“The chimney is located at a height much above the peripheral residential area and the steam (almost colourless) disperses quickly into the air, and no black soot or smoke is visible,” said Nilawar.