The trashcan is like a magic hat; you put a bunny in it and magically, it disappears. If you are living in an major Indian city, you roughly produce between the 0.2 KG and the 0.6 KG of waste per day (India Together). Unfortunately, by performing this magic trick, the garbage you throw in this trashcan is not being shipped off to a mysterious fantasy land, but rather enters a waste chain in which it affects the environment and lives of all that are allocated to make a living out of this.
Curious how your garbage can affect the lives of people you never even met? So were we. Therefore, we investigated the waste situation in Bangalore. We found that garbage poses great complications in Bangalore and is rooted within different layers of society and accordingly poses issues in different fields. Concerned fields here consist of government, municipality, economics, public health, geography and culture. In order to better understand the issues concerning garbage, literature research was done. As we attempt to describe the current situation, please be aware of the fact that we have only scratched the surface of the problem. Here we seek to map out the landscape in which the garbage problem currently exists.
So where does garbage actually come from and why has this become an ever present problem? Twenty-five percent of all Indian population now lives in urban areas, due to the rural-urban migration over the last decades. Rural-urban migration is estimated to account for 40 percent of urban growth. Although this is a steep increase in a short timespan, the urban centres have not simultaneously created the capacity to deal with this growth. Naturally, the quantum of waste generated varies across urban centers, depending to some extent on the population, the degree of industrialism and consumption patterns (Venkateswaran, 1994). However, not only the amount of generated waste increases, but also the nature of the waste is changing. More plastic is produced in contrast to the decrease of organic waste. Economic growth simultaneously encourages consumption culture, which will ensure of more waste being generated. Currently, Bangalore counts approximately 8 million inhabitants, who generated about 3500 tonnes waste per day (Daily Dump).
Before understanding the different issues, we propose to first identify the basic flow of garbage. In mapping out this garbage flow, we solely focused upon the disposal of domestic waste within Bangalore. This waste is largely generated by households, markets and small businesses and is roughly composed of 60 percent organic waste, 20 percent recyclable waste, 10 percent toxic waste and 10 percent rejects (Daily Dump).
In order to collect this waste, the municipality in Bangalore collaborates with certain contractors. These collaborations between public and private bodies are called PPP’s. The contractors subsequently employ Pourakarmikas, who are responsible for picking up the city’s garbage using trucks and vans (note that the Pourakarmikas therefore are indirectly employed by the BBMP). The garbage is transported to landfills located just outside the city centers. Here the non segregated waste is thrown on huge piles. This system roughly characterizes the flow of garbage in the formal sector and is responsible for approximately 60 percent of the waste collection. Meanwhile, the informal sector is responsible for 30 percent of all domestic waste collection. These so called ragpickers search the trash for valuable recyclables and subsequently sell these to recycle businesses. Note that about 10 percent of waste ‘leaks’ to so called blackspots; sites in the city where waste is illegally dumped.
Issues concerning waste management
As already discussed above, waste disposal is deeply rooted in various different dimensions. Many of the issues are intertwined with each other and must therefore be evaluated as complex systems. Below I will elaborate on a majority of the associated problems concerning waste management in Bangalore.
First of all, waste is considered to pose a threat to a person’s dignity and status. Therefore, waste is not desired in the house and subsequently thrown on the street. This human tendency to ignore the consequences of behaviours we can’t see, can be described by the term distancing. This also relates to a lack of ownership, as people do not consider garbage to be their problem. But in an attempt to keep their houses clean, the garbage now piles up in front of someone elses frontdoor, namely the inhabitants of for instance Mandur or Mavallipura. These enormous landfills are located just outside Bangalore and have triggered many protests by local inhabitants.
When not done properly, landfills can cause great threats not only for the environment, but also for the health of nearby residents. Disease outbreaks around these areas are not unusual, due to all kinds of rodents and pests attracted by the garbage mountains. Ground water gets contaminated and due to lack of better commodities, the residents are forced to face the risk of health problems. Recent studies show that there has been a sudden spike in rate of cancers, kidney failures and heart diseases (ESG). Furthermore, livestock at these landfills die, as they also are exposed to contaminated water. Therefore the locals are also suffering from economic loss. However, not only the local residents are subjected to contaminated water. The Mavallipura landfills are only 2.5 kms. away from the flow of River Arkavathi, which ultimately discharges in Tippagondanahalli Reservoir. Research has shown that leachates released from Mavallipura landfills have contaminated surface and groundwater. As Tippagondanahalli reservoir functions as a major drinking water source for Bangalore, this consequently means that bangalorean citizens may possibly also be exposed to contaminated drinking water (ESG).
Another landfill that activists protest against is Mandur. According to BBMP commissioner M. Lakshiminarayan, Mandur landfill will close the first of December (The Hindu). Although the landfill might close, the question remains: Where will these 3500 tonnes of waste generated daily in Bangalore be shipped off to?
Given the high percentage of organic waste (60 percent) in Bangalore, segregation at the source of waste generation might provide the answer. Organic waste could be composted at individual and domestic level and the compost can be used in gardens or parks. The rest of the waste would be segregated and recyclables should be brought to scrap buyers. The BBMP is setting up Dry Waste Collection Centres in individual wards, so waste collection can be done on a more local level.
Although composting and segregation of waste will reduce the amount of garbage significantly, there are some problems concerning this system. One significant problem consists of the lack of knowledge about the waste disposal problems. Education makes for more awareness, not only about how to segregate and compost, but also about the consequences of failing to do so.
Furthermore, as described above, a significant percentage of waste is collected by informal workers who sell the valuable recyclables to scrap buyers. But as the BBMP is now setting up DWCCs, their waste supply is being jeopardized and subsequently they face economic loss. Some organizations (Waste Wise, Hasirudala etc.) have tried to minimum the competitive relationship between the formal and the informal sector, by attempting to formalize the informal workers. Grounds for successful projects are based on understanding cultural differences and monitoring.
Evidently, when mapping out the problem landscape of the waste disposal in Bangalore it is important to understand the inter-relatedness of all areas concerning the waste disposal problems. Although the problem is rooted in a variety of dimensions, it should be considered as a holistic system, in which every part is connected to the whole cycle.
Saritha Rai, The Indian Express <http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/garden-city-garbage-city/3/>
ESG, Environment Support Trust Group
Chitra V. Ramani, The Hindu 03/09/14
Daily Dump, Trash Tour Trail booklet
Sandhya Venkateswaran, “Managing Waste: Ecological, Economic and Social Dimensions”