The saga of Waste: Part – I

Pensioner’s city to Garden city to p(UB) city and Silicon Valley of India and the political favorite – Bengaluru. In the last few decades Bangalore has gone through all these aphorisms. All the while, one constant remained – clean city with conscious residents. Sadly, the current state of affairs reflect anything but that.

Laws around wasteNow, each one of our neighborhoods might look neat and clean. We don’t get to see the waste, as it is whisked away each morning by a class of workers (at home and workplace) paid to cater to the trash generated by the rest of us.

However, it’s what happens with all this

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waste which was an eye-opener to me as to anyone else who would get an opportunity to hop onto the monthly Trash Trail bus. Coordinated by the wonderful folks from the Daily Dump, it is a trip to be taken by every city-dweller.

Our day began early with an orientation and a sumptuous breakfast of local bread sandwiches and tasty upma. Extremely knowledgable, Poonam Kasturi and Anupama were great hosts. And they disseminated

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information about the fairly complex and diverse waste management (one can read it as mis-management as well) system of Bangalore throughout the day.

We kicked-off spending an hour with the folks who cater to waste pick-up in Indiranagar, an upscale and popular locality. These were women and men who would pick the trash bags from each home (if kept outside the gate) every morning. Indiranagar is home to some of the most educated and well-informed citizens of the city. And yet, waste segregation doesn’t happen here. One of the most fundamental problems with

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any waste management setup, this means each household leaves one big bag of all forms of waste (recyclables, organic and trash) mixed together. Each of these bags are then taken to a local transfer point for the next leg of their journey.

A truck (a dilapidated compacter) would come

Compactor Truck at work

by twice a day to the transfer point to load up all these bags and whatever junk is left out by folks. Junk is anything discarded; for what we saw ranged from mattresses to spittoons and fedex envelopes to empty pizza boxes. As the loading began, the shock for us wasn’t the amount of reclaimable waste we saw (For the statistically inclined, Bangalore generates a whopping 3500 tonnes of waste each day and sadly more then 65% of this is either recyclable OR compostable! :-( ), it was the lack of hygiene for the workers. They were picking all kinds of trash, which contained discarded shaving blades, insulin injection needles, remains of Chicken Tikka and smelly socks. These were hazardous material and could easily cause lasting harm to them. Even informing them of this danger didn’t deter them and they continued their work without any form of protection. Evidently the BBMP distributed good latex gloves, but, their utility seems to have fallen to deaf ears. Knowledge of some basic segregation was evident as pulled out pieces of plastic of any kind that reached there hands as the truck was loaded. While there isn’t a number attested to this, the location I saw had about 10% segregated as plastic. Granted – a paltry number, nonetheless that much was diverted from the landfills.

The trucks would then take this waste to the next stop-over point, the end point – Landfill! The landfillIt is a 180acre location…a couple of kilometers off of the road to the Bangalore International Airport. Each day, about 103 trucks drive in there and drop waste. One of the many in Bangalore, the landfill was huge and as one would expect unruly. But, the problem wasn’t what was obvious, but, what was underneath it all!
For starters, the lining which should ensure the toxic liquid generated shouldn’t seep through and reach the ground water was flimsy to say the least (For all the organic farms around that area – I am quite confident there are chemicals and toxins entering the food stream questioning the ‘organic’-ness of their produce). The landfill was equipped with a collection pit which was unsurprisingly barely used. On the top end, the mud used to compress the trash was sparse causing non-trivial levels of Methane release.
As we drove out, we saw additional pits dug up for future use. As the engineer there remarked, each of the new ones would not take more than a month to fill up. It left me thinking how many more pits would we dig before becoming landless. And then what? Would we go into the vast expanse of water? Where does the madness end? The most important question which lingered was ‘what can I do to reduce landfill usage?

In the next part,

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I would talk about the recycling or as we say down-cycling especially with plastic and paper.

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