Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A new rapid bioremediation process that can remove garbage hills. By Isher Judge Ahluwalia ,

Most Indian cities are surrounded by hills of garbage, which are a testimony to our neglect over a long period of managing and disposing of the waste we generate in the course of our household activities and commercial activities in the cities. The waste has been dumped for decades, dry and wet, plastic, textiles, and what have you, without sorting, on the outskirts of the cities. Even after the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 specified that landfill sites should be allocated on which sanitary landfills should be developed to receive the final residual waste, the sites have been used only as open dumpsites for all kinds of waste, mixed together.

The proliferation of airless open dumps of garbage leads to emissions of methane, which absorbs the sun’s heat, warms the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Methane is over 20 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide. At the same time, leachate, a black liquid oozing out from the waste as it slowly decomposes over a period of 25 to 30 years, contaminates soil and ground water, the latter being used by many in the urban areas as a primary source for drinking. Foul odour from the waste rotting in airless heaps, and smoke from the fires that routinely erupt in them, are other consequences of dumping waste in the open. The garbage hills are now closing in on the cities as the cities expand. The city residents have been going from pillar to post, from courts to the National Green Tribunal, in the hope of some corrective action. Let us recall that it was civic action — a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court in December 1996 by Almitra Patel, one of the authors of this column — that had put solid waste management on the agenda of the government. The court issued an order to set up an expert committee in January 1998 with Patel as a member, to submit a report on sustainable techniques of managing waste. Based on this committee’s report, the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000 were notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Even though the progress has been very slow, we now have Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 which cover much more than only municipal areas, provide for collection charges and for penalties on waste generators for non-compliance, and most importantly, unlike the earlier Rules, make it the duty of every waste generator to segregate the wet waste from the dry, that is, keep the two kinds of waste unmixed. This is actually in line with the duties outlined in Article 51A (g) of the Constitution which lists among every citizen’s fundamental duties, “to protect and improve the natural environ-ment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife.”. Current laws in India are also very progressive in that they require “appropriate biological processing for stabilisation of waste”, whether or not the processed waste can be used or sold as compost, while landfilling is restricted to non-biodegradable inert wastes or pre- and post-processing rejects.

The challenge lies in implementation. The earlier so-called landfills, actually old dumps, are without bottom liners and side liners. Capping of these dumps is not a solution because it leaves methane and leachate to form for decades within the cosmetically covered heap. The disastrous effects of building on and around a “closed landfill” were so clearly demonstrated at Malad in Mumbai, where trapped landfill gases seeped sideways through the soil into the basement of the adjoining Mindspace Commercial Complex, wreaking havoc on every possible electronic equipment and causing unwellness for residents nearby. The good news is that we have a simple, low-cost solution of bioremediation to remove the garbage hills and their lingering ill effects, which permanently achieves near-zero emission of harmful gases (such as methane, hydrogen sulphide, and ammonia) and leachate... read more: