Ever imagined what would happen to the world if the volume of wastes expanded to such extents that we'd be living amidst landfills, breathing in air laden with pollutants and toxic gases and drinking contaminated water? It sure is a scary proposition for the future, but a very possible one if we do not rise up to the challenge of our expanding landfills.
The urban trash in our cities has been growing at an alarming rate, and with our urban population set to touch the 470 million mark by 2015, the problem is clearly going beyond the stage of criticality. So much so that it may lead to a progressive collapse of the civic system in large areas and turn into a severe health and environmental hazard for millions living in the urban centers.
How often do we think about where all the industrial, domestic and bio-medical wastes go? - Into landfills lined along the boundaries and outskirts of our big cities. One of the alarming examples is the 110-hectare Deonar dumping ground that rises up to seven stories high. Currently, the site has approximately 9.2 million tonnes of waste in one place. The effects of such massive accumulations of wastes are unbelievably hazardous!
Wastes are of different kinds and need to be dealt with in different ways. Because of dumping of garbage without segregation, the bacteria present react with it and release huge amounts of biogas, mostly containing methane. In Mumbai, there is the Methi river and other such outlets that dump untreated sewage into the sea. Recently thousands of fish were found dead in a fresh water lake that supplies water to Mumbai, possibly due to such toxins in the water. Effects range from people dying of terminal illnesses and breathing disorders due to consumption of polluted air and water.
What is the best way to counter a peril of this magnitude that our cities face? The answer lies in solid waste management and segregation.
There are many ways to manage waste, most popularly starting with reducing or preventing wastes being generated and then to reuse, recycle, recover and finally manage residues or dispose. Waste reduction avoids the unnecessary use of resources such as materials, energy and water and thus leaves less waste to manage. Recycling involves some forms of reprocessing waste materials to produce another product. Recovery involves recovery of materials or energy content of wastes without any pre-processing. For example, waste oils that cannot be refined for reuse in vehicles are used for energy recovery.Residual management is the final treatment and/or disposal of a waste that cannot be used in any other way. Residual disposal of liquid waste is normally into a sewer or septic tank.
Segregation is probably the most important step of waste management and recycling services, be it for households or industrial sites. A classic example of suitable containers for the segregation of waste streams are the blue, yellow, green, black and red recycling bins. Each colour is used to collect one type of waste- red are for metal cans, blue for paper and cardboard, green for compostable/recyclable material, black for hazardous and yellow for food wastes. Different wastes have different disposal options; segregating the waste allows better management of the material.
Segregation, not new landfills, ought to be the focus of solid waste management. There is a pressing need for dedicated organizations to handle the wastes generated by cities. If such organizations have bulk generators that ca manage their own waste, cities will produce waste volumes that can still be handled. There are very encouraging examples of waste segregation projects making a huge impact on the eco system. One such example is of The Clean Kerala Mission assisted the Mangalapady Village Panchayat in establishing a waste processing plant using vermi-composting and bio-methanation. These Panchayats send their waste to the processing plant in Mangalapady paying Rs.0.70 per kg as fee. In return they get 25% of the organic manure generated by the waste supplied by them. Using such initiatives, we can now turn a challenge into opportunity while doing our bit to preserve the earth for future generations!
So go get your coloured bins today and start practicing waste segregation! Lets start replacing the word 'waste' with 'resource'!