No city wants to be known as the site of a garbage mountain. But that’s precisely what greets anyone coming into Delhi from the north: a 50-acre-wide and 60-metre-high towering garbage dump. Over a month since a fire broke out here, this giant landfill, which is barely 12 metres short of the height of Qutub Minar, in Delhi’s Bhalswa area continues to emit smoke, choking the lungs of people who live around it.
The air quality has since been “very poor” in the area and around. This was the fourth fire incident since April. Officials say while the fire was doused effectively weeks ago, the rubbish that continues to be thrown onto the landfill by the truckloads every day is responsible for the smoke.
The crux of the problem is the lack of a waste management system, and this has spurred some companies to step in with innovative ideas to tackle the issue.
Recity, an urban resource management company, has, for instance, been working for effective waste management across 12-odd cities for five years.
“We have diverted 53,000 tonnes of waste from the environment. In addition to this, we are training 2,000 workers on how to tackle the problem,” said Suraj Nandakumar, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Recity. Recity has also unlocked revenue of Rs 21 crore to upgrade city infrastructure and supply chains.
Noida- based Shayna EcoUnified, meanwhile, uses plastic waste and turns it into high-performing material in the form of high-density composite polymer (HDCP). These are used to make tiles, furniture, and panels. These products are eco-friendly and will not increase the already overburdened garbage disposal system. The firm contributes in three sectors: industrial waste management, sustainable business solutions and environmental quality service.
“We have collaborated with a number of institutions like the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to develop these products. These products have better structural ability, longer shelf life and most importantly, are recyclable,” said Paras Saluja, founder and director of Shayna EcoUnified.
Companies such as Gizmore, a smart accessories and audio brand, are also addressing pressing environmental concerns, tackling electronic waste being a major one.
“Electronic waste is mostly managed by the informal sector. Most companies don’t follow any norms in addressing the issue because of which most of their waste ends up in the landfills or impacts the environment,” said Sanjay Kumar Kalirona, CEO and co-founder, Gizmore. “We have set up collection and repair centres so that customers don’t dispose of their products arbitrarily. We have also collaborated with e-waste companies and hired third-party vendors to dispose of waste.”
Segregate, manage, recycle
The issue of waste management and disposal is huge. Bhalswa is only one of the landfills in the capital. The one at Ghazipur is even bigger, spread across 70 acres and dominating the horizon. Fires routinely break out here as well.
Each time fires erupt, every agency of the municipal authority passes the buck. Companies trying to address the issue lament the existence of multiple agencies and departments that do not work together.
Meha Lahiri, co-founder and COO of Recity, suggested a new method of working. “Creating a special purpose vehicle comprising people from different ministries and departments will help as it will link the responsibility of one department with another on many levels, making it easier for businesses to intervene,” he said.
Businesses themselves, especially tech firms, need to start checking on how their products are being disposed of. “The main problem with e-waste is lack of awareness. Firms need to provide more convenient ways for consumers to dispose of their products. These firms should encourage better exchange options or trade-ins,” said Kalirona.
Some of these waste management companies are looking to collaborate with the government.
Meanwhile, segregating waste is the only way to reduce the burden on the landfill: segregating, managing, and if possible, converting the waste into resources.
Saluja said lack of waste segregation at the generation point – by both households and municipal corporations – is the problem. “In the municipal corporations, waste segregation is at 32 per cent; the remaining 68 per cent mixed waste reaches the dump sites,” he said. “Recity can bring about a change by diverting waste from dump sites and other places and bringing it back into the circular economy for productive outcomes.”
Companies, said Kalirona, should not try to be overambitious. Setting unreasonable waste targets and failing to meet them has only led to more harm. “The focus should be on the sustainable recycling of e-waste.”
Saluja believes in waste management systems that are tailored to different areas and needs: “In rural areas, with high populations and illiteracy, awareness campaigns can help a lot. And in urban areas, ragpickers must be incentivised and penalties should be levied on people who don’t segregate waste.”