Will Bangalore ever be garbage-free?

Dealing with Bangalore’s garbage has been a Herculean task for the government, with contractors, bureaucrats and corporators yet to consider scientific disposal instead of the present trucking arrangements. “Kasa-muktha Bengaluru” launched last year seems to be a distant dream.

May 23, 2014 08:49 pm | Updated 08:55 pm IST - bangalore

It was not very long ago that Bangalore’s sobriquet i.e., ‘Garden City’ nearly came to be replaced with ‘Garbage City’ in the wake of villagers’ refusal to allow garbage trucks to dump the city’s refuse into the nearby landfills. Mounting garbage piles attracted international media’s attention and business honchos began to apprehend serious damage to the city’s reputation as the capital of modern Indian economy.

With the city’s population nearing 10 million, solid waste management (SWM) remains an intractable problem. The city’s per capita solid waste generation is estimated to be around half-a- kilogram. Going by this, the city generates around 5,000 tonnes of garbage every day. The BBMP employs around 14,000 pourakarmikas (or safai karamcharis) to tackle it.

Distant dream

With around 9,000 persons working with the private garbage contractors, the number of workers goes up to around 24,000. Despite considerable advance in collecting and segregating waste at source, nearly 20 per cent of the waste still remains to be picked or is picked irregularly, giving the city a grumpy look. Several households still dump it on empty sites or into gutters which in turn get clogged during rains and cause flooding. In short, Kasa muktha Bengaluru (garbage-free Bangalore) scheme launched on July 24 last year by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah still seems to be a distant dream.

Waste generation has a direct relationship with prosperity level. Greater prosperity boosts consumption and leads to households discarding more items. Nearly 485 items are cast out by households in a city which include kitchen waste, construction debris, food leftovers, cells, diapers, automobile parts, bulbs, mercury tubes, syringes, polyvinyl coverings, tyres, cardboard packaging, broken furniture, bandages, egg shells, plastic bags, clothes, all kinds of metal, bottles, glass items, chipped porcelain, and sanitary ware.

BATF agenda in force

It is more than a decade since new laws were brought in with regard to collection of waste in Bangalore. Under the recommendation of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), door-to-door collection of waste was introduced. (Earlier, street-end waste bins were the norm.)

Secondly, the BBMP introduced segregation of garbage at source by providing four different bins placed over a cart to each waste collector. Two of them were meant for dry waste while another two were to collect wet waste. The collectors are provided uniform, gloves, and masks. The gloves and mask are rarely seen to be used. Several workers find it impractical for continuous use. They are recommended to undergo health check-ups every month. Usually, waste collection is a family occupation. Besides both spouses, even children join the workers soon enough to keep the occupation going in the family.

Practical realities

A huge number of issues come into the picture and lead to the mechanism working ineffectively. To begin with, a worker is supposed to sweep 3/4 of a km of road every morning and collect garbage from two rows of houses, which account for roughly 120 households. The cart is capable of carrying about 100 to 150 kg. of waste. But practically things do not work out that way.

Since zoning regulations have been violated in 80 per cent of cases, the number of houses on the stretch has risen to 300 and above on an average. Consequently, he or she approaches just about 60 per cent of the houses and ignores those who are late-risers or not found at the doorsteps when the cart makes its passage.

Secondly, the dry and wet waste do not come in the same proportion as to fill the designated drums the cart carries. Hence, the segregation at source leaves much to be desired.

Thirdly, during festivals or the mango season, the amount of garbage per household goes up twofold and all that discarded does not neatly fit into the drums meant to carry them to the dumpsters.

Fourth, the loading point has spillovers which render those stretches of the streets untidy.

Fifth, the segregated trash gets mixed up while loading on to the trucks headed for the landfills, thereby rendering the segregation scheme inconsequential. However, 154 Dry Waste Centres set up by the BBMP do receive some such waste for being sent to the recycling units. These are large pieces of recyclable waste that truck loaders separate out while the trucks are on the move.

Cash-rich resource

It is pointed out that the waste generated by the cities today is not all trash. “It is not waste at all, it is a resource” quips a BBMP official who refuses to be identified. It is pointed out that several firms are interested in lifting the waste and recycling them to extract glass, metals, paper etc., at their own cost and even pay the BBMP some money. But the contractors’ and truckers’ lobby has such a stranglehold with powerful sinews inside the system that no proposals to this effect can afford to turn into schemes.

Significantly, nearly 500 trucks are employed daily to carry trash to the landfills. A senior member of the Expert Panel on SWM says: “There is an almost unbreakable nexus between corporators, officials and garbage contractors who do not want segregation at source and biomethanisation of the waste at ward level. They profit from trucks ferrying the garbage. The benefit increases in direct proportion to the distance a truck travels.”

Some progress

Under the Union Urban Development Ministry’s directives, the BBMP has taken several initiatives on its own to reduce, reuse and recycle the waste. Proposals from companies such as Terra Firma and Maltose to collect wet and green waste to turn it into manure are being considered. Similarly, there is possibility of coconut and sugarcane waste being turned into fuel pellets. A plant to convert the waste plastic into granules is also coming up.

These could be used by mixing eight per cent of weight with bitumen for relaying of roads. Hotel waste can be converted into biogas and can be resupplied to the same hotels from where it originates. However this would require rebate or waiving of sales tax on gas produced this way from the State Government.

The BBMP is also empanelling vendors for waste collection from bulk generators such as big housing complexes and firms. The possibility of turning feathers from birds and poultry markets into shuttlecocks and hair from the beauty salons into saleable tresses for wigs is also being explored.

The BBMP has so far commissioned two bio-methanisation plants and another eight to 10 are being installed. It had tendered for 16 such plants. Each of them can turn five tonnes of garbage into methane a day.

M.S. Ramakant, who advises the BBMP on solid waste management, says incineration of the garbage is not the solution. “We have studied the problem. The livelihood of nearly 25,000 rag-pickers is linked with the recycling of the waste in the city. Their interest should not be overlooked. Moreover, incineration will pollute the environment irretrievably. The whole garbage disposal system needs to be decentralised in the BBMP area and turning it into useful gas at the ward level will not only be a viable alternative but a profitable way to do it,” he remarked.

But the pace of things is pathetically slow and atrocious oversight of the problem in the past is showing itself up in ubiquitous garbage dumped at every conceivable empty site. In the eyes of the experts, the malady lies not in deficient technology but in management.

(The author can be reached at maqsiraj@gmail.com)

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