What happens to your garbage after you segregate it?

Though municipalities are strongly encouraging citizens to segregate waste, chances are the segregated garbage is thrown into a mixed pile of dry and wet waste

Published - September 24, 2018 01:50 am IST - New Delhi

 While what can go into the dry waste bin remains fairly clear, what is allowed in the wet waste bin is less apparent.

While what can go into the dry waste bin remains fairly clear, what is allowed in the wet waste bin is less apparent.

The municipal corporations in Delhi are conducting intensive cleanliness drives across the city as part of the Prime Minister’s ‘Swachhta Hi Seva’ initiative.

One of the goals of the drives, which will last till October 2, is to encourage households to segregate garbage, and put wet waste in green dustbins and dry waste in blue ones.

Experts have consistently advocated such ‘source segregation’ as the first step towards better waste management. Consequently, solid waste management by-laws for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, notified in January, also put the onus of waste segregation on the generator of waste.

However, corporation officials said very few neighbourhoods in the city currently segregate their waste.

“We have been trying to increase awareness among people through information campaigns but there is resistance from the public,” said a municipal official.

The matter even came up before the Supreme Court last month, where a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta criticised the city’s householders for not segregating their waste.

But what happens to waste that is already being segregated in a few neighbourhoods in the city?

Residents of DDA Janta flats in East of Kailash have been religiously segregating their waste into dry and wet dustbins for years now.

Beena, a resident and safai karamchari , said it is because most people in the locality work for the municipal corporation.

“It is easy. We put the waste from the kitchen in polyethene bags and leave dry waste in dustbins outside.”

Tota Mian, a garbage collector in the locality, said: “Residents have been segregating waste for at least the last six years that I have been working here.”

Unlike garbage collectors in areas that do not segregate waste, Tota Mian does not have to go through the added trouble of separating recyclable material from the muck of mixed waste.

He either sells the recyclable material to a contractor at a nominal rate or dumps it in the blue dustbins of the auto tipper that collects garbage in the area. What remains is biodegradable waste, which goes into the green bins.

However, while garbage from this neighbourhood finds itself neatly compartmentalised, the same auto tipper also collects garbage from households that do not segregate their waste. This means that the already segregated waste gets mixed up at just the second level of collection.

Further, while what can go into the dry waste bin remains fairly clear, what is allowed in the wet waste bin is less apparent.

‘Complex classification’

“Classification has become much more complex now. But for us, all municipal solid waste apart from plastics, paper, metal, wood and glass comprises wet waste,” said Anil Gupta, CEO of Dakshin Dilli Swachh Initiatives Limited, one of three firms contracted by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to oversee garbage collection in their jurisdiction.

This means that the ‘wet waste’ bins are filled with low-grade polythene, like multilayered plastics, old clothes and anything else coming out from households that may not be of recycling value and not valuable enough to be segregated by waste pickers.

A majority of this ‘wet waste’ finds its way to the Okhla waste-to-energy plant managed by the Jindal group.

“Wastes from unorganised colonies and slums tend to have a lot of silt in it and has low calorific value, so it is sent directly to the landfill as it cannot be used in the plant. On the other hand, wastes from higher income localities tend to contain more plastics and paper and burn more easily, so they are sent to the plant,” said Mr. Gupta.

Chitra Mukherjee, programme director at non-government organisation Chintan, said, “There is a fascination for incineration plants in this city. But that should be the last resort after different types of waste are streamlined and processed separately.”

The NGO is currently part of an expert committee set up on the directions of the Supreme Court to devise solutions to Delhi’s garbage woes.

Commenting on household-level segregation, Ms. Mukherjee said, “Most people are not keen on segregating garbage as the waste is not being processed properly.”

While Delhi currently runs three waste-to-energy plants, which process about 4,800 tonnes of waste daily, more are being planned by the city’s corporations.

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