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Mumbai: City of garbage hits a dead end

In 2011-12, Mumbai alone accounted for 6.11% of the total waste generated daily in India. As its waste piles up, the land-starved city is staring at the big question.

The dumping ground at Deonar. (IE Photo: Prashant Nadkar) The dumping ground at Deonar. (IE Photo: Prashant Nadkar)

In 2011-12, Mumbai alone accounted for 6.11% of the total waste generated daily in India. As its waste piles up, the
land-starved city is staring at the big question — where to dump? Our reporters look at options.

Of the 1,27,486 tonnes of waste generated daily in India in 2011-12, Mumbai alone accounted for 6.11 per cent. It is estimated that every resident in the metropolis now generates about 630 grams of waste daily, a figure that is expected to touch 1 kg in the coming years. Land-starved that the city is, this leaves its planners with an extremely difficult choice — where to dump?

The predicament, coupled with concerns for high-level emissions of greenhouse gases from the city’s unsanitary landfills and the growth of bacteria that cause life-threatening diseases, has fuelled the prospects of the waste management industry, which has yet to firmly establish itself in India. Estimates suggest that the Rs 60,000-crore industry has the potential to grow at 10-15 per cent a year. Foretelling the latent possibilities of this business, Dr Amiya Sahu, president of National Solid Waste Association of India (NSWAI) and member of the Planning Commission’s task force for Solid Waste Management (SWM), says, “Garbage is money, if handled properly.”

While the quantum of garbage generated by the city is only expected to increase, the infrastructure necessary to manage it is still not in place. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has ambitious plans to process and manage the 7,000-8,000 metric tonnes (MT) of waste generated daily. But since the formulation of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Rules (management and handling) in 2000, most of these ideas have either failed to take off the drawing board or are poorly implemented today.


Environmentalists believe the BMC’s current policies are in violation of MSW Rules, 2000, as the corporation allows compactor trucks to collect mixed waste and fails to penalise buildings that do not segregate waste. In February last year, a circular issued by deputy municipal commissioner (SWM) Prakash Patil stated that by July 2013, the corporation would stop accepting mixed waste and issue legal notices to housing societies that fail to segregate waste at the source.
The big announcement, however, fell flat as the corporation failed to provide vehicles for collecting dry waste from housing societies. Since last year, the corporation has been working on a long-term plan to ensure 100 per cent segregation by March 2015. The plan has yet to be finalised.

“Segregation was widely successful between 1997 and 2004, where the civic body roped in ALMs to encourage composting in an effort to decentralise waste management. But the current policy, of awarding centralised contracts to private companies running compactor trucks and paying a tipping fee to private contractor (the case in Kanjurmarg) for every tonne of waste accepted at the dumpyard, reverses the previous successful policies,” Rishi Aggarwal, a research fellow with Observer Research Foundation, says adding that the civic body has failed to make residents a partner in solid waste management, but has put its faith in private parties to manage waste.

Questions have been repeatedly raised over the quality of service provided by the contractors in collection and transportation of waste. Critics say while the BMC has an elaborate system in place for collection and transportation of waste, there are no real-time checks in place to see if the appointed contractors are following specifications. In a major health hazard, conservancy workers involved in collection, transportation and disposal continue to work without wearing the prescribed rubber gloves, face masks, reflector jackets and safety shoes.

In a bid to introduce remote real-time monitoring of the system, the civic body is now working with global analytical company CRISIL to develop a software that will facilitate checks with minimum dependence on on-site employees. “We are working on removing the human element in the monitoring of all services. Instead of assigning officers to inspect the work, it will be monitored from the offices through live feeds,” says Patil.

The initiative is part of the civic body’s attempt to comply with standards set by the Ministry of Urban Development’s (MoUD) for urban local bodies to enhance the quality of civic amenities. Apart from effective garbage collection, the civic body will also have to ensure 80 per cent recovery of collected waste through recycling, 100 per cent scientific disposal of municipal solid waste, 100 per cent cost recovery in SWM services and 90 per cent efficiency in collection of SWM charges.

Starting with collection, Dr Sahu says, BMC should first provide the necessary infrastructure to encourage segregation. “If BMC wants to increase segregation of waste, it will first have to invest in more dust bins for Mumbai. Different dust bins for different types of waste should be provided so that residents are publicly educated to segregate wet waste from paper, plastic, glass and metal. Even the community waste bins today are overflowing and unsanitary. If they are better designed, we can use these effectively,” says Dr Sahu.

In early 2013, the corporation had announced plans to acquire 20,000 waste bins that would promote segregation. However, so far, it is yet to float a tender.

While BMC anticipates an increase in the amount of waste generated over the next 20 years, its SWM department claims that through these plans for segregation and waste-processing, the amount of waste that reaches the city’s three dumping grounds (currently 7000-8000 MT) will be limited to less than 10,000 MT.

According to Dr Sahu, the corporation would be better able to achieve this if it invested in built-in shredders for dry waste vehicles travelling to dumping grounds. “The amount of dry waste that is actually transported to the dumping grounds is half of the vehicle’s carrying capacity. It is an absolute waste of fuel and space. If the corporation uses vehicles with built-in shredders, fewer trips will be needed and more waste can be transported, thus saving up on fuel costs and other related expenses,” he says.


Mumbai’s three dumping grounds in question are Deonar, Mulund and the recently created Kanjurmarg landfill. The Kanjurmarg dumping ground has been stuck in litigation in the Bombay High Court as environmental organisations including the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) have alleged illegal dumping on wetlands and coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) areas that fall within the landfill site’s area of 141 hectares.

Deonar, along with Mulund landfill, was slated for closure five years ago in 2009. On account of the legal complications with Kanjurmarg, Deonar continues to be overburdened with the bulk of the city’s garbage (5,500 MT) being dumped here.

Moreover, while the height of the waste tower at Deonar has reached about 55 metres, as against the 35-metre cap mandated by the Airports Authority of India, none of the dumping grounds have a single waste processing unit despite Mumbai’s high generation of waste.

In a futile exercise, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has served the two landfills notices for failing to comply with the standards set by MSW Rules, 2000. In fact, for the Mulund landfill, MPCB’s sub-regional officer V N Patil has even submitted a proposal for the forfeiture of BMC’s bank guarantee for non-compliance of MSW rules.

“We plan to set up a biomethanation plant at Mulund dumping ground, but we are currently in the process of terminating the contract with its landfill manager. Once the process is over, we will float tenders for setting up the plant there,” a civic official said.

The official added that to ensure the pressure on landfills does not increase drastically, waste-processing plants at transfer stations and composting sites at civic markets and gardens in each of Mumbai’s 24 wards have been planned in the forthcoming Development Plan.

“This can later be used as manure for plants in the area. This will also reduce the pressure on the eastern suburbs, which is currently where all of the city’s landfills are located. Even the debris that is mixed with the MSW can be reused for construction material,” the official said.

Activists, however, feel the corporation should engage itself more closely with the landfill management activities.

Dr Sahu says, “In the long run, the city would benefit better from waste management if the municipality itself owned the plants. In foreign countries such as Sweden and France, where waste-processing technologies are successfully carried out in a big way, the municipality owns the plant. Only if the corporation is in control of these establishments will it understand the nuances of waste management in a city.”

Till these plans take off, Kanjurmarg is the city’s only landfill where construction of a bio-reactor is already under way. Still, Dr Sahu contends that the waste-processing technology does not do much for the garbage that will collect at the landfill site.

“A bio-reactor at Kanjurmarg would merely make the dumping ground a secure landfill as mandated by the 2000 MSW Rules as it is also located away from habitation. The bio-reactor basically ensures the methanisation of bio-degradable waste for fuel purposes. But it does not specifically process waste for energy. Moreover, on account of the terrain of the land which is mainly marshy in nature, effective fuel generation from waste cannot be carried out,” says Dr Sahu. He suggests that for increased production of methane, the corporation could mix sewerage sludge with the wet waste as it will generate better results for producing energy.


Recently, in 2013, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) brought out a draft revision of the 2000 rules which, though yet to be gazetted, focus on incineration as a method of processing and disposing waste. Encouraged by this, BMC has floated an expression of interest (EOI) to set up a 1000-tonne waste-to-energy (W2E) incineration plant at Deonar. While the EOI received tremendous response with 22 international firms participating in the bids, there is no proof of successful implementation of this processing method in India to date, despite several attempts in various states including the national capital.

“So far, incineration plants only burn waste and have failed to convert this into energy. The plant at Vijayawada in Andhra Pradhesh was the first to be set up, and it has now closed down. Similar plants in Hyderabad and Lucknow have also been shut. In Delhi, there was a plant set up by a Danish company that eventually failed. Another incineration plant set up there by the Jindal group too has run into problems as it does not have a proper cleaning system, leading to a lot of smoke generation while processing through the furnace,” says Dr Sahu.

Dr Sahu recommends the diversification of waste processing technologies. “If we have different types of waste processors, we can effectively handle different compositions of waste coming from different parts of the city as the demographics in Mumbai are highly varied. We should have a combination of technologies including incineration, pyrolysis, gasification, and biomethanisation,” he says.

Offering another solution to decrease the amount of waste reaching the landfill, Aggarwal suggests financial incentives for conscientious citizenry to promote segregation at the source.”Instead of paying the contractors for accepting waste at landfills, property tax rebates should be given to buildings that generate minimal garbage and segregate waste,” said Aggarwal.
In an example of minimal amount of waste reaching landfills, 95 per cent of the waste generated from the construction of Chhatraparti Shivaji International Airport terminal T2 was will be reused at the site for levelling and filling purposes. “Some of the waste material such as steel and cement blocks has been sold to vendors and dealers. Meanwhile, the waste material that cannot be reused or sold has been donated for use in other sites,” said M Anand, principal counsellor, Indian Green Building Council, the agency which rated the structure for its green design.

The journey from doorstep to landfill

* Every housing society appoints a garbage collector to carry out door-to-door collection. The collected waste is then handed over to the municipal corporation’s garbage collection vehicles.

* Garbage transportation vehicles begin their journey every day at 7 am when they report to Motor Loader (ML) Chowks of each ward. At the chowk, every vehicle’s attendance is recorded and the collectors are handed tools and equipment for collection along with a log sheet of various garbage collection points for the day.

* There are 3,751 collection points in the city. As per the MSW Rules of 2000, the collection equipment must include face masks, rubber gloves, reflector jackets and safety shoes, though conservancy workers in Mumbai are invariably seen without these tools.

* Garbage is collected from slum areas through community-based organisations (CBOs) under the slum adoption scheme (Swachcha Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan). The CBOs deposit the waste into the civic body’s 5800 community waste bins stationed at various points across Mumbai.

* According to the civic SWM department, one tempo travels to each ward daily to collect dry waste, which is then sold off to recycling agencies.

*The ward checkpoints, SWM employees verify if the vehicles are filled to the brim. Smaller collection vans are dispatched to transfer stations where the garbage is loaded into bigger vehicles and transported to the dumping grounds.

*Currently, waste is only transported to Deonar (5,500 metric tonnes daily) and Mulund (2000 to 3000 metric tonnes). Bigger collection vehicles such as compactors and hook leaf containers are sent directly to the dump yards, where authorities weigh the vehicles and log in the their attendance. The vehicles wait in a queue and are let into the grounds in a single file to offload the waste at the designated spot.


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