India – What is Happening with Dumpsites & Landfills?

There are 3159 operational dumpsites in India as per 2019 data of Indian central pollution control board, dumping approximated amount of 8.5 million tonnes annually (This is claimed value, whereas in reality amount is much higher and data for it is unavailable), it is estimated that more than 10,000 hectares of urban land are locked in dumpsites in India. Most of this dumpsite land is owned by the Municipalities and managed by them or the contracted private players. In addition, there are large groups of informal workers engaged at these sites for recovery of valuables and recyclables.

by Kartik Kapoor, WtERT Germany

Figure 1: A dumpsite in Pune, India (Self captured)

Uncontrolled dumping of mixed municipal waste, aided by flawed laws, has created dumpsites in the country. These dumpsites have become ticking time-bombs, with all possible associated environmental impacts, including air, water, and soil pollution. A few of these dumpsites are locations designated by the municipal authorities to dispose of mixed waste, while others are not designated and created by the accumulation of waste dumped in the outskirts of the city. Furthermore, one prime reason why they exist is the economics of waste dumping; with no landfill tax or disposal fee, dumping remains a cheaper option for cities. 

As per current laws in India, there are two proposed methods for managing the dumpsites; the first is by bio-capping  the dumpsite. In which the dumpsite is converted to natural environment like parks or woodlands by interventions like, covering with soil, establishing surface drainage system, leachate management and  gas collection systems. It is used where reclaiming waste separately from the dumpsite is expensive because of large quantities of legacy waste, high levels of contamination, or unpredictable material that would come out of the legacy dumpsite. The second way is by biomining and bioremediation, a process in which soil is recovered along with the recyclable materials. The dumpsite is reclaimed in this process for secondary usage of the land. Clearing by biomining recovers the entire base area of a dump at almost ground level, while capping gives only one-third of the base area as a usable area at an inconvenient height. As per Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 (SWM) Clause J of Schedule-I, capping is not the first option in order of priority for environmentally safe legacy-waste management; capping should only be considered for a maximum of 10 percent residual rejects after biomining of stabilized waste. SWM Rule-15 permits capping only where biomining and bioremediation are not possible. Hence, indicating no suggested interventions on energy recovery through landfill gas capture.
The tenders are invited, where municipalities intend to engage for the biomining projects for dumpsites primarily to treat the legacy waste, acquire the land and diminish their harmful impacts. In current working models in the country, companies are operating biomining sites through mobile equipment. Significant players in biomining use PLA (Programmable Logic Array)-based systems to regulate the flow of stabilized waste from one trammel to another. There are around nine major private companies in India offering biomining services. However, a question persists that if the newly generated waste is not going through the material recovery phase, is biomining adding value or just shifting the problem to a new location.
Further, on the output products from biomining, cement companies are not favoring RDF, and there is no price for the same, which makes the transportation cost expensive. Also, there is difficulty in the disposal of recovered compost since farmers are not accepting the bio earth recovered. Other than landfill remediation, in the city of Mumbai, a bioreactor landfill is commissioned, and on the other end, UN-Habitat India is engaged in exploring the Fukuoka method (A semi aerobic landfill disposal technology) of landfilling in India. 
India’s draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019, has mentioned imposing monetary fines to encourage the optimal use of waste material and better waste management. The policy emphasized moving towards zero landfill and calls for dis-incentivizing landfilling. It also cites the global practice of landfill tax. However, the implementation of this economic instrument is still not realized yet in the country.
In conclusion, waste disposal in dumpsites and landfill is still the most common practice in India, and municipalities are engaging in cost-effective solutions such as bio-mining. However, there is a significant path to improve the material recovery and transition to scientific landfill management in the future considering the waste hierarchy principle. 


Read more:

published: , 3|2021
Keywords: Landfilling, India