Ideas and Action for a Better India
On the 9th of February, my colleagues (Shubha and Maansi) and I visited the Deonar dumping grounds near Mankhurd. Since the MCGM had stopped taking people to the landfills, I approached Mr. Dinesh Patel of UPL Environmental Engineers Ltd (UPLEEL), facilitated by Mr. Rajkumar Sharma of Diamond Garden ALM. He offered to take us on a guided tour of the landfill and tell us more about UPL’s work. The dumping ground was not easy to find, given its obscure location and general lack of awareness among people in the surrounding areas. As a forbearer to the scene that awaited us at the landfill, we saw overflowing garbage bins and children playing near them. There were also a considerable number of ‘Clean up Mumbai’ trucks proceeding towards the dumping grounds.
When we reached the security check post of the landfill, we were eyed with suspicion (or so I thought) and had to answer quite a few questions to gain entry. The landfill is maintained under heavy security. The UPL office is close to the entrance in a bunker and they had displayed photos of the various activities done at the dumping grounds. Some of them are, gas well construction for capturing methane (in progress), horizontal drilling for laying leachate pipes, compost plant (in progress), compaction of waste, reformation of waste, crushing of construction debris with the help of a crusher plant, manual and vehicular spraying of chemicals to reduce the foul smell and disease causing organisms in the heaps of waste. There were also some photos of the CSR initiatives taken by UPLEEL, for example, organizing medical camps for rag pickers (through Tatva Global Environment Ltd.,) and holding recreational events for the kids (for instance, popular cricketer Brett Lee has visited the landfill and spent time with the kids from the surrounding slums). There were detailed maps of the landfill (both old and new) and figures explaining their partial and full closure methodologies. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to get any photos of either these or of the landfill area.
Some of the key observations from this visit are,
– The landfill is spread over an area of about 63 hectares. It receives municipal waste from almost all the wards of Mumbai. About 900-1200 trips are made by about 200-300 municipal trucks carrying the waste, per day.
– The landfill area (old) is still being dumped with garbage by the municipal trucks (and some private contractor vehicles) everyday (almost 5500 metric tons per day) even though it was agreed between the BMC and UPLEEL that only 2000 metric tons would be sent during the partial closure of the old landfill. This is preventing the UPLEEL from carrying out their duties in the partial closure of the old landfill.
– Partial closure means the dumping ground would be closed from top down, by dumping construction debris and other “geo-technical” layers on top of the existing heaps of garbage. This is proposed for the old landfill.
– Full closure of the new landfill (forms a smaller part of the whole landfill site) would be a bottom up approach. There would be many layers of inert material laid down before the garbage gets dumped so that the leachate doesn’t permeate into the soil. On top of the garbage that is dumped here, the partial closure method would be carried out. Once the entire landfill site is declared closed, it would be monitored for five years hence to check for leachate or methane leakages.
– The boundary wall separating the landfill from the neighboring slum is currently under construction; so there is a regular influx of child rag pickers from the slum. It is a pathetic sight to see children rummage through the heaps of mixed waste to find something valuable, like plastic/metal/glass. This is a severe human rights and health violation and concern.
– The municipal garbage trucks are paid by weight (I believe per ton) of garbage that they bring. The amount per ton was not disclosed to us by UPLEEL. We also couldn’t meet the garbage truck drivers.
– The garbage is heaped into mountains on either side of a road. Apparently, there is manual and vehicular chemical spraying regularly to minimize the stench. The employees of UPLEEL wear masks, but the rag pickers and slum children who play at the landfill (for the lack of better space) are exposed to the noxious fumes.
– Construction debris is broken and crushed at the landfill site with the help of crusher plants. They are converted to fine sand of varying thicknesses (10 mm, 30 mm, 40 mm etc.) and used for landfilling, construction of boundary wall around the landfill etc.
– There are plans to construct a compost plant within the landfill premises to apparently segregate waste and compost organic waste. But the technology used for “segregation” at the landfill was not explained to us and I will try to gain more insight into this. Also, I have my own doubts on the effectiveness and efficiency of waste segregation at the landfill rather than at source.
– According to UPLEEL, there are constant fires at the landfill due to the methane generated from the waste. Two days ago, there was a significant fire and it took five or six fire engines to douse the fire. All such activities are handled by UPLEEL independently.
– One other proposed plan is to construct a well for methane extraction to ultimately generate electricity. Again, the technology used to perform this needs more research. But this would be similar to the arrangement in Gorai, where methane is converted to CO2 by flaring (i.e. burning).
– UPLEEL is constructing bunds on the side of the landfill adjoining the Vashi creek, so that the leachate from the waste does not mix with the creek water especially during the monsoons. There are also a number of drains within the boundary of the landfill to collect the waste that runs down during the monsoons. But the ecological effects on Vashi creek and the surrounding mangroves due to the proximity of the landfill are worth exploring.
– When questioned about e-waste, UPLEEL employees remarked that when they encounter broken electronic devices, they return it back to the municipality. Again, the efficiency of this process needs to be verified.
*Dumping ground and landfill are words that mean different things though they are used interchangeably. A dumping ground is where all the waste is simply dumped (without treating that area to prior preparation techniques) whereas a landfill is a site which consists of protective layers at the bottom/top of the garbage, so that the toxic substances released by the waste, do not enter into the soil.
Some facts about the Deonar landfill*:
– It has been historically used as the dumping site for Mumbai by the BMC since 1927.
– It has received about 12 million tons of waste so far.
– Total area of the landfill is 120 hectares of which about 63 hectares* make the old landfill and the rest make the new landfill. The depth of the old landfill ranges from 3-22 meters whereas the depth of the new landfill would average at 40-45 meters.
– Historical waste disposal data is not available for the Deonar landfill
– Waste composition data is also not available for the Deonar landfill
*This information is gathered from the document “REPORT OF THE PUMP TEST AND PRE-FEASIBILITY STUDY FOR LANDFILL GAS RECOVERY AND UTILIZATION AT THE DEONAR LANDFILL MUMBAI, INDIA” conducted by SCS Engineers USA in 2007 for the United States Environmental Protection Agency