Talking trash

For Clean India to work, country needs to solve its waste disposal problem

Instead of constructing new landfill sites, experts say the government should be looking into innovative methods to recycle waste.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious project to make India a clean country, aims to teach citizens to reduce and even clean their own waste. But first a matter of real urgency needs to be sorted out: India needs to increase landfill area, even as it looks into overhauling its municipal solid waste management system.

India generates about 60 million tonnes of trash every year. Ten million tonnes of garbage is generated in just the metropolitan cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.



The landfills of most of these cities are already overflowing, with no space to accommodate fresh garbage waste.



According to an expert at the Centre of Science and Environment, instead of constructing new landfill sites, the government should be looking into innovative methods to dispose and recycle its waste. The reason why most landfill sites are over-flowing is because the current waste disposal system is flawed.

“The segregation of biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste is not done properly,” said Sunita Narain, director of the Centre of Science and Environment. “The municipal authorities should develop a model to ensure the same.”

In addition, at many landfill sites due to the lack of an effective waste recycling system, solid waste is burned without segregating bio-degradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. This leads to the release of toxic gases that cause acute respiratory diseases and environmental degradation.

More landfill sites

Delhi generates approximately 9,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, which is dumped into four landfill sites. Three of the four landfills in Delhi should have stopped being used between 2005 and 2009. Experts say this is not unusual.

In addition, Delhi’s four landfill sites extend over 164 acres, when the current requirement is nearly four times the available area – 650 acres, according to a 2011 report by the Central Pollution Control Board.

“Even if people learn to dump their garbage at the dhalaos [a small garbage dump typically servicing a few streets of a neighbourhood], how will that help if the dhalaos can’t be emptied, since there are barely any space left in landfills,” Narain asked.

Mumbai generates 6,500 metric tonnes of garbage daily, including 2,500 metric tonnes of silt and debris, besides 25 tonnes of bio-medical waste. A significant amount of the waste (4,500 metric tonnes per day) is dumped at the Deonar dumping ground, located in the eastern suburb of the city.

According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Deonar landfill site will expire by the end of 2016. The landfills in Gorai and Chincholi Bunder have already been shut down due to over-use. The Mulund dumping ground has also been overused and the BMC is contemplating shutting this down as well.

In addition, Mumbai also generates 21 lakh tonnes of industrial waste per year, which is half of the national total, according to the Central Pollution Control Board report. Industrial waste is also dumped into the landfills.

Segregation and recycling of waste

Segregation of waste should occur at the colony or neighbourhood level, when the waste is collected. The dhaloas in the metropolitan cities are always overflowing due to lack of segregation. Recyclable waste like construction and demolition waste, organic waste like household garbage, toxic waste like medical waste, are all mixed together.

“Most of the construction and demolition waste can be recycled,” said Ravi Agarwal, director at Toxics Link. “It shouldn’t reach the landfills to begin with. The municipal bodies should learn from countries abroad that recycle most of their C&D waste.”

“We cannot quantify the amount of organic waste reaching us because it's all mixed,” a South Delhi Municipal Corporation official said. Once mixed, it is impossible to segregate recyclable waste from organic waste, according to Agarwal.

Environmental hazards

Nearly 20% of methane gas emissions in India is caused by landfills. Travel past one of these landfills and you are bound to see great spirals of smoke climbing the horizon, as the trash catches fire due to the heat generated by the decomposition of waste.

Most of these landfills have not been built according to accepted specifications. “Due to the decomposition of inorganic waste, the ground water is contaminated," Agarwal said. "There is also the problem of leachate [when rainfall percolates through the waste in a landfill] because most of these dumping grounds are not scientific landfills.”

A study by scientists at the School of Environmental Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University found high levels of nickel, zinc, arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals in the solid waste at landfills in metro cities, especially in Delhi.

“Before cleaning up the city, the government needs to sort out a concrete waste management system that ensures segregation and recycling,” Narain said. “Process everything that can be processed and dump only the residue or inerts in the landfill.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.