Why is Bangalore such a dump (these days)?

September 12, 2012

They call it the garden city, though more lately it’s trash town, thanks to the recent shutdown of three landfills that take garbage from the city of more than 8 million people.

Bangalore’s residents in August and early September dealt with stench and garbage as tonnes of rotten food, flowers, paper and plastic bags leaking noisome muck spilled into the streets and roads.

People were forced to walk on roads clogged with cars, trucks and mopeds as filth caked the sidewalks, and wild dogs and stray cows gorged. Schools declared holidays to prevent students from falling ill, and the rain isn’t helping.

The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) ordered the landfills’ owners to shut their doors after villagers in and around the dumps complained to the board of deaths and health problems related to garbage disposal. The landfills recently reopened after the city promised changes in how it collects garbage, as well as how much it collects.

Bangalore, one of the few cities in India that has a robust door-to-door collection system, generates about 4,000 tonnes of garbage every day. The city dumps it in 310 acres of yards: 80 acres in Mavallipura near the air force base town of Yelahanka on the way to Bangalore’s shiny, new airport; 130 acres in Mandur, off Old Airport Road (not far from the Reuters office) and 100 acres in Doddaballapura.

The Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation, or Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (which most people know as BBMP) began collecting garbage door to door through private contractors in 2004. Earlier, the city offered no such service, and people threw their garbage in community bins. You can imagine the result as Bangalore’s population swelled during the IT boom to its present size.

“Garbage world over is managed and not just cleared or dumped as it happens in Bangalore or elsewhere in India,” said Sandya Narayanan, a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table that works with the BBMP. “Everywhere in India, garbage is simply dumped and not recycled. Most of the cities are really messy and dirty.”

In the 20 days that garbage clearance services were down, Bangalore accumulated about 7,500 tonnes of garbage, said BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Garg. Bangalore’s waste management problem is not new. Villagers around the three landfills petitioned KSPCB in 2007 over the landfills. It ordered a temporary halt to garbage collection, but resumed without a solution.

Meanwhile, the city continued to grow and export its garbage to smaller towns outside the city. Collection in Bangalore, like elsewhere in India, remains as old-fashioned and unscientific as it can get.

“There’s no segregation of waste at source. Everything is just mixed up and dumped with no recycling happening at any levels,” said Garg. “The utility has not carried out its duty properly at all levels. We never bothered.”

This is an infrastructure problem, Sandya said.

“There is an immediate, long-term requirement for disposal. We have had a plan since 2001, and are not working as it says [we should].”

City rules say that all garbage must be sorted into trash (food, etc.), as well as plastic, glass and metal for recycling. BBMP chief Rajneesh Goel is working on a plan to get people to do this at home, similar to other countries in Europe and North America.

He said he will assemble residents’ welfare associations and other groups to explain to people why this is important. He also plans to stop the collection of non-food wastes from “bulk-generators” such as restaurants, caterers, marriage halls and mall food courts. These bulk-generators generate about 1,500 tonnes of waste daily. Goel plans to get them to install methanisation and biofuel plants to use their own waste for fuel, and said he has a budget of 2 billion rupees to change the way the system works now.

Sandya said that people are reacting by looking for easy solutions, but they are hard to find.

“We need to have multiple mechanisms and frameworks and solutions,” she said. “Everyone should have small targets and discipline, and then we can see a cleaner Bangalore.”

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