How mishandling of garbage contributes to Bengaluru’s air quality crisis

Air Pollution in Bengaluru

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Bags filled with burnt and sieved garbage. You can also see the burning garbage. Pic: Malini Parmar

This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities

The tweet on 18th December 2018 from a resident addressing Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Chief Minister of Karnataka pointed to the failure of Karnataka Compost Development Corporation (KCDC) in managing the municipal solid waste that it receives and its contribution to air pollution.

Municipal Solid Waste Management (SWM) deals with the control of waste – storage, collection, transfer and transportation, its processing and disposal in line with the best principles of public health, engineering, conservation, economics and other environmental considerations. However the mismanagement of MSW due to disregard or lack of proper functioning of one of the elements of the system can have serious environmental and health implications. Mismanagement includes -mixing of organic and inorganic waste, unscientific disposal and treatment of waste, and open burning of waste.

The usage of landfills to dispose waste was commonplace until the Karnataka High Court in 2012 ordered  that landfills weren’t a permanent solution and should be slowly phased out. Landfills are known to emit high amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. The court had directed BBMP and KSPCB to monitor and prevent fires in landfills and put mechanisms to capture noxious gases so as to not affect nearby residents.

But studies have pointed to several instances of fire in existing legal and illegal landfills post the court order. Due to non-implementation of judicial directives including lack of appropriate leachate treatment mechanisms, local residents have protested against many landfills in the recent past.

Waste Processing Units in Bengaluru 

The High Court in response to the Solid Waste Management crisis in Bengaluru had directed the Karnataka government and BBMP to ensure that decentralisation became the method through which waste is managed. In response to this, the BBMP set up seven municipal solid waste management facilities in and around the city. But they have emerged as heavy polluters to the environment, affecting the quality of air and ground water.

A study by Environment Support Group titled Bangalore’s Toxic Legacy Intensifies has found these facilities to be poorly managed and being sources of pollution, with most of them not having an odour control filter resulting in a strong stench spreading across kilometers and inducing respiratory ailments in nearby residents; and none of them having a functional leachate treatment system resulting in the contamination of ground water. The study points to strong resistances and protests from local residents near the plants.

Residents demand for the closure of KCDC

The resistance to and demand for closure of KCDC is a case in point. Members of the Kudlu Harlur Haralakunte Somsundarapalya Parangipalya (KHHSP) Residents welfare Association, living in and around KCDC have been complaining over the past few years about the strong stench that emanates from the KCDC. The KCDC on the other hand has claimed that the introduction of bio-air filters has considerably reduced the stench.

When the KHHSP felt that authorities ignored their complaints, they staged several protests, demanding the closure of KCDC. In addition to the the strong stench, citizens have pointed to instances where smoke was seen emitting from the corporation. Ground water contamination has been a concern with several citizens having to rely on water tankers. Citizens also attribute increase in respiratory and skin related issues to the polluting nature of KCDC.

With their protests still not yielding any outcome and the elected representatives failing to follow up on their promises of closing KCDC, members of KHHSP have decided to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) as a final resort.

Burning of Municipal Solid Waste 

The practice of burning garbage especially leaf litter persists in Bengaluru even after a complete ban on burning of waste in open spaces by the National Green Tribunal in 2016, and BBMP having imposed heavy penalties for it. Most of the garbage involves mixed waste, low value plastic and leaf litter.

The practice is widespread in Bengaluru with many of the garbage contractors continuing to burn waste in open spaces. Municipal solid waste releases toxic emissions on burning. A recent study found out that burning of MSW or garbage contributed to 16.1 % of PM 2.5 emissions in Bengaluru.

The severity of the problem has been captured by the organization Jhatkaa.org, who through a crowd sourced map have represented instances of garbage burning in at least 40 wards of the city. Activists have pointed to lack of enforcement of existing rules as a reason. Jhatkaa.org has also recently filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court, hoping to intervene and prevent the burning of garbage in the city.

Will the battle of the city with garbage pollution see a logical end? Coming days will tell.

This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities, and explores the root causes for air pollution and solutions for improving air quality in Bengaluru and Chennai. This series has supported with a grant from Climate Trends.

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About Arjun Rajan 17 Articles
Arjun Rajan was a Research Associate at Citizen Matters.

2 Comments

  1. Unsegregated waste covered with leaf-litter is burnt at almost every road-corner by municipal workers and residents. Better supervision and incentivising good practices can curb this age-old menace. Bangalore is not as it used to be with lot of green cover that could absorb pollutants and clean the air – polluting sources have increased coupled with rapid de-greening. Nature also requires support – lets help it to save ourselves!

  2. Indeed it is a serious issue and perhaps the mismanagement of MSW has its adverse impact not only on environment, air quality and groundwater, but also for urban flooding during heavy downpour. Unless the growth of the city is checked and full attention paid to this colossal problem, it is going to be the chief contributor for making bangalore unlivable.

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