Landfills and their Effect on the Environment and Economy


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Each one of us generates waste on a daily basis.

Take the case of food, for example. Ordering food online? Purchasing ready-to-eat food from a supermarket? Eating from a restaurant? Cooking at home? All these generate waste. It could be vegetable scraps, packaging, or leftover food itself. There is waste generated nonetheless.

This is the case with just food.

There are other sources of waste as well. Plastic/cardboard/thermocol/styrofoam packaging, outdated newspaper, fallen leaves from your garden, matchsticks you light, diapers used for your kid, face tissues, soiled or worn-out clothes, used razor blades… All these constitute as waste.

 

Imagine the amount of waste you generate in a single day. Now multiply it by the population of Bengaluru, which is estimated to be close to 13 million.

Doesn’t it sound scary?

 

Where does the waste go?

Domestic waste can be segregated into dry, wet, and hazardous waste. Each of these categories needs to be disposed of separately. The wet waste can be composted and some dry waste can be recycled. But if disposed of without segregation, it is classified as mixed waste. Since the city doesn’t have the capacity to process this extent of mixed waste, it is dumped at the landfills in and around the city.

Waste generated in Bangalore

About landfills

A landfill is one of the oldest and most common ways of disposing of waste. These are usually abandoned quarries or open grounds designated to throw waste generated in a municipality. Sometimes the waste is buried on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Sometimes it is left to pile in heaps in the open.

In some countries, the landfills are scientifically designed and well-managed as a part of integrated waste management. However, many landfills are not managed properly. This has led to serious environmental and socio-economic impacts.

 

Environmental impacts of landfills

Air: The mixed waste that goes to landfills contains a significant amount of biodegradable waste. When this organic matter starts natural decomposition, it emits methane and carbon dioxide. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 30 times more heat in the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide, thereby making it a major cause of global warming. Landfills also emit a large number of other gases at low concentrations; some of these are toxic to living beings including humans.

 

Groundwater: Some of the waste have suspended and soluble organic and inorganic substances present in them. Some of these are produced during the degradation of the waste. When rainwater percolates through the waste, it extracts these chemicals and forms leachate. The leachate contains ammonia, toxic metals, and pathogens. Making it a hazardous and carcinogenic substance.

The leachate percolates through the soil and contaminates the groundwater. The toxic water enters all the natural water sources and affects the plants and animals that depend on that water.

 

Soil fertility: The decaying materials and toxic substances can negatively impact the soil quality around the area. This is undesirable for agriculture. The local vegetation of the site may cease to grow, and hence, affect the biodiversity.

 

Food chain: We see a high population of rodents, crows, dogs, vultures, and other scavengers that live off the dump. These eventually replace the original fauna of the region. Apart from causing an ecological imbalance, it also endangers the lives of endemic plants and animals of that area.

Cattle grazing in these areas eats up the waste that is highly contaminated. When we use the milk or meat procured from these animals, it enters right back into the system.

 

Socio-economic impacts of Landfills

Health: The landfills act as a breeding ground for microorganisms and their carriers like mosquitoes. Thus, the health of people living around these areas is at high risk. The toxic metals and carcinogens in the leachate infiltrate the groundwater, which pose a further threat to humans and other animals in that area.

Studies revealed that it can cause a 12% increase in the risk of congenital malformations and prematurity in child growth in children born to families within one mile of hazardous waste sites. There are a 33% increase in non- chromosomal birth defects among the residents living within 3 km of the landfill sites. There is a higher risk of developing stomach, liver, trachea, bronchus, lung, cervix, and prostate cancer.

 

Land value: The methane gas produced during decomposition creates a foul odor around these areas. The litter eventually diffuses into the surrounding environment due to inadequate recycling activities at the grounds. Landfill fire is also a common occurrence that can affect the citizens living around the dumping grounds. All these have adverse impacts on the housing values within a 3 km area around landfills.

 

Long-term effects

It is unavoidable for the buried dumps to eventually turn into home sites in later years, considering how there is a high demand for land in urban areas. Jayanagar T-block and the region behind Binny Mills in Cottonpete were landfills in the past that are now residential and commercial complexes. The effect of landfills, however, may still be seen as there would be traces of hazardous chemicals in the soil and water in these areas.

 

The designated dumping grounds for Bengaluru are filling up at a disturbingly fast rate. While many nations are going towards a scientific and systemic approach of waste disposal, we are still stuck at landfills.

We didn’t care much about this because we thought the waste ended there at the landfills. But there are multiple researches showing that the landfills, if not designed and managed well, can cause more harm than the waste in its original form. It not only affects the environment and health but also have adverse effects on the economy.

 

What can you do?

It is important that the landfills are managed properly. We have to ensure that the waste is processed properly before being dumped. There should be a liner at the base of the landfill that prevents the leachate from percolating to the ground. We could implement alternatives like waste-to-energy incarceration, anaerobic digestion, and pyrolysis.

But these are all solutions that can be implemented on the government level.

 

There are things we as citizens can do to reduce the negative impact of landfills. Reducing the daily waste generated is one of them. Segregating waste at home is another way to avoid mixed waste going to the landfills. If you can compost wet waste at home and send plastic and paper waste to recycling plants, that could also help reduce the load on landfills.

It is important to understand that our waste is our responsibility. And unless we take ownership of our own waste, it is going to come back to us in one way or the other. Landfills are already filled to the brim. Let’s not add to it further. 

Start waste segregation today.

 

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