Improper waste management augmenting a hazardous future for Gangtok


With the ever-increasing waste menace turning tougher to tackle, its management is proving stronger with each passing day. The concerned department(s) have been spreading awareness and urging the people to manage their own waste, source segregation being the prime step. The public in the other hand seems to be concerned, but most of the time only in thoughts and hardly in action.

Hem Kumar Chettri, Municipal Commissioner of Gangtok Municipal Corporation (GMC)

“If the continuing situation in regard to waste management continues, then Gangtok will face a huge waste management problem in next 3 to 4 years, as we will not have enough space to dump our waste”, says the Municipal Commissioner of Gangtok Municipal Corporation (GMC), Hem Kumar Chettri.

As per the Municipal Commissioner, the main problem that Gangtok is facing currently is the problem of waste segregation, which is hindering and worsening waste management. Chettri informs that the GMC has the best of technology and equipment for waste management, which shall be only useful and result-oriented when waste is properly segregated.

He further informs that the construction company who has taken up the work to construct the dumping area at Martam, East Sikkim, has assured that the landfill site will cater the solid waste of Gangtok and its surrounding areas up to 10 years from its completion, provided proper waste management system is implemented and segregation of waste is done ritually. Gangtok and its surrounding areas along produce 40 to 50 metric tonnes of mixed waste every day which is not segregated, creating a tough time for the GMC workers at the landfill site.

When we talk about solid waste management, it is mainly the responsibility of generators to segregate waste into at least two categories — wet and dry before handing them over to the authorized waste collectors or local bodies. Wet waste is biodegradable, while dry waste includes plastic, paper, metal, wood, etc. The GMC, this September onward has already initiated implementation of source segregation of waste, be it households, hotels, restaurants or other waste generating points.

Challenges faced by GMC in terms of segregation of waste

• Lack of awareness.
• Non-operation from the general public.
• Lack of enforcement.
• Lack of usable landfills.
• Lack of public support.

What Actually is Waste Segregation?
Waste segregation refers to the separation of wet and dry waste. The purpose is to recycle dry waste easily and to use wet waste as compost.

Why Should we Segregate our Waste?
When we segregate our waste, there is a reduction of waste that gets landfilled following which the occupied space and air and water pollution rates are considerably lowered. Segregating waste also makes it easier to apply different waste management processes – composting, recycling and incineration.

What is the Importance of Waste Segregation?
The most common reason for separating wastes or segregation of waste at the source is for recycling. Recyclables that are segregated from other waste are usually easier to process. Some wastes from home are often separated, so they may be composted or used as fertilizers. The process requires homeowners to separate their household’s compostable items such as food scraps, disposable diapers and other decomposable items.

Gangtok & Waste Management
Poor planning, lack of awareness among the public and fewer landfill sites create problems for waste management. A large amount of solid waste that is being generated markets, is left generally unmanaged. The waste collection and disposal does not contend with the amount of waste generated per day, as a result, garbage is scattered.
“Market areas produce not only a large quantity of solid waste but also generate different types of waste along with it. Because the market areas generate different types of waste, they need to be managed properly in order to avoid the harmful effects it can have on the environment, health and ecosystem”, mentions Chettri.

There are several shortcomings in connection with solid waste management in the markets, including inadequate storage and transportation facilities, informal dump site, insufficient collection frequency of solid waste, low level of awareness and education of solid waste management, lack of enforcement of regulations by law enforcement, to name a few. However, it is noticed that with the provision of adequate dustbins and also including an increase of collection frequency, increased public awareness, the involvement of private sectors, separation of bio-degradable and non-biodegradable waste, may really help in proper solid waste management in Gangtok.

Gangtok and especially the landfill area at Martam, is now facing major environmental challenges associated with waste generation and management, treatment and its disposal. Current systems in Gangtok cannot cope with the volumes of waste generated by an increasingly urban population of Gangtok, and this impacts on the environment and public health.

Waste segregation at source and use of specialized waste processing facilities to separate recyclable materials play a key role in proper solid waste management. Disposal of residual waste after extraction of material resources needs landfill sites.

Solid waste management now is becoming major havoc for Gangtok now, where urbanization, industrialization and economic growth have resulted in increased municipal solid waste generation per person. But, what matters is despite significant development in social, economic and environmental areas, solid waste management systems in the state have sadly remained relatively unchanged.

“In Gangtok, due to non-segregated waste collection, most of the residual waste is currently dumped, rather than properly landfilled”, says the Municipal Commissioner and adds that the current waste management system or the landfill area is inefficient as per the generation of waste in Gangtok, following which the waste is creating a negative impact on public health and the environment.

The problems associated with waste becomes more acute as the size of communities increase, which can be solved by decentralized waste management by self-help groups and NGOs in the state.

The waste produced in urban areas in Gangtok is around 50 metric tonnes which sum up to approximately 600 metric tonnes per year. This is expected to increase by more than 5% per year owing to the increase in population and changing lifestyles in urban areas like Gangtok.

The state government and the concerned authorities have framed various rules and regulations like ‘By-Laws of Solid Waste Management (Management and Handling) Cleanliness and Sanitation’ for the urban sector and the state policy on ‘Solid Waste Management Strategy’ to ensure proper waste management in the state. Municipal authorities are responsible for implementing these rules and developing infrastructure for collection, storage, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of solid waste.

Role of Informal Sector & Waste Pickers
The informal sector has a very important role in the waste management system in Sikkim, and this must be integrated into a formal one. The informal sector is characterized by small-scale and labour-intensive. Waste pickers collect household or commercial/industrial waste and many waste pickers in Sikkim depend on waste for income generation, despite the associated health risks and social issues. Pickers extract potential value from waste bins, trucks, streets, waterways and dumpsites. Waste picking has become one of the helpful tools for the GMC as it helps in reducing household waste. Waste pickers also make a significant contribution by keeping the city clean.

As per a national report and a study of six Indian cities, the waste pickers recovered approximately 20% of waste, with 80,000 people involved in recycling approximately three million tonnes.
As per the report of the GMC, more up to 30-40 per cent of waste are being collected by waste pickers. The public has been urged by the GMC to cooperate with the identified waste pickers when they approach their homes. More than 20 waste pickers have been identified and provided with a GMC identity card.
“Up to 30 to 40 per cent of waste produced are sellable if proper segregation is made, which also can be a source of revenue generation for the individual as well as the municipality”, Chettri asserts.
The GMC has also given license to scrap dealers to collect dry waste, so as to help the corporation in collecting waste, which ultimately will help them in proper waste management.

Waste Collection & Transport
Waste collection, storage and transport are essential elements of solid waste management system. Waste collection, being one of the major responsibilities of the municipal corporations in Sikkim, bins are provided to every household for biodegradable and dry waste. Mixed dry and wet waste is often dumped with open burning, a common practice. Hence, improvements to waste collection and transport infrastructure in Gangtok and surrounding areas may help in many ways.

As per the information received, 80 per cent of the landfill area is already covered, and if this continues the landfill site can cater to the waste only till next three years, after which Gangtok is going to face a huge waste management problem.

Waste Disposal & its Current Status in Gangtok
As per the information and report provided by the GMC Commissioner, the solid waste management and its disposal is at a critical stage in Sikkim.
“There is a need to develop facilities to treat and dispose of waste in a proper manner. The GMC waste collection vehicle and the landfill site do not receive segregated waste from the citizens”, mentions Chettri and emphasizes that a properly engineered waste disposal and waste management system not only solves the problem of waste management in the state but at the same time it protects public health and preserves key environmental resources.

Environmental & Health Hazards due to Improper Dumping of Waste
Waste dumps have various impacts on human health as well as on the environment. As per the studies, improper and open dumps of non-segregated waste release various poisonous gases from the decomposition of biodegradable waste under various conditions. It can also affect largely and contribute to global warming and other environmental and health issues in the local areas.

Impacts of Martam Landfill Site
One of the major impacts of the Martam Landfill site has been the odour. The local residents and the passerby complain about the unpleasant smell evoking from the landfill particularly during summer and monsoon seasons.

Apart from this, the stagnant water at the landfill site becomes a breeding ground for the mosquitoes increasing the risk of dengue, malaria and other water-borne diseases.

Only recently, in an exclusive report published by Sikkim Chronicle about TB cases in Nimtar village titled- “Dreaded TB haunts Nimtar village, triggers panic and concern”, it was mentioned that the landfill site may be one of the main reasons for wide-spreading TB in the said village which is located near to the landfill.

As informed by the GMC Commissioner, the waste which is collected and received at the landfill site are to be kept for at least 45 days to make it ready for dumping and recycling. As the landfill receives mostly non-segregated waste, it produces odour within this time frame, which smells more unpleasant during the rainy season.

Safety & Security for the Field Workers
The GMC has been providing various facilities to the workers, especially who work in the field and waste collection. The corporation has tied up with Central Referral Hospital Manipal for the treatment of the workers and has also ensured the workers with health insurance with the coverage of up to 2 lacs. Besides, the GMC conducts two periodical full health checkup twice a year.

Changes Required to Improve Solid Waste Management in Sikkim
Waste management in Sikkim, especially in Gangtok, needs to apply various rules and regulations prepared in regard to proper waste management and handling. Strict actions should be taken against those who do not follow these rules. Use of wastes as resources with increased value extraction, recycling, recovery and reuse must be encouraged. Urban local bodies need to be responsible for waste management. A strong and independent authority is needed to regulate waste management if solid waste management is to be improved in Sikkim, as without strict and clear regulations and enforcements, improvements will not happen. Strong waste regulations can bring discipline in general public in terms of waste segregation at source and encourage people in recycle and reuse. Financial penalties should be imposed when waste management services are not working effectively and for non-segregation of waste at source.

Future planning for increasing solid waste production is important. Procurement of equipment and vehicles is necessary for primary and secondary collections with effective systems for monitoring collection, transport and disposal.

As per the information, the following are the details as how many vehicles for waste transport are with the GMC as of now

Waste management must involve waste segregation at source to allow much more efficient value extraction and recycling. Separating dry (non-biodegradable) and wet (biodegradable) waste will have significant benefits and should be the responsibility of the waste producer.

Waste management planning requires visionary project development by the urban local bodies, the private sectors and NGOs. The roles and responsibilities of GMC and NGO are equal and important. There is a need to develop training and capacity building at every level. All need to understand the importance of waste management, the effects of poor waste management on the environment and public health and the role and responsibilities of each individual in the waste management system. This will develop responsible citizens who will treat waste management a growing problem and act accordingly.

“The current situation is that Gangtok relies on inadequate waste management infrastructure, the informal sector and waste dumping. There are major issues associated with public participation in waste management and there is generally a lack of responsibility towards waste in the community. There is a need to cultivate community awareness and change the attitude of people towards waste, as this is basic to developing proper and sustainable waste management systems”, mentions the GMC Commissioner.
“Sikkim faces challenges related to the implementation of waste management policy, waste technology selection and use, and the availability of trained people in the waste management process. Until these basic requirements are met, Sikkim will continue to suffer from poor waste management and the associated impacts on public health and the environment”, says a senior concerned citizen of Gangtok.

The sanitary landfills were developed to replace the practice of open dumping and to reduce waste management problem. Landfills were designed and operated in a manner that minimized risks to public health and the environment.
The GMC Commissioner also informs that in a new initiative, the GMC has started collecting the e-waste on request and has set up an e-waste collection basket at MG Marg in Gangtok with the help of some organization working in the field.
E-waste or electronic waste, which includes, discarded computer equipment, televisions, telephones, and a variety of other electronic devices, can be separately handed over to the GMC waste collection team instead of putting them in the daily garbage collection vehicle. This e-waste comes with some concern as e-waste sometimes include explosive materials with the risk of explosion.

Community participation has a direct bearing on efficient waste management. Recovery of e-waste is low, we need to encourage recycling of e-waste on a very large scale so that the problem of e-waste disposal is decreased.
To encourage the masses to segregate the waste, the GMC has already distributed 22,600 separate dust bins, blue and green to segregate the waste into dry and wet. But had found the misuse of the bins as containers and buckets at their home.

Solid-Waste Collection & Transport Challenges for GMC
The proper solid-waste collection is important for the protection of public health, safety and environment. It is a labour-intensive activity, which is why GMC faces a lot of challenges. There is almost a 30% shortage of manpower and that is one of the major challenges faced.

GMC employees are often assigned to the task, but sometimes it is more economical and easy for the corporation to outsource and assign some private or non-government organizations to get help for waste collection. The waste collection fee, in this case, are to be paid by individual house owners or tenants to the collecting agents for organization.

As per the Commissioner there are many local candidates who come to office asking for jobs, but the day they are assigned with the fieldwork or in the waste collection team, they simply refuse to do and some resign.
“Since local workers do not want to work in the waste collection team we are forced to appoint people from outside, but that too is insufficient for the GMC.

Importance of Solid Waste Treatment & Disposal
Once collected, municipal solid waste may be treated in order to reduce the total volume and weight of material that requires final disposal. Treatment changes the form of waste and makes it easier to handle.

Some Important Tips from GMC to Manage & Segregate Waste

  1. Keep separate containers for dry and wet waste in the kitchen.
  2. Keep two bags for dry waste collection- paper and plastic, for the rest of the household waste.
  3. Keep a paper bag for throwing the sanitary waste (sanitary pads and diapers).

It may be mentioned that the GMC has already implemented segregation of waste at source on a compulsory basis. Yellow bags are being installed in GMC trucks to dispose of sanitary napkins and diapers which are to be now discarded wrapped in paper and marked red.

The GMC from September has been collecting dry and wet waste separately. The first two weeks of September saw consideration from the GMC towards people depositing non-segregated waste. After this, the GMC is now all set to impose fine as per the solid waste management action plan of the state government.
“GMC has also started generating awareness among students and others in regard to the waste management system”, Chettri informs and urges everyone to come forward and help and cooperate with the GMC in the process towards proper waste management.

It’s a fact that besides the environmental benefits of waste management, it is also beneficial to human health as well. In the past, burning waste in the backyard was a common practice. But according to health agencies, when garbage and plastics are being burned, they produce particulate matters that are solid compounds and are suspended in the air that causes various serious diseases and increase the risks of heart disease, respiratory disease like, asthma and others. Community participation has a direct bearing on efficient waste management. So, it is advised to all to cooperate with the concerned agency or the GMC in proper waste management and deposit segregated waste in the waste collection vehicle.


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