Scenario of Landfilling in India: Problems, Challenges, and Recommendations
Landfilling is one of the major municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal methods practiced worldwide. Though it is considered most cost-effective means of waste disposal, but poor management practices specially in developing countries like India are the major causes of environmental pollution. Recently several studies have been carried out to understand the effects of landfill pollution on human health as well on the environment. Toxic gas emissions from landfills pose a serious threat to the environment as well as on human health. Some studies have shown that toxic gases released from landfill sites are even responsible for lung and heart diseases in humans. Landfills also generate a toxic soup known as leachate, formed when waste is subjected to biological and physiochemical transformation. Leachate is highly toxic and causes land and groundwater pollution. This chapter aims to address the problems, both environmental and toxicological, associated with the landfills, the challenges faced in the current scenario, and the possible measures that can be taken to deal with the problem of municipal solid waste management successfully.
KeywordsMunicipal solid waste Landfill Leachate Greenhouse gases
The solid waste generation is increasing day by day due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, and hence its management is becoming a great issue. Landfilling is one of the most economical disposal methods that is used worldwide. Landfills can be classified as open dumps, controlled dumps, and sanitary landfills (UNEP-IETC 1999). Most of the solid waste management practice which is in use in developing countries lies somewhere between open dumps and control dumps as there is no need of specific equipment and expertise for dumping waste in open dumpsite (Daskalopoulos et al. 1998). These sites pose a great risk to environment and the human health. Open dump sites have caught great attention of researchers who described its possible effects which led to the closure of such sites in many of the developing countries. The generated waste is disposed off in the landfills whether they are residual materials from materials recovery facilities, residential waste, residue of the combustion of solid waste, industrial waste, or hospital waste. The improper segregation, or complete absence of segregation facility at the waste generation site, causes the accumulation of toxic waste mixture in landfills. Toxic waste mixture contains PCBs, PAHs, pesticides, insecticides, etc. The disposal of these toxic chemicals not only leads to the exposure of rag pickers to these chemicals but also causes soil and groundwater pollution.
The landfills are meant for reducing the exposure of humans and environment from toxic waste (Narayana 2009). But due to their unengineered nature, Indian landfill sites are posing a threat to environment. The crude landfill sites prevail in Indian scenario that lack baseliners, gas ventilation system, and leachate treatment ponds. This results in environmental hazards and ecological imbalances due to dumping of unsegregated waste from industries, hospitals, and houses on open land (Narayana 2009). The excessive rain water percolation through the different layers of landfill generates a contaminant laden liquid called leachate. The leachate is the primary cause of mobilization of waste from landfill site to the surrounding environment (Christensen and Kjeldsen 1989). However, a modern sanitary landfill facility of waste disposal that contains baseliners, leachate, and gas collection system is environmentally safe.
The crude landfills have become a threat to human population due to the emission of toxic waste in the surroundings and hence are under scrutiny. All the three medium matrixes of the human exposure associated with landfills, i.e., air, water, and soil, need to be critically evaluated, and thorough risk analysis needs to be done for future safety measures. The various studies done on landfill leachate composition showed the presence of organic pollutants from both biogenic and xenobiotic origins (Christensen et al. 1992; Ghosh et al. 2015). Methanogenic decomposition in landfills leads to the production of gases which primarily includes methane and carbon dioxide (up to 90%) along with carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen (N2), etc. The methane released from landfills has a great global warming potential which is 23 times greater than that of same amount of carbon dioxide (EIA 2003). Other toxic and polluting substances present in landfills belong to the category of alcohols, hydrocarbons, organosulfur compounds, and heavy metals (El-Fadel et al. 1997). Hence, leachate, landfill gas, and toxic substances present in landfills are some of the major problems related to landfills which can harm human and natural systems (Abbas et al. 2009; Adeyemi et al. 2006; Akinbile and Yusoff 2011; Alekhya et al. 2013; Aljaradin and Persson 2012; James 1977; Kangsepp and Mathiasson 2009; Lou et al. 2009; Mor et al. 2006; Nagarajan et al. 2012a; Olsson et al. 2009; Smahi et al. 2013).
In India, about 91.4% of the collected waste was landfilled, and remaining 8.6% was either incinerated (6.4%) or composted (2.2%) (Liu 2008). Sanitary landfills or engineered landfills have the system installed for landfill biogas and leachate collection and its treatment, but still there is a scope of improvement in the presently used techniques to deal with landfill problems (Christian et al. 2003). Some conventional leachate treatment method includes coagulation, flocculation, air stripping, and settling which are costly in terms of equipment required, frequent chemical usage, and energy requirement. Some pollution transfer technologies were also used to treat leachate such as reverse osmosis and active carbon adsorption which do not solve the environmental problem. In recent years, advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) were proved to be an effective way for mineralization of recalcitrant compounds present in leachate. However, it is quite expensive to treat leachate in large scale via this technique. AOPs along with biological treatment processes can be a possible effective and economical way of treating leachate (Wiszniowski et al. 2006). Nitrification/denitrification is the most efficient and cheapest biological process to remove nitrogen from leachate, but sometimes it is hampered by the presence of toxic substances such as PAH-polyaromatic hydrocarbons, PCB-polychlorinated biphenyls, AOX-absorbable organic halogens, humic acid, and surfactant. So the novel composite technique which can utilize the positives of each can be proved beneficial for current scenario of leachate treatment problem.
Several studies have reported that the exposure to toxic chemicals present in dumping sites such as dioxins and heavy metals can cause human health problems such as impairment of lung function and dermatological and neurobehavioral problems (Agusa et al. 2003; Gelberg 1997; Minh et al. 2003, 2006; Nduka et al. 2013; Poulsen et al. 1995; Ray et al. 2005; Vrijheid 2000; Zakaria et al. 2005). To assess the toxicological effects of leachate, chemical analysis of the sample is not sufficient. So it is aided by the use of various bioassays. The report on bioassays used for leachate toxicity assessment has been recently reviewed by Ghosh et al. (2017). They reported the use of battery of bioassays for proper toxicological study which includes organisms from different trophic levels. The present review seeks to gather the information on current problems related to landfilling in India and its possible solution.
Problems and Issues Related to Landfills
Leachate: A Toxic Soup
The highly contaminated wastewater that is formed in the landfill when waste is subjected to physicochemical and biological transformation is called leachate. The percolation of rainwater through landfill and inherent water present in waste lead to the formation of leachate. The quantity of leachate is affected by the climate, as the input via precipitation and loss via evaporation depend on it. It has been observed that leachate production is greater in less compacted waste as compaction reduces the filtration rate (Lema et al. 1988). According to the landfill age, weather variation, precipitation, waste type, and composition, the quality and quantity of leachate are greatly affected in different landfills. So the flexible method or combinations of leachate treatment methods are required to get rid of the leachate problem (Baig et al. 1999). Leachate is classified as recent, intermediate, and old as per the stages of waste evolution which go through different stages: aerobic, acetogenic, methanogenic, and stabilization stage (Welander et al. 1997; Wang et al. 2003; Harsem 1983; Chian and De Walle 1976). The basic parameters that are used to characterize landfill leachate include biological oxygen demand (BOD),chemical oxygen demand (COD), suspended solids (SS), the BOD/COD ratio, ammonium nitrogen (NH3-N), total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), heavy metals, and pH (Chian and De Walle 1976).
The leachate finds its way to the environment from the bottom of the landfill, from where it enters into the groundwater through the unsaturated soil layers which later on mixes with surface water via hydraulic connections. Sometimes the untreated and partially treated leachate is directly discharged into water bodies which results in pollution. It poses a high risk to water resources if not managed properly (Ikem et al. 2002). The pollution potential of leachate depends upon various factors such as the leachate concentration, landfill location, i.e., hydrogeological setting, landfill type (engineered or not), and the quality and volume of the receiving water (groundwater or surface water) (Islam et al. 2013). Leachate problem is getting great attention of researchers because of its adverse effects on human being and environment which are represented by groundwater and surface water contamination and toxicity to humans (Kjeldsen et al. 2002). So the leachate treatment before its ultimate disposal is necessary. It has been observed that most of the landfills operating in India are non-engineered, i.e., devoid of proper bottom liner and leachate collection system which is worsening the situation. This leads to the percolation of leachate in the lower layers of landfill soil and hence causes groundwater pollution of surrounding area (Kanmani and Gandhimathi 2012). The areas near to dumping site have the greater probability of groundwater contamination which poses a substantial risk to local groundwater resource user and the natural environment. The surface and groundwater contamination through landfill leachate has gained the interest of researchers in recent years, and they assessed the effect of landfill on water resources via different approaches (Saarela 2003). They determined the experimental value of impurities in groundwater or estimated it through mathematical modeling (Moo-Young et al. 2004).
Nagarajan et al. (2012b) have carried out research on the impact of landfill leachate on groundwater in Erode city of Tamil Nadu, India. They found that groundwater has high electrical conductivity and high concentration of dissolved solids in the areas near to the landfill sites. Also, groundwater in the nearby areas was brackish in nature. This renders it unfit for drinking and also causes gastrointestinal problem in humans (Malakootian and Dowlatshahi 2007; WHO 1997). Although most of the groundwater samples were found to belong to low-sodium class. Hence, it can be used for irrigation purpose (Subramani et al. 2005). The other report of the Bhalswa Lok Shakti Manch and hazards center of New Delhi in 2012 showed that the volatile organic chemicals present in landfill leachate such as chloroform, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, etc. cause skin and eye irritation (Jhamnani and Singh 2009). Other problems that are found to be associated with contaminated water include dry skin, ringworm infection, skin allergy, pigmentation, rash and eye problems, etc.
The unsegregated waste that ends up in landfill contains lot of toxic substances which include waste from industries, pharmaceutical companies, hospital, e-waste, etc. These substances are highly recalcitrant and pose a great risk to human life and environment. With increased industrialization, the usage of mechanical devices and machinery is also increasing such as television, batteries, and computers which contain the substances like lead, arsenic, cadmium, PVC, acids, and others. The improper disposal of these materials into the landfill leads to the accumulation of toxic substances in landfill. Other toxic substance that is frequently detected in landfill is mercury which is found to be released from fluorescent light bulbs. Even a small amount of mercury vapor poses a great risk to human kidneys and lungs. Eventually, these substances leach into groundwater and soil and cause pollution.
Landfills have a layered structure of waste and soil. Each layer of waste that is added into the landfill is compacted which removes oxygen and excess moisture from it. This leads to the breakdown of products anaerobically which over the time produces methane gas. The release of methane and other gases (mainly carbon dioxide) from landfill is also one of the major problems linked to landfills. Globally the 13% (818 million metric tons per annum in terms of CO2 equivalent) of the methane emission occur from landfills (Rachel et al. 2007). Methane is 25 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that leads to global warming and climate change. The disposal of municipal solid waste in landfills becomes a significant source of methane emission globally. It is highly flammable gas which causes fires and explosions in landfills if present in high concentrations (Sridevi et al. 2012). Some of the treatment methods have been used to reduce the production of methane gas such as open window or tunnel composting and in-vessel composting. Anaerobic digestion is also used but in the confined place so that released methane gas is captured easily and converted into energy. Composting is also one of the possible solutions to reduce organic waste and hence the production of methane.
With the increasing urbanization and population growth, the amount of waste generated is also increasing which demands the need of other disposal methods and alternative solutions to waste disposal problem. A study was conducted on the emission of methane from Delhi’s landfill site which reveals that 91.23 Gg/yr., 3845.20 Gg/yr., and 77.42 Gg/yr. of methane were emitted from Bhalswa, Ghazipur, and Okhla landfill sites of Delhi. The methane emission is increasing day by day with increasing population and consumption of resources; hence the mitigation steps are the need of the hour to control GHG emission from landfills. The segregation of organic waste at the source point itself will prove very helpful in reducing the organic fraction of waste in landfill which in turn reduces the formation of greenhouse gases in landfills. Landfill gases (methane and carbon dioxide) have a great fuel value; hence it can be tapped from landfills and utilized as an energy source. So the construction of sanitary landfills having a gas tapping system will prove highly beneficial in the future (Kumar and Sharma 2014; Gupta and Singh 2015).
About 16 million metric (CO2 equivalents per annum) of methane is emitted in India from landfill sites (International Energy Agency 2008). Many researchers have studied the energy potential from landfill gas of different landfills sites of India such as Mumbai (Deonar and Gorai) with 5.6 MW, Ahmedabad (Pirana) 1.3 MW, Delhi (Bhalswa, Ghazipur, and Okhla) 8.4 MW, and Pune (Uruli) 0.7 MW annually (Siddiqui and Khan 2011). The methane is finally converted into primary constituents such as carbon dioxide and water during the process of energy production which reduces its effect on climate as methane is 25 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A report by the Planning Commission (2014) has revealed the potential of waste as a resource and indicated that 62 million tons of waste which is generated annually can produce 72 MW of electricity from landfill gas, 439 MW from combustible component, and 5.4 million metric tons of compost from organic waste. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has conducted a study that shows that emission of gases can be reduced by employing a number of management practices such as recycling and reuse of waste, waste minimization, reduction in fossil fuel use as energy is recovered from waste combustion, and using CH4 from landfill to meet the in situ energy requirement (UNEP 2008, 2010).
Breeding Ground of Pests
In India scenario, open dumps are highly prevailing which causes the breeding of mosquitoes, flies, rats, cockroach, and other pests. Some diseases are very common in the population living near the landfill site such as plague, histoplasmosis, murine typhus, malaria, dengue, West Nile fever, etc. as they are caused by the pests breeding in the landfills (Dawane and Gawande 2015).
Odor problem is the other problem that is linked to landfills (Srivastava et al. 2014). It becomes difficult for the people to live near the landfill site due to the foul smell of waste decomposing in landfills. The problem is aggravated during summer season in India, when the average temperature exceeds the 45 °C mark (Dasgupta et al. 2013).
It has been observed that the waste received by landfills is burnt in open fields to reduce the amount of collected waste. This activity releases around 22,000 tonnes of pollutants every year in the atmosphere of Mumbai (Annepu 2012). The fine particles are also produced during open burning of waste which causes smog and various respiratory diseases in humans (Sridevi et al. 2012). The improper management of waste hence causes nose and throat infections, inflammation, bacterial infections, breathing difficulties, reduced immunity, anemia, allergies, asthma, and other infections (CPCB 2000).
Many states are actively involved in managing waste and trying different methods and technologies available for developing sustainable waste management program as per the need of the area and the state. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has collected and segregated about 56% of waste with the help of SWaCH (an NGO) and ragpickers. About 80% of the segregated waste has been treated and well processed (PEARL 2015). A number of composting unit and waste-to-energy plants were also established by PMC in different localities by involving private vendors into the business. The private partnership involvement has not only saved 150 lakhs annually to the PMC but also reduced the cost associated with environment degradation.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has achieved a milestone by collecting 98% waste. It has been possible because of the robust system developed by the AMC. By keeping an eye on the projections of waste generation, AMC has developed a detailed master plan for waste management in the state. It has developed the first mobile court which deals with the violation of sanitation and health laws (SWMD, AMC 2014). The AMC is spending ₹2,500 per metric ton of solid waste which is not possible for the other municipalities and smaller cities. This became a constraint for other states and cities. Some other NGOs and civil society organizations are actively involved in waste collection and management program in conjunction with the municipalities of the state. Stree Mukti Sanghatana, a Mumbai-based NGO, organized 3,000 waste pickers that cover around 10,000 household of the city. Similarly, waste pickers in Pammal town of Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu, collect 994 MT of waste monthly which belong to Exnora Green Pammal (EGP) NGO.
Although the PPP model is working successfully in different states, but still there are few issues and challenges that need to be addressed. People have a notion that SWM services are the responsibility of the government as the residents pay taxes for various services so it becomes difficult to inculcate the habit of paying service charges to private ragpickers employed by NGOs. An idea of collecting fee proportional to the weight of the waste generated would inculcate the habit of recycling and reusing of materials in humans. The landfills are receiving waste without segregation that reduces its worth to generate energy and also increases the cost of processing waste. So if the waste is segregated at the generator end only, then it will be highly beneficial. But due to poor education and consciousness, it is also an enormous challenge. Drafting solid waste management rules, which puts obligation on generator for waste segregation, will prove useful to eliminate the need of large landfill areas. The availability of land for constructing new landfills within the city is becoming difficult due to increased urbanization and increasing value of land. This issue also needs to be addressed for successful waste management program. Waste minimization in turn eliminates the need for more landfill area for waste disposal. So by encouraging households to itself manage biodegradable waste, the land requirement for secondary segregation will be reduced. Government should also direct its funds for the development of new technologies that help people in reducing household waste. Also there is a need for characterizing waste of different regions and make policies accordingly, as India has different climate zones, food habits, and living standards.The composition of waste greatly affects its value as a resource for energy production.
Recommendations to Solve Landfill Problems
Waste should be considered as resource which can be utilized to extract energy. This notion can only solve the problem related to landfills. Landfill mining to extract valuable substances for recycling, reuse, and recovery will lead to the proper management of waste (ISWA 2012). India requires clear regulations and its enforcement to solve problem related to waste management and landfills. Innovation in technology related to manage landfills can only be brought about by strong regulations and funds that can only be directed in this direction (Sridevi et al. 2012). The investment in constructing engineered landfill sites and waste-to-energy facilities is the only option that can help in solving the issues related to landfill. Methane extraction and thermal treatment of waste are the major opportunities for energy generation from landfills, but it requires qualified engineers and professionals having experience in this field which are lacking in India. Resource recovery from waste can be done using existing technologies as an extremely effective recycling tradition exists in India. A well-coordinated network of “scrap dealer” produces around three million tonnes of recycled materials which avoided the emission of 721 Kg CO2 per annum in the environment in India (Annepu 2012).
Build New Sanitary Landfill
There are many issues and problems related to landfilling in India, but still it continued to be an extensively accepted practice for waste disposal. Most of the landfill sites in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata have already exceeding their life span and are overflowing So the development of new sanitary landfills or expansion of the existing landfill has been reported in many states such as Delhi (Bhalswa, Okhla, and Ghazipur), Goa, Gujarat (8 sites), Andhra Pradesh (Vizianagaram), Haryana (Sirsa and Ambala), Madhya Pradesh (Gwalior and Indore), Maharashtra (Nashik, Sonpeth, Ambad, Pune, Navapur, and Navi Mumbai), West Bengal (17 sites), Punjab (Adampur), and Rajasthan (Jodhpur) (CPCB 2013). There are 59 constructed landfill sites, and 376 are under planning stage in India as reported by CPCB (2013).
The properly engineered landfills are seldom found in emerging economies like India. Most of the waste disposals occur in open dumps which are already exceeded their life span and now converted into huge mountain of waste causing severe environmental degradation and loss to natural resources. Sanitary landfill is the answer to this problem which protects human health and key environmental resources such as surface water, groundwater, soil fertility, and air quality (Kumar et al. 2009; UNEP 2005). Other problems such as air emissions, odor, windblown litter, fire hazards, and pest breeding can also be avoided by disposing waste in a properly engineered landfill sites (MoEF 2000).
The foremost requirement to build a new landfill is the environmental impact study of the proposed site which includes area of land required, composition of underlying soil and bedrock, flow of surface water over the site, impact of proposed landfill on local environment and wildlife, and historical or archeological value of the proposed site. The sanitary landfills have various components that eliminate the risk of leachate, GHG, etc. Sanitary (scientific) landfills have a base layer of clay which is around 90 m thick, which arrests the seepage from landfill. The clay layer is followed by drainage layer (made up of soil, 15 m thick) and vegetative layer (minimize soil erosion, 45 cm thick). This is also called as leachate-collecting layer as their main function is to collect leachate before it seeps underground. The production of methane is reduced in sanitary landfills as most of the impurities are soaked up by different layers. It can be said that sanitary landfills act as degassing systems as methane generation speed is less as compared to ordinary landfills. Sanitary landfills are also installed with vertical wells that regularly extract methane from it which can be used for electricity and heat generation. Although sanitary landfills reduce the risk to environment and human health tremendously, still India is facing many challenges in building new sanitary landfills. Some of them can be listed as lack of appropriate land, experienced engineers, and funds for landfill construction.
Waste to Energy
The dumping ground can be freed from collected waste by directing it to the waste-to-energy plants. Waste-to-energy technologies changed the perception of waste as a resource. The waste composition is very important for energy recovery as present technologies prove useful for waste having high-calorific value. Presently, the use of waste-to-energy technologies can be proposed for India as more high-calorific value waste is ending up in landfill now (Al-Khatib et al. 2010). Using this approach for treating waste also depends upon the location, demographics, climate, and other socioeconomic factors (Srivastava et al. 2014; Gomez et al. 2009).
Combustion of waste is the most widely used waste-to-energy technology that provides heat and power (WER 2013). The integrated approach that utilizes recycling and waste-to-energy conversion would significantly reduce the burden of waste in landfills in India. New technologies that can convert unsegregated low-calorific value waste into energy at economical value should be accepted as it will help in cleaning the old landfill sites. Although some waste-to-energy plant exists in India, but they are not functioning properly due to various designs and operational problems. For example, the first incinerator to treat MSW was built in Timarpur, New Delhi, in 1987. It was a large-scale incinerator that has the capacity to process 300 tonnes of waste per day and costs ₹250 million. But the plant failed because of seasonal variations in waste composition and properties, poor waste segregation, inappropriate technology selection and maintenance, and operational issues (IUKR 2015). Despite this, waste-to-energy technologies are going to play a key role in waste management in the future. Recently, India’s largest waste-to-energy plant was launched at Narela-Bawana landfill site that utilizes 2000 metric tonnes of waste every day to generate 24 megawatt of energy. This is the first scientifically engineered landfill site of Delhi and is based on PPP (public-private partnership) model which involves the collaboration of North Corporation with the Ramky Group, a Hyderabad-based management company. The two other waste-to-energy plants are operating in Ghazipur and Okhla landfill sites in Delhi which produce 12 megawatt of energy from 2,000 tonnes and 1,200 tonnes of garbage, respectively. In spite of this, the shortage of trained people in the waste management sector, inappropriate waste policies, and waste technology selection are some challenges faced by India.
This paper reviewed the problem and issues related to waste disposal in landfills. Landfill is the most economical way of disposing waste, but due to unengineered nature, it poses a great risk to human health and environment. The present paper emphasizes on building new sanitary landfills and treating waste by employing various waste-to-energy technologies. This will solve most of the issues related to landfill such as leachate, toxic substances, and greenhouse gases migration to the environment.
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