The old saying out of sight, out of mind definitely does not apply when it comes to getting rid of personal waste.

Garbage, though unseen, can have real impacts on the environment when it is not properly disposed of. Burying rubbish as a means of disposal is one the oldest and most common forms of waste management, but unfortunately, the impact that landfill sites have on the environment are huge.

The environmental problems caused by landfills are numerous. There are no arguments over the assertion that there are many things that contribute to the environmental problem of landfills. The negative effects are most commonly placed into two distinct categories: atmospheric effects and hydrological effects. While these effects are both of equal importance, the specific factors that drive them are important to understand on an individual basis.

The mixture of chemicals like bleach and ammonia in landfills can produce toxic gases and odor that can significantly impact the quality of air in the vicinity of the landfill. Hydrogen sulphide produced in landfills smells similar to rotten eggs.

Travelling from central Delhi towards Ghazipur in the city’s east, the first warning that you get of the approaching landfill is the sight of circling birds of prey. The mound of waste itself becomes visible much before one is assaulted by its stench. Smoke rises steadily from the pile, as the decomposing waste generates highly combustible methane gas. Three of the four stinking waste mountains (landfills) are long overdue for closure and there are no fresh landfills available to take in the current daily discard of 9,000 tonnes. By 2020, the Capital needs an additional area of 28 sqkm, more than the entire spread of Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone, to dump 15,000 tonnes of garbage daily.

Aside from the various types of gases that can be created by these landfills, dust and other forms of non-chemical contaminants can make their way into the atmosphere. This contributes further to the air quality issue which plagues modern landfills.

When it comes to waste management in India, little is the way it’s meant to be. Mumbai literally raised a stink recently when a fire broke out at the Deonar landfill, severely compromising air quality in the city. The national capital too is fast becoming one huge garbage dump with civic body sanitation workers on a strike to protest against non-payment of salaries.

Delhi has miserably failed to manage its waste load. Only 15 per cent of R1,350 crore that the three corporations spend on waste management and sanitation is spent on actual disposal. The rest goes into collection and transportation.

The authorities must ensure segregation and promote composting and recycling. They must quantify waste generation for setting effective reduction targets. But don’t wait for the authorities to do everything. From segregation, recycling to composting — you can make a difference. And, yes, consume and waste less. Now is the time.