02 August, 2021

The Trash We Inhale

From the landfills to our lungs: the waste we generate comes back to us through the air we breathe because of our inadequate garbage disposal system and failed plans.

Photograph by Suresh K. Pandey
The Trash We Inhale

Few Indians realise how much of their trash they breathe back into their lungs and blood. In both urban and rural India, household, industrial, construction and demolition and electronic waste, all contribute to air pollution. Larger cities, under pressure from increasingly informed citizens and the Swachh Bharat Mission, have largely ceased to burn waste locally. But most of urban India continues to send it to fenced dumps, even landfills, where a vicious cycle unfolds. Wet waste emits methane, which self-combusts and sets into motion fires that spread, burning plastics and paper. Researchers warn of the pollutants. A Delhi study by CSIR-National Physical Laboratory Campus, by Dr Agarwal et al, underscores the chemical toxicity of emissions from burning landfills in Delhi. Another study by the Sardar Patel University, by Dr Dave et al, showed high levels of volatile organic compounds, VOCs, emitted from another landfill. VOCs cause acute respiratory distress, accumulating in the body with long-term consequences.

In a 2016 survey, Chintan estimated that from November...

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