How Delhi’s air pollution was made worse by Diwali trash

Despite the popular myth of bursting crackers, Delhi’s Diwali trash is what is choking us

WrittenBy:Ishan Kukreti
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Diwali is a festival of celebration. Friends and family come to visit; they bring sweets (and unwelcome dry fruits). They also bring gifts. And when it’s finally all over, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) ends up collecting tonnes of extra garbage.

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“In the last two weeks (before Diwali) MCD was collecting an additional 400 to 500 metric tonnes of garbage,” the MCD’s Director of Press and Information, Yogendra Mann told Newslaundry.  

In fact, the amount of extra garbage generated by the holiday was so immense this year that the MCD had to employ additional excavators and bulldozers on its three landfill sites — Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla — in Delhi.

According to Mann, unlike a typical week that sees four bulldozers and four excavators used in the landfills, the festival season saw it go up to six each on each landfill site.

Why is this relevant when smog and air pollution have gripped popular imagination and throats?

To begin with, a large chunk of this garbage is plastic — not simply bags, but even the shrink wrap that packages are typically wrapped with.

“Only 60 per cent of the total plastic trash collected is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or is littered around in drains and open areas,” said Swati Sambyal, Centre for Science and Environment, Municipal Solid Waste programme manager. She also pointed out that the “rise of chikungunya was also, to some extent, due to the increase in littering.”

Sambyal clarified that only 8-10 per cent of the garbage collected by the MCD is treated. The rest of it ends up in landfills. Untreated and unseparated garbage often trap highly combustible and toxic Methane gas. These have resulted in several spontaneous combustions. “The reason why the landfills are burning is because of the presence of this organic and recyclable content there,” Sambyal explained. These fires become a problem as they contribute upto 10 per cent of the city’s air pollution.

MCD data about garbage collected in the month of September and October clearly shows the dramatic spike.

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The amount of garbage collected in September was 1,48,787 metric tonnes. Post Diwali it went up to 1,53,584 metric tonnes. That’s an additional 4,797 metric tonnes or, 4,797,000 Kgs (1 metric ton = 1,000 Kgs) of garbage.

In terms of the amount of garbage collected daily, the amount in October is staggering.

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In September, the sanitation workers of the MCD were picking up a daily average of 4,959 metric tonnes of trash. This increased up to a daily average of 5,119 metric tonnes.

Even the data for the month of October reveals a lot. Out of all the trash collected, 20 per cent was collected in the five days leading up to Diwali.

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The average amount during the five days prior — 5,121 metric tonnes – was higher than the average for the month.

The days immediately following Diwali were no better.

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The increase in garbage is not going to be a problem—it already is one. We’re already suffering from some of its effects. For instance, it clogs drains, which creates breeding grounds for mosquitos, and next thing you know, people are plagued by chikungunya, dengue and malaria.

Just because we’ve bagged it, doesn’t make doesn’t any less of a problem. Maybe next year, we should all just bake each other a cake.

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