Peshawar: For a city of four million people, Peshawar produces tons of trash daily that waste management experts see as potential “black gold” but essentially remains that – waste – for want of recycling.
Spread over 1,257 square kilometres, Peshawar is the the ninth largest city of Pakistan where 810 tons of solid waste is produced daily across its 45 union councils, according to figures provided by Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP), an independent corporate firm owned by government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The daily collection of waste in the city amounts to about 70 to 75 percent of 810 tons,” Nasir Ghafoor, Manager Operations told News Lens Pakistan. “The rest of the waste remains in the city.”
That means while nearly 607 tons – 75 percent of 810 tons – of the total waste is collected for treatment and recycling, almost 200 tons remain in the city, accumulating on a daily basis.
“Internationally solid waste is considered black gold but unfortunately we are still in search of a good multinational company to help us recycle our waste,” said Ghafoor.
In 2014-15, WSSP has collected 65000 tons of waste from Peshawar that is a “humongous amount” and could be utilized for energy production.
According to WSSP, the Khyber Paskhtunkhwa government had received expressions of interest from 15 international companies in 2015 to process the city waste but the security situation in the wake of Army Public School terrorist attack had kept them from starting operations.
More than 10 waste management companies have shown interest in setting up operations to produce 10 to 13 megawatt of electricity from solid waste, in collaboration with national companies. While security fears may have played a role, bureaucratic red tape has stretched approval and finalizing of contracts indefinitely, said an official at WSSP who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.
According to WSSP, domestic companies do not have the capacity to recycle the entire waste. “They can recycle only 30 percent of the solid waste to produce refuse-derived fuel (RDF) or compost, while the remaining 70 percent of solid waste goes waste,” said Ghafoor. “We have to pay extra to relocate the waste dumped at different locations in the city.”
WSSP figures reveal that the average per capita generation of waste in Peshawar amounts to about 0.3 to 0.4 kg per day. A significant fraction of the waste is dumped around the southern side of the city where scavengers, mainly comprising young children, manually sort out recyclable materials such as iron, paper, plastics, old clothes. The dumping site is not properly cordoned off. Scavengers and drug addicts frequent the landfill to collect scrap for sale.
Peshawar district has 4 towns and 93 union councils (UCs). According to Mian Maqbool Hussain, an expert in agricultural and environment management, there are only two dumping sites – in Hazar Khwani and Lundi Akhune Ahmed – for the nearly 4 million living in these towns and union councils.
Hussain says scavenging remains the only activity to earn livelihood for thousands of poor people in the city. According to him, “an alarming and dangerous practice” is the burning of the solid waste in open dumps by scavengers to obtain recyclables like glass and metals.
Almost 50 percent of recyclables are scavenged at transfer points before they reach the waste reaches the dumping grounds, according to Hussain. “The recyclable ratio that remains in houses varies and cannot be recovered by authorities unless it is bought directly from the households,” writes Hussain on bioenergycosult.com. “Only part of recyclables reaching a certain bin or secondary transfer station can be exploited. In case house-to-house collection is introduced, the municipality will be able to gather 90 percent of recyclables in the waste stream being generated from households.”
Dr. Shafiqur Rehman, a professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences in the University of Peshawar, told News Lens Pakistan that dumping solid waste openly was aesthetically repulsive, polluting acres of land with waste, plastic and foul smell that could be potentially utilized for agriculture or housing purposes. He suggested that dumping sites for solid waste should be away from the city, at points where there is no population.
Solid waste is mainly composed of three components: Biodegradable waste such as food waste, animal waste, leaves, grass, straws, and wood; non-biodegradable waste includes plastic, rubber, textile waste, metals and stones; and recyclable material including paper, cardboard, rags and bones.
As per international standards, says Dr. Rehman, solid waste should be picked from urban settlements and transported to a temporary station where biodegradable waste is separated from the non-biodegradable. Non-biodegradable is further divided in to three subcategories: recyclable, reusable and reducible.
“This separation process for possible recycling is not followed in Peshawar which is why the city gets dirty by the day,” said Dr Rehman. “The biodegradable material is worth a lot because it could be converted into fertilizer by composting.”
According to Rehman, in developed countries organic waste is set in layers in a cemented ditch, where each layer is covered with mud or soil and left to ferment. Bacterial and chemical action and weather effects convert organic waste into fertilizer through composting, which is a commercial product used for agriculture purposes.
With open dumps, rainwater filters through the waste and is absorbed into the earth, says Dr. Rehman, which people pull out through tube wells for use. “The contaminated rainwater flows into streams and gets mixed with underground water, creating water pollution and causing different diseases,” says Rehman. “It is bad both for people and aquatic life because dumping sites are swamped with flies, germs, jackals and other carnivorous animals that threaten people and environment.”
According to Rehman, minimal use of land, effective management, complete collection of waste and its segregation into degradable, non-degradable, usable non-usable, recyclable and non-recyclable parts could save environment otherwise “we are exposed to threats that we would be unable to deal with in near future.”
Dr. Rehman said the World Health Organization (WHO) had conducted a study between 2008 and 2013 in 1600 cities of the world that revealed that Karachi was the fifth most polluted cities in the world, Peshawar was the sixth and Rawalpindi the seventh.
Even though the study was about air pollution, he reasoned that the common method of disposing the waste was burning it, releasing toxic gases that contributed to air pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, has received has received many complaints from citizens about the open dumping of municipal waste containing contaminated hospital waster, and its burning in open spaces.
Mumtaz Ali, Assistant Director Litigation at EPA said they have taken action on complaints, with cases in the green bench of high court of Pakistan.
“We have made recommendations that have to be adopted by WSSP or any other municipality for their dumping sites,” said Ali. “These include exclusion of hospital waste from dumping sites, burying the waste on site and not burning it openly at the dumping sites.”
According to Ali, under the Hospital Waste Management Rules 2005, the hospital management is responsible for disposing of waste at the hospital. The problem, however, is that all major hospitals of the city have incinerators installed inside while small hospitals cannot afford this expansive technology.
“We routinely get hospital waste which is dangerous for human life and environment,’ said Ali.
According to Mumtaz Ali the current environment law needs amendments to ensure institutions and individuals follow environmental standards. He said that Environmental Protection Tribunal (EPT) expired in December 2014, leaving nearly 700 environmental cases pending.