Lakshmi, a contract worker with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), pushes her cart through the huge pile of waste lying outside Bangalore’s iconic Russell Market, where a group of corporation workers are trying their best to contain the mound of trash. After a few baskets of rotting refuse are dumped into her rickety cart, she makes her way back to the garbage truck, which has no destination.

Stinky business: Clearing the backlog after the strike has only increased the workload of solid waste collectors like Lakshmi. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury.

Though the strike was called off in three days, it was enough to raise a stink. In most neighbourhoods, the garbage spilled on to roads.

This only aggravated the city’s ongoing garbage problem. On 11 July, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had ordered that garbage couldn’t be sent to the Mavallipura landfill owing to non-compliance of rules and unscientific management of waste. The board found that Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd, which manages the Mavallipura landfill, was not segregating and processing the waste collected.

Bangalore has three primary landfills: one in Mavallipura, another in Mandur and a third in Gundlahalli, near Doddaballapur. All three are almost packed to capacity. And after Mavallipura, the villages near the two other landfills also started protesting about the health hazards—they blocked the entry of garbage trucks into their villages and want the landfills closed.

The city has been deluged in its own garbage ever since. “It is much harder to clear now because there is garbage everywhere and nowhere to dump it," says Lakshmi. Her boss Manjunatha, who is listening in, pipes in: “There is a serious lack of sites to dump all this waste every day. As Bangalore is growing, the waste generated is also ballooning. The BBMP has to tell us where to dump it all, or we are helpless. We often have to resort to burning it," he says.

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Bangalore generates up to 4,000 tonnes of solid waste every day, says the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), Bangalore, a group of organizations and individuals that promote municipal waste management.

“We agree that we have messed up and now understand that the only way to address this problem is to segregate the waste at source," says BBMP commissioner Rajneesh Goel, who started his stint as the city’s corporation head on 29 August.

“We have notified (the workers) that the garbage can be sent to the Mandur landfill for now and we will immediately start to train our staff to segregate waste at the source," he adds, answering Manjunatha’s query about where Bangalore’s solid waste should go for now. The BBMP pourakarmikas will be trained in association with the SWMRT. “We did not pay heed to them (the SWMRT) until now, but now their advice is important to Bangalore," says Goel.

To deal with the waste that has piled up, the BBMP has called for bids from several waste management companies—and promises the city will look cleaner as soon as possible.

Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story.

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