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Delhi's daily waste equals the weight of 257 Boeing planes. Find out more

Avalok Langer | Updated on: 19 June 2015, 10:33 IST

India has a dirt problem. And dirty streets are the least of it. Here's a story you should know.

Over the last few weeks, the inside pages of newspapers have shown streets in Delhi turn into a sea of waste. The city's sanitation workers have been on strike because -- astonishingly -- they have not been paid salaries for many months.

As commuters go about wrapping their faces in triple layers of cloth to keep out the smell, the strike has made visible what is usually ignored.

Hidden from media glare and the sweeping frenzy triggered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachh Bharat programme, India's cities are literally drowning in their own waste

These numbers explain why that problem affects you. They are from just one city: Delhi. But they could stand in for any other city too.

The key question is: where does all the waste we generate in our homes go? Who handles this back-end of waste? Check out its scale.



  • Roughly the weight of 257 Boeing airplanes
  • That's the amount of garbage Delhi produces every day

Photo: Soumik Mukherjee


  • That's the height of the Ghazipur landfill today, which is taller than a 10-storey building
  • The actual capacity was meant to be 15 metres. It surpassed that 10 years ago
  • The other three garbage sites in Delhi - Bhalaswa, Okhla and Narela-Bawana - are in the same state
  • 'Stinking mountains far exceeding their closure deadline', is how the Standing Committee on Urban Development has described Delhi's landfills



  • Is the equivalent of one Olympic-sized pool
  • That's the amount of toxic leachate or run-off that the Ghazipur landfill alone produces each day
  • This flows into the Yamuna and also contaminates ground water

Photo: Soumik Mukherjee


  • Is how much the ground soil at Delhi's landfills exceeds the permissible limit of pollutants
  • These pollutants cause cancer, reproductive disorders, heart disease, skin disease
  • Worse: these pollutants do not degrade with time. Instead, they rapidly enter the food chain and surrounding ground water
  • The air is equally hazardous. Methane is just one of the super toxic gases emanating from these dumps



  • Roughly the size of 3,400 football fields, or the entire spread of Lutyen's Bungalow Zone
  • That's the space Delhi will need by 2024 to accommodate its garbage, which will become 19,000 metric tonnes a day, more than twice what it is today
  • Yet, no other landfills have been commissioned. Fearing for their health, efforts to establish new sites have been met with massive protests from local residents


  • The number of rag pickers in Delhi
  • These rag pickers reduce Delhi's Green House Gas emission by a whopping 9,62,133 tonnes a year
  • They play a huge role in keeping us healthy but face tremendous health hazards themselves.
  • They do not seem to be part of Prime Minister Modi's Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas slogan
  • No part of the Clean India fund is specifically dedicated to them


  • That is the number of children working as rag pickers
  • It is the fourth largest 'job option' for Delhi's children
  • Health risks aside, it is a violation of labour laws and the Right to Education

Photo: Soumik Mukherjee


  • That's how little of Delhi's garbage actually needs to go to the landfill
  • 50% of Delhi's garbage is organic and can be composted
  • 30% is recyclable
  • Segregation and localised solutions can save Delhi from drowning



  • You could buy 5,875 Maruti Alto 800s with that money
  • It's also the estimated annual value of the recyclable material found in Delhi's garbage

Photo: Soumik Mukherjee


  • The number of Waste to Energy plants set up in Delhi.
  • These plants are meant to use Municipal Solid Waste to generate electricity. Basically, they are furnaces to mass burn garbage.
  • Waste to Energy plants can result in dangerous fly ash and fumes.
  • According to Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives, 100 incinerators worldwide have been closed after detection of cancer-causing dioxins.
  • In India, residents near the Okhla plant have been waging a battle against the ash and fumes emanating from it. But before their concerns are addressed, the Ghazipur plant is now set to go operational

First published: 18 June 2015, 7:04 IST
Avalok Langer @avalokl

Is a Delhi-based journalist and filmmaker who writes on a range of political, cultural and sociological issues. He has a special interest in the Northeast and India's eastern neighbours - China, Nepal, Myanmar.