Why Should We Care About Malba? The Environmental Perspective

C&D waste makes up 30 to 40% of all solid waste generated. It is an inert waste stream, however, its sheer bulk makes its environmental impacts huge. From degrading our land, to polluting our air and water bodies, Malba management is quintessential to urban planning today.

Shamita Chaudhary
Min Read

Construction & demolition waste (or Malba as we call it locally) makes up about 30 to 40 percent of all the solid waste generated on Planet Earth, That’s huge.

Despite this hefty quantity, we don’t seem to take this waste stream very seriously. As Malba is an inert waste stream (which means it doesn’t rot and smell) and its environmental impact per kg is much lesser than other waste streams [1], governments see no urgency to tackle this waste stream. However, the nature of C&D waste is its bulk and when considering the entire bulk of the waste, the impact of this waste stream is enormous[1]. So if you care about cows farting and replacing your straws with more sustainable alternatives, it’s time you start taking Malba seriously too.

Here are 3 reasons why you should care about Malba.

#1 The Air We Breathe

Construction and demolition activities generate large magnitudes of pollutants that carry for large distances over a long period of time. As per the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), 30 percent of air pollution is caused due to dust that emanates from construction sites. Delhi was declared the most polluted capital city in 2020, and it was found that residents of Delhi face significantly higher levels of chronic headache, eye irritation, breathing problems and skin irritation due to air pollution than their rural counterparts. [2]

For this reason, it is recommended that C&D waste is covered during storage and transportation, and construction and demolition sites install water sprinklers to settle the dust. Air pollution exposure causes life expectancy in Indian cities to drop by almost 8 to10 years. [3] So the next time you feel troubled by the air pollution in your city, know that Malba and its generation is responsible for it.

Figure 1: Dust from C&D activities is responsible for 30% of the air pollution in Delhi (Image: DNA India, Graphic: Author)

#2 Our Groundwater

Several elements found in our homes, when discarded, fall in the hazardous waste category. These include elements such as lead-based paints, mercury coated fluorescent lamps, asbestos roofing sheets, to name a few. If not handled carefully, these materials end up in landfills where they mix with household waste to create chemical leachate that percolates into our groundwater and food systems. Illegal dumping of Malba in wetlands and water bodies also disrupts the hydrology and ecosystem causing harm to other living species as well. In the EU, the use of asbestos and lead-based paints is banned, while the use of many other hazardous materials has been restricted. Although lead-based paints were banned in India in 2016, the majority still contain a quantity higher than the 91 ppm stipulated by the Bureau of Indian Standards [4]. It is essential to ensure these hazardous elements do not enter our water and soil.

Figure 2: Mixing of Malba and MSW gives rise to hazardous leachate and greenhouse gases (© Malba Project)

#3 The Price We Pay

Construction is one of the highest consumers of mineral resources around the world. A linear economy exerts pressure on mining of virgin resources. As virgin resources get depleted over time, it takes a lot more effort and money to extract the same resources. So not only do you pay a lot more for construction, the quality of construction you finally get is incomparable as material quality is becoming poorer by the day. Some of the resources we take for granted – sand, for example – is one of the scarcest resources around the world [5].

A summary of depleted resources can be seen in the table below. If we could use old materials as a resource, not only would it exert less pressure on our limited resource reserves, but it would also be of better quality, and at a fraction of the cost. So don’t let your resources turn to Malba.

Table 1: Resource Depletion Status in India (Adapted from [6])

I could give you many more reasons about why you should care about Malba – the fact that it hampers mobility, the fact that you’re covered in dust every time you step out, the fact that it clogs our drains every monsoon and gives rise to dengue and malaria, and many more. It is important to remember that we live on a spaceship called Earth. It is a closed ecosystem where if we don’t manage our waste well, it is us who will have to live with its consequences.

Cover Image: ©Prabhash Dhama

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