Why Should We Care About Malba? – The Social Perspective

Malba (C&D Waste) impacts the lives of urban dwellers, migrant workers, and society at large. From the urban fabric to our health - the social impacts of Malba cannot be ignored.

Neha Gupta
Min Read

If we look around, we can all find at least one construction site nearby. By continuously battling to replace our homes with something better, taller, and bigger, the building industry has become a significant contributor to the development of our society. While this is true, we must not forget that ‘out with the old’ also means massive amounts of C&D waste, or so-called Malba is generated in the process.

C&D Waste Rules state that ‘there should be no littering or deposition of construction and demolition waste so as to prevent obstruction to the traffic or the public or drains’ [1]. This, however, is far from the case. We constantly complain about the traffic jams, limited walking space, and our deteriorating health near construction sites, yet we are unaware of a major underlying cause – Malba.

Here are three cases of how Malba is affecting our society and why we should care about it.

Malba affects our urban fabric

Buildings that are no longer in use are often demolished by private contractors and disposed of in landfills because it is seen as the most cost-effective method. The indiscriminate disposal of C&D waste, however, does not end here. Many cities have exhausted their landfill capacities, making it difficult to dispose of C&D waste through the urban waste management mechanism [2]. As a result, low-lying areas, vacant plots, or outskirts of our cities are common targets for dumping the C&D debris of a city by private contractors. Other times, the waste generators quietly dump C&D waste on roadsides and unauthorized areas (very often at night when there is little surveillance). Fines on landfilling also have the opposite effect at times, as people start off-loading debris along drains and river banks, resulting in stagnant sewage and urban flooding.

The unsightly presence of Malba all around us generates sites of visual clutter in the city, and their spread has influenced how we interact with our urban environment – be it parks, roads, pavements, or riverfronts. The heaped waste materials affect the overall well-being and quality of life, reduce aesthetic appeal, economic health, and civic sense in society [3].

How would we feel strolling in a park littered with concrete debris?

Figure 1: Malba dumped in front of a building entrance in Delhi (© Malba Project)

Malba affects us

We, urban dwellers, are the ‘waste generators’ in society and are also negatively affected by waste generation. The deployment of heavy machinery during construction and demolition processes generates noise and vibrations, leading to complaints. Excessive exposure to noise can cause insomnia, fatigue, impaired hearing, and diminished concentration, all of which have a detrimental impact on our productivity [1].

Furthermore, the Malba that is strewn across sidewalks, alongside parking spots, and even near parks obstructs our vehicular and pedestrian mobility in the city.  

What kind of a city would it be if we had no space for people even to walk and kids to play safely?

Figure 2: Careless dumping of Malba in the city obstructing mobility (© Shamita Chaudhary)

Malba affects migrant workers

An informal sector of migrant workers is actively working with the extraction and disposal of C&D waste. It consists of labour, contractors, waste pickers, and transporters who operate in poor working and living conditions. They are exposed to safety hazards due to improper lighting, unsuitable walking and working surfaces, raw concrete surfaces, high platforms, obstructive and unclean floors at construction and demolition sites [4].

Many materials used in old constructions are rendered toxic by new building codes, including asbestos. It is common to see the workers working barefoot without any safety gear on construction, demolition, and waste sorting sites. The adverse working conditions in the Indian construction sector expose them to hazardous materials and can cause silicosis, lead poisoning, joints and bones problems, benzene poisoning, and skin diseases [4].  

Would we still create and throw around malba so recklessly, knowing how it might affect the migrant workers?

Figure 3:  Migrant workers performing manual demolition on a building in Delhi  (© Malba Project)
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