Poor waste segregation, zero implementation: Chennai’s garbage problem continues

In October 2017, Greater Chennai Corporation mandated source segregation of waste into wet waste and dry waste, before handing it over to the conservancy staff in their respective neighbourhoods.
Poor waste segregation, zero implementation: Chennai’s garbage problem continues
Poor waste segregation, zero implementation: Chennai’s garbage problem continues
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Does our responsibility towards waste management end with throwing trash in the garbage bin? Or is there something more we could do? The garbage menace is the elephant in the room that is growing bigger by the second. In October 2017, Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) mandated source segregation of waste into wet waste and dry waste, before handing it over to the conservancy staff in their respective neighbourhoods. It has been a year since the mandate was announced; but has the city moved towards a sustainable solid waste management practice?

As per a 2011 report in Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Centre - Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council (WERTC), Chennai ranks first in the country, generating the highest per capita waste at 0.7 kg, followed by Kolkatta (0.66 kg) and Delhi (0.65 kg).

While the Chennai Corporation claims to have set in place certain mandates and infrastructure, residents opine that the October 2017 mandate failed to serve its purpose due to poor waste segregation mechanisms. 

Poor segregation, the fly in the ointment

Ganga Sridhar, a resident of Raja Street Mandaveli and also a member of Madaveli Raja Street Residents Welfare Association, says the mandate to segregate waste at source is faulty. “This mandate is a joke,” she says.  “Even if residents hand over segregated waste, the conservancy workers mix it in the main bin. There’s no proper mechanism in place,” she points out.

Ganga adds that waste segregation has been a successful exercise only in gated communities and apartment buildings, where residents take it upon themselves to manage their own trash as a collective. Having started Sustainable Solid Waste Management People's Forum (a group on Facebook) four years ago, along with other residents welfare association, Ganga shares that this is an ongoing battle.

“In areas like Mandaveli and Adyar, where independent houses are more in number, waste segregation is disproportionate,” she says, noting that the OMR and ECR stretches, where there are more gated communities, seem to have better plan of action.

A conservancy worker in Mandaveli, on the other hand, says that while most houses segregate their trash, few others continue mixing it. “We separate compostable waste from non-biodegradable waste at the transfer stations,” says a conservancy staff.

While officials at Chennai’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department say that 100% door-to-door collection has been implemented, segregation of waste at its source is yet to be achieved.

According to SWM department, 5,000 MT (1 MT = 1,000 kgs) of garbage is collected and removed from the city every day, of which 68% comes from houses and 14% from schools, colleges and institutions. There are about 19,073 conservancy workers collecting and sorting Chennai’s waste on a daily basis.

A Chennai Corporation official tells TNM that north Chennai fares well as far as waste management is concerned when compared to other parts of the city.

“For instance, in Zone 2 (Manali), almost 100% source segregation is carried out. This has been possible primarily because of fewer commercial entities in the area and active residents. In fact, it is safe to say that at least one division in each zone, which constitutes two to three divisions, generates zero garbage. Of the 63 wards that make up the north constituency, residents of seven wards segregate their waste, producing zero waste.”

Are SWM rules in Chennai 100% successful?

Chennai Corporation has a total of 200 wards divided into 15 zones. The waste collected from these zones are dumped in two major landfills - Kodungaiyur (north Chennai) and Perungudi (south Chennai).

Before it ends up in these 200-odd acre landfills, the municipal waste is sorted into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. The non-biodegradable waste is then taken to the resource recovery centre (RRC), where plastic and other such recyclable materials are segregated once again, to reduce the quantum of waste reaching the landfills.

In May, GCC announced its plan to commission decentralised waste processing plants in all the 200 wards, which would process 15 per cent of municipal solid waste generated in the city.

An official from GCC shares that an important requirement for handling solid waste in the city depends on the infrastructure. “We plan to have one micro composting yard in each division. A Resource Recovery Centre will also be attached to these yards to segregate recyclable waste,” he said.

Chennai presently has 177 functional micro composting yards, including seven vermicomposting centres, 26 biogas composting centres and five bio-thermal composting centres. Proposal to build 17 RRC is also currently underway.

Chennai Corporation has also joined hands with the State Horticulture Department to selling the compost from its composting centres.

“We currently have 70 MT stock. One MT is sold for Rs 10,000 to the State Horticulture Department. The manure will be used in Horticulture farms across the state and will also be sold to farmers,” says the official, who adds that the plan will be implemented soon.   

Chennai Corporation’s bye-laws of 2016 have also listed penalties for non-segregation, littering, burying, burning of solid waste/domestic hazardous waste, mixing construction and demolition waste with solid waste and domestic hazardous waste. Fine ranges from Rs 100 to  Rs 25,000. Non-segregation, littering, dumping garden waste on public streets warrants a fine of Rs 1,000 from residents.

GCC has also proposed bio-mining - a technique where specially-cultured microorganism liquid is sprayed onto huge dump yards, thereby reducing its size by half and turning it into soil. An official from GCC shares that a proposal to run a pilot test in Athipattu dump yard is underway. 

How can these translate into reality?

According to Ganga, “Some gated communities compost their biodegradable waste, while the recyclables are sold to trusted recyclers. I believe we can tackle the waste problems only with such proactive measures.”

She points out that service providers such as trashgaadi.com and kuppaithotti.com are helpful in managing with recyclable waste. She also suggests that the government should institute a better mechanism to identify the local recyclers who deal with dry recyclable waste.

Kripa Ramachandran, a researcher in the urban governance team of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), shares that municipal corporation in Thiruvananthapuram does not collect organic waste from residents.

“Instead, they offer them their service for composting and for installing biogas plant at houses. This might be an ideal option to consider. If this can be implemented in Chennai, it will drastically reduce the bulk of solid waste generated.”

Incidentally, five years ago, when Transparent Chennai, a group that aggregates, creates and disseminates data and research about important civic issues, conducted an audit five years ago, it was found that 70% of waste generated is organic and has composting potential.

She also says that dustbin liners or plastic covers can also be avoided in dustbins. “These plastic bags are major pollutants. Single-use carry bags, too, should be avoided. The ban that will come in place starting January 2019 can be of some respite to this garbage problem,” she adds.

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