Chennai project targets ward-wise waste reduction; sceptics point to past failures

Updated 2:33 PM, 27 May, 2019
Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Waste segregation, Waste management, Bengaluru, Dumpyard, Carbon footprint, Landfill
Chennai is attempting to segregate its waste at source. Photo: Pixabay

In a city like Chennai that produces 5,000 metric tonnes of waste everyday, any small step towards reducing waste is a giant leap. A zero-waste Chennai initiative by the Greater Chennai Corporation and the citizen consumer and civic action group (CAG) aims at 100 per cent source segregation and 100 per cent composting of organic waste, so what eventually reaches the city dumpyards is reduced drastically.

Such efforts initiated in the past have met with little success. What’s different now is that the corporation is taking up the project one ward at a time so templates can be created. A successful operation launched in Tiruvottiyur has not been scaled-up due to lack of manpower. And skeptics say the present initiative may meet the same fate.

Pilot project in three zones

While Chennai is a little late in its attempt at reducing the amount of garbage that reaches landfills, the new step comes as a pilot project. Carried across three corporation zones in the city in three different parts — North, South and Central — the initiative aims to tackle one ward at a time in each of these zones.

Talking to The Federal, Gabriel Sundarraj, researcher, CAG, said that the multi-pronged strategy of information, communication and execution through a door-to-door campaign will help them evolve a model that can be replicated across wards in the city. She said, “We are looking at zones 5, 8 and 13 in wards that have recovery centres and composting units as facilities. To make residents play a more active role, we are getting them to take an oath of taking onus of their own waste.”

The initiative also has animators and malaria workers from the corporation joining hands to coordinate efforts towards the implementation of the plan.

Why source segregation?

Source segregation is the separation of wet and dry waste, and composting is done in attempts to reduce our carbon footprint. According to experts, more than 50 per cent of municipal waste is wet or organic waste, while 15 per cent is non-recyclable and almost 30 per cent is recyclable plastic waste.

The campaign, therefore, focuses on segregating waste into three categories. Wet waste includes all organic materials, such as fruit and vegetable peels, cooked and uncooked food, bones and fish scales, and soiled paper. These should not be placed in bin liners or plastic bags.

Dry waste is paper, plastic, wood, glass, metal, textile, rubber, electronic and electrical. So, all pizza boxes, juice cartons, bulbs, milk packets, cosmetics, batteries, cables, clothes, shoes and sandals are included in this category.

Sanitary waste includes diapers, sanitary napkins, earbuds, razors, and blades, which should be wrapped in paper and marked with a red dot so as to provide a cautionary signal to anyone handling the waste.

Not the first in the city

While residents associations have been carrying out such initiatives for a few years, the movement is concentrated in pockets. One such is example is by the Green Pammal Exnora in Zone 1. Mangalam Balasubramaniam said that that over the last two years, there has been a considerable shift in the behaviour of residents through concerted efforts. She added, “Door-to-door campaigning has been successful in ward 5 where there is a separate cadre for collection. The corporation gives priority for cleaning garbage that has piled up on streets. So if the cadres are doing both — door-to-door waste collection and road garbage clean up — it is not going to be effective.” She points out that training collection workers holds the key to the success of such initiatives.

Residents of Mylapore have been taking initiatives in their respective streets to reduce the garbage that goes to the landfills. Ganga Sridhar, co-founder Eco Konnectors that offers waste management solutions, and a resident of the area, said that decentralised sour segregation is the way forward. She said, “Composting units in every ward and ward wise recycling counters for dry waste can ensure that these steps can be sustained and along term solutions.”

The area also installed ‘Urbins’ to collect recyclable wastes that can be sent to the kabadiwalla nearby once it reaches its full capacity.

Spoke in the wheel

However, in the larger scheme of things, do door-to-door collection initiatives work? Perhaps no, says Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a renowned ecologist. He observed, “In a city like Chennai, there are all types of people living in the same area — in villas and on the pavements.”

He adds that government should make people take responsibility for the waste generated in their homes. He explained, “For those residing in homes 2,400 sq ft and above, make it mandatory to have composting units. For those in shanties, the corporation can collect the garbage from the common collection point or bins. Contrary to common belief that food waste is high and the same is dumped on the banks of Cooum river by those living by it, these people do not generate that much waste because they are from a lower income group and they value food. They either feed it to stray animals or poultry,” he said.

He also suggested that the government set up two to three waste management centres that can be thrown open to people to take care of it. These can be composting units of different kinds or bio-gas plants, he said.

Sridhar also said that fines by the authorities concerned or a more proactive role can be far more effective. She said, “I have been receiving inquiries from gated communities across the city, after the corporation pulled them up for dumping waste outside the gates. Such measures can make residents assume a more responsible role in managing their waste.”

And Sundarraj admits that behavioural change alone would drive such initiatives. She added, “People should understand that their actions affect the environment as the garbage lands in the dumpyards or in the sea.”

How other cities manage waste?

Chennai’s neighbour Bengaluru ordered compulsory source segregation a couple of years ago. However, according to the Centre for Science and Environment assessment  under the ‘Forum of Cities that Segregate’ released in 2018, among 26 cities in the country adjudged on various parameters like collection, transportation and decentralised systems, the city registered a low score, with less than 60 per cent of source segregation done.

Similarly, the Delhi-NCR region has been doing source segregation and imposing fines, especially in South Delhi, for not segregating waste under the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016.

The CSE report showed that smaller cities like Indore, Mysuru and Alappuzha have been successful in managing waste and these cities implement waste management rules better.