The Perur Town Panchayat has implemented a simple but effective drive to segregate and recycle garbage. Esther Elias reports

Sunrises in Perur are quite like those elsewhere — subtle and sleepy. Except, in its dull light, a brigade of 22 men and women walk the village’s streets collecting, segregating and classifying the previous day’s garbage. In a narrow lane leading off the side entrance to Perur Patteeswarar Temple, two gloved and scarved women slowly push a cart past closed house doors. At each, they tinkle a tiny bell. Women step out and hand over packed garbage bins that are upturned beside the cart. Within seconds, the waste is hand-sorted into six 60-litre bins within the cart — three each for non-biodegradable waste and biodegradable waste. It is the primary stage of garbage segregation — an operation overseen by the Executive Officer of the Perur Town Panchayat, M. Thamilselvan, and undertaken for the 8,750 people living in 2,700 houses there.

Perur is a small village but generates much garbage because it’s a temple town with 2,000-odd visitors daily, explains Thamilselvan. Besides, the subsidiary temples that conduct important rituals and the numerous kalyana mandapams draw large crowds.

“Each day, the small town creates 800 kg of biodegradable waste and 200 kg of non-biodegradable waste,” he says. Until October 29, 2012, the existent system of waste management only cleared the garbage from prominent dump yards. “But, segregating large quantities of piled waste is extremely difficult, so we began door-to-door collection which enabled primary segregation at source itself,” he says.

Thus, seven pushcarts manned by two persons each, cover 14 wards of Perur town each morning. Sweepers collect the waste thrown by roadsides and in drains.

Once done, they congregate by the open space beside the Panchayat office for the secondary stage of segregation. Here, the biodegradable waste, besides egg and coconut shells, is loaded onto a tractor headed for the compost yard.

The non-biodegradable waste is further segregated into recyclable and non-recyclable waste. While women mostly work at the primary stage, men such as V. Shankar operate this stage. As the bins containing non-biodegradable waste are emptied on the ground, quick hands slot them into gunny sacks containing milk packets, oil packets, plastic bags, metals, scrap etc.

These sacks are then carried to a godown where the tertiary stage of segregation is carried out. In a small whitewashed room, 20-odd sacks extend from floor to ceiling. There’s a sack each for PET bottles, plastic tumblers, plastic covers below 40 micron, PVC, beer, vodka and rum bottles, aluminium foil, bottle caps, CDs, copper, pens, tin, toothbrushes and toothpastes tubes.

“These are collected here till there is quantity enough to be sold. Each beer bottle, for instance, yields Rs. 1.50 and one kg of tumblers gives Rs. 5. From two month’s sale of stuff collected at the godown, the Panchayat has earned Rs. 16,000,” says Thamilselvan

Thamilselvan’s greatest challenge however, is the non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste the Panchayat has accumulated. “Every day we get a huge quantity of chocolate wrappers, masala packets and chips wrappers which can’t be recycled, neither can they be destroyed. It’s just landfill waste,” he says. For now, two public toilets disused for being too close to temple premises, have come to his rescue. Until innovative methods for their disposal are imagined, they will remain stocked here.

The biodegradable waste, on the other hand, is immediately transported to a large yard by the town’s edge. On one half of the field, smoke arises from fires set off by vendors who scrounge the ashes for metal scraps.

The other half speaks for the waste segregation project. Men with massive pitchforks mix cow dung and water with the degradable waste — the beginnings of compost. “The aim is to make the entire dump a vermi-compost pit someday with a compound wall and roofing. Soon we will be able to sell the manure for Rs 3-5 kg each, about Rs. 2,000 a day,” says Thamilselvan.

Future plans

The fruits of the two-month old efforts are visible in Perur’s streets. Roadsides are cleaner, drains work and massive public bins with overflowing waste are non-existent. “We don’t place those bins because then we can’t control what people dump in them,” adds Thamilselvan.

Says ward councillor K. Jayaprabha, “When the project began people were sceptical, but now 60 per cent of the families even provide the trash in two separate bins.”

Thamilselvan hopes to expand the project to collect trash twice a day. “That way it won’t rot, the smell will reduce and sweepers will use less liquor to handle their work.” He concludes saying, “These are small beginnings but they will yield big in the future.”