Toilet waste ends up in canals and drains as city has no disposal facility at all

A family in Elamakkara wakes up every morning to the stench of faeces dumped near its house. Private septic tank cleaners collect toilet waste and dump it into a canal adjacent to the family’s compound every night.

Many others in the city have had similar experiences as this is the only way Kochi has found to deal with its overflowing toilets.

The city has no system to treat and dispose of toilet waste. So when their septic tanks fill up, people hire private parties to clean it up. The cleaners, for about Rs.3,500 per tanker of toilet waste, come in the middle of the night and quietly clean up the tank. What they do with the waste becomes someone else’s problem.

“As per law, it is the Corporation’s duty to ensure that toilet waste is treated and disposed of,” said a Corporation official.

The city, however, has still not found a solution to its sewage woes. In the absence of a mechanism to treat toilet waste, the administration turns a blind eye to private parties dumping waste on roadsides.

Mythili M.S., chief environmental engineer of the State Pollution Control Board, said a centralised toilet waste management system had become necessary for the city.

“It may be difficult at this stage to lay inclined pipelines under buildings. But the city is growing every day and something has to be done before it becomes an impossible task,” she said.

Land will have to be identified at a remote area where the waste can be collected and processed before it is disposed of. Pipes will then have to be laid to bring waste from the city to the plant.

“It is going to be difficult and expensive. But it is the option most suited to Kochi’s needs,” said a city town planner. There is no dearth of technologies or technical expertise to treat toilet waste centrally in a feasible manner, he said. He suggested that taxes could be imposed for using the service.

Another planner said that a decentralised system would be more suitable for the city, considering its bad experience with managing solid waste centrally.

“Many flats have now installed small sewage treatment plants to treat waste. Every four to five household units could together set up such a system for toilet waste too,” he said.

This would also take away the need to find a large piece of land where a centralised plant could be set up without inconveniencing people.

A few other experts, however, felt that such a system may not work in crowded parts of Kochi. Finding space to treat toilet waste could become problematic in the central regions that have high population density.

The low-lying city also has a high water table, which could make processing the waste difficult in decentralised plants, said Ms. Mythili. “Toilet waste could also stagnate in areas near canals,” she said.

While there are differing opinions, officials and planners agree that the problem could get out of hand if a solution is not found quickly.

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