S. Indra Kumar’s house in Pammal is overrun with microorganisms and insects.

They are his allies in an indefinite campaign against what he calls ‘a costly ignorance about waste’. He sees hidden resources in organic wastes, and these creatures indefatigably assist him in tapping them.

With his entire house wired into this philosophy, he has become something of an eco-guru. Over the last nine years, a galaxy of environmentally-conscious people has visited his ‘model home’ to get their heads around his zero-waste management model. He is also invited to schools, colleges, companies, residents’ association meetings and to gatherings of environmentalists.

“Students visit my house, mostly in batches of around 50. In colleges and schools, I often address a gathering of around 300 students,” says Indra Kumar, who is also president of Home Exnora, which propagates home-based micromanagement of waste.

Indra Kumar’s message is shaped by a simple but clear idea; he repeats this message, irrespective of the audience. ‘As waste generation begins at home, efforts to tackle it too should begin there.’

“Sixty per cent of the waste generated at home is organic, which is wealth in disguise. Home-generated organic waste — which includes kitchen and garden refuse — can be composted to grow vegetables in one’s backyard or terrace. This is the only cost-effective way of dealing with the bane of pesticides,” says Indra Kumar.

In addition to a system for composting with cow dung, he has put in place a facility for vermicomposting. The latter is done on a larger scale and the manure generated is sold to residents tending gardens.

Money from such sales and the fees charged for sessions on waste management are his only sources of income. In 2004, he opted for voluntary retirement from the multinational English Electric Company (now called Areva) in Pallavaram to concentrate on full-time environmental work with waste management as the thrust area. With stints as machine operator and purchase supervisor, he had no trained expertise in environmental science.

But today, anyone who seeks Indra Kumar’s expertise is assured of insights into various aspects of eco-friendly living.

For instance, he uses paste derived from peels of fruits with high citric acid content to clean his toilets and abstains from chemical cleaners. “My septic tank contains bacillus subtilis and these bacteria have to be protected from chemicals,” he says.

Opening the lid of the septic tank, he shows what he has achieved with this effort. The tank does not exude any foul smell. Then, he proceeds to do the unthinkable. He manually draws from the septic tank and waters his plants.

Trash statistics

5,000 tonnes of waste are generated in Chennai every day

1) Biodegradable waste - 47%

a) Green waste - 32%

b) Food waste - 8%

c) Wood - 7%

2) Inert material - 34 %

3) Plastic waste - 6.98 %

4) Rags - 3.1 %

5) Miscellaneous waste - 8.02%

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

Send us pictures of extreme instances of garbage affecting normal life in Chennai.

We would also like to hear about what you are doing to manage waste

Email us at myright@thehindu.co.in

Join us for a discussion on solving the garbage problem at facebook.com/chennaicentral The thread is open for comments. Dharmesh Shah, researcher and environment activist, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Preethi Sukumaran, CEO & Founder of Krya will answer your questions.

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