Experts in SWM call for measures to promote segregation of waste at source and efficient disposal system

In the past few weeks, conservancy workers have been working overtime to clear garbage that has piled up across the city. Apart from being an eyesore, the overflowing waste bins pose health hazards. Garbage is clogging canals and choking stormwater drains in parts of Pulianthope, Adyar, Kodambakkam and Triplicane zones.

Residents are tired of calling the Chennai Corporation officials. “How many times do we call the zonal officer? We call him only when the condition is unbearable and he immediately responds by sending in a vehicle to remove the garbage. The Corporation's response to the issue is that the NMF can be replaced only after December. We do not want that for an answer,” a resident said.

The civic body helpline 1913 mostly receives complaints regarding garbage from areas including Velachery, Adyar and Thiruvanmiyur where people are aware about the helpline. Mayor M.Subramanian said: “We send our men to remove garbage and deduct the charges from the NMF. We are also planning to provide another helpline exclusively for rain-related complaints and garbage disposal. Work on an integrated solid waste management (SWM) project will soon start in Perungudi.”

However, replacing the agency or starting an integrated SWM project in dump yards is not the answer.

Experts in SWM call for measures to promote segregation of waste at source and efficient disposal system.

As the volume of garbage being tackled by the civic body is bound to increase once the 42 local bodies in the periphery are merged with Chennai, the emphasis must be to reduce the volume of garbage generated at the domestic level.

While welcoming Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's announcement earlier this month about mass cleaning, residents and experts say that something on the lines of rainwater harvesting must be done for solid waste as well.

“Most of the garbage is from those who can afford to buy more and store. The poor recycle whatever they get. We are expecting something concrete from this government. Last time rainwater harvesting was very successful. They have to make citizens responsible for the waste they generate. As a first step the Corporation must not collect garden waste and instead encourage citizens to make their own manure,” said Sultan Ahmed Ismail, an expert in SWM.

Chennai Corporation officials say that after the launch of mass cleaning drive, the dumpyards have been taking an extra load of 150 tonnes of garbage and 400 tonnes of debris daily.

The daily load otherwise used to be 3,400 tonnes of garbage and 1,000 tonnes of debris.

Dumping yards

According to sources in the Commissionerate of Municipal Administration, the local bodies generate nearly 1,500 tonnes of waste daily. The Corporation's landfills are already short of space and garbage mounds are constantly levelled to create additional space.

Residents in the neighbourhood of Kodungaiyur and Perungudi dumpyards have stiffly opposed the civic body's proposals to set up integrated solid waste management projects and want the dumping yards to be moved out.

While local bodies in Chennai and suburbs are grappling with solid waste management problems, the Coimbatore Corporation has been quite successful in managing its waste.

According to environment engineer and SWM expert P.Rajasekar, Coimbatore generates 600 tonnes of garbage daily. Only 20 per cent goes into the landfill and the civic body there processes the rest of it. However, source segregation has not taken off in a big way in Coimbatore too.

Source segregation

In Chennai though the Corporation had distributed bags to residents in some areas to collect recyclable waste and had given red and green bins to hundreds of slum-dwellers, residents are not enthused as they know the waste is dumped collectively in the landfills. Many home-makers say they do not have the time, inclination or the necessity to put their hands into garbage generated at their homes.

“I used to segregate plastics and recyclables. But when I saw that the person who collects the waste from our home does not mind doing the work, I just stopped. He segregates it in the corner of the road after collecting waste from our area,” said V.R. Chandran of Ayanavaram.

M.B.Nirmal, founder of Exnora International which was involved in garbage disposal between 1989 and 1997, said “We used to effectively cover nearly 1,900 streets and segregate waste. But Onyx replaced us. Instead of just collecting garbage, we are now trying to involve residential associations in making manure from garden and food wastes.”

Solid waste management is no better in suburbs where vacant lands become make-shift dump yards. Elected representatives and residents have been fighting to shift the Athipet dumping yard in Ambattur. Porur resident G.Jothi said, “Lakes are the easiest places to dump garbage for want of dustbins. There are not enough conservancy workers to collect the garbage or sweep roads.”

Municipal Administration Commissionerate officials said that work was on to set up an integrated SWM project at Venkatamangalam for Tambaram, Pallavaram and Alandur. A similar proposal in Kuthambakkam for Ambattur, Poonamallee, Thiruverkadu, Valasaravakkam and Maduravoyal has been stalled due to protests from Kuthambakkam residents.

“The proposal is awaiting the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board's clearance. After the city expansion, we plan to dispose garbage from Ambattur, Valasaravakkam and Maduravoyal at Perungudi dump yard as an interim measure. We need TNPCB approval for new sites,' an official of the CMA said.

Environment experts say that SWM must be implemented in a phased manner. Kurian Joseph of Centre for Environment Studies, Anna University, said the local bodies must consider segregating and processing waste in a few wards.

A combination of facilities such as bio-methanation plant for biodegradable waste and use of plastic waste for cement plants can be considered.

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