When W. Senthur Poovathi and her husband purchased a piece of land in Perungudi 17 years ago, they were told that the dumping of garbage in the adjacent landfill will be stopped soon.

“But it continues unabated till date. Garbage used to be burnt almost throughout the year excepting for the rainy season. We wouldn’t be able to breathe. Our daughters would cry when their eyes burn. But we had no other place to go and so we stayed on,” said the homemaker, who said their locality would feel like a gas chamber when thick smoke engulfs it.

Burning of garbage has been a constant problem in both Perungudi and Kodungaiyur dump yards of the Chennai Corporation. Over the last decade residents protests in both these areas have only grown along with the amount of plastics dumped in these yards.

“Fires have been happening in these sites for a long time but they have become dangerous only in the past decade due to the increase in plastic load. As a result of liberalisation and economic progress, people started throwing glass bottles, metals, batteries, used gadgets and plastics. Rag pickers burn things to extract metals and other things that have some resale value. It is not possible to man the dump yards to prevent rag pickers from entering them. It would cost the civic body a few crores every month,” said a former engineer with the civic body.

What would work is mechanically segregating the waste before it is dumped.

Plastics, old clothes and packaging materials should be removed. Plastics shouldn’t reach the dump yard. If that is avoided door to door or mechanical segregation will work, he added.

Not just rag pickers but also uncontrolled methane gas emissions too are causes for fires in the dump yards.

“During summer there is increased microbial activity, high methane production due to decomposition of organic matter, dry garden waste and increasing volume of combustible paper and plastics,” explained P. Rajasekhar, an expert on solid waste management, who has been to almost every city and town in the State and studied their SWM methods.

“Small measures will help reduce fires. For instance food waste can be collected from hotels and used in biogas plants. Garden waste can be composted. Mud swept from the roads should not be dumped in the landfill sites. Also a separate budget must be provided for treatment of garbage,” he said.

To put it succinctly, source segregation at all levels will put out the raging fires in our landfills and save our environment from the scourge of pollution.

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

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