Town panchayats in Coimbatore district struggle to keep up with solid waste management

According to a private waste management company operating in three panchayat blocks, only 10-20% of collected waste undergoes processing

Updated - June 15, 2024 10:04 pm IST

Published - June 15, 2024 05:53 pm IST - COIMBATORE

Segregated plastic waste kept at a material recovery facility at Marudhamalai, Coimbatore district.

Segregated plastic waste kept at a material recovery facility at Marudhamalai, Coimbatore district. | Photo Credit: S. Siva Saravanan

With a rise in open dumping of waste by panchayats in Coimbatore district, data provided by the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) reveals that only 18 out of 33 town panchayats have micro composting centres (MCCs) and many of these require repairs year-round.

This inadequate waste management has led to increased dumping and burning of waste in areas like the Marudhamalai dumpyard, where mixed waste is disposed of in an elephant zone by the Somayampalayam panchayat, with minimal intervention from authorities.

Acknowledging a recent fire incident at the site, panchayat president K.P. Rangaraj attributed the open dumping to the closure of the region’s MCC, which resulted from residents’ protests against foul odours that could emanate from the unit.

This issue extends to other panchayats like Idigarai, Annur, Sulur, and S. S. Kulam, each generating over three tonnes of waste daily. Although these areas have MCCs capable of processing between 0.7 to 1 tonne, most remain closed for extended periods due to ongoing protests.

Annur panchayat president Paramasivam explained, “Waste is temporarily redirected to other panchayats until local issues are resolved, straining operational MCCs already struggling to process more than a tonne of waste daily.”

Adding to the problem is insufficient door-to-door waste collection across many town panchayats. In Veerapandi (Periyanaickenpalayam block), waste collection occurs only once every two days for over 1,500 households, attributed to a shortage of sanitation workers.

Further, only half of the households in 12 out of 33 town panchayats receive door-to-door waste collection services, leaving significant portions of the population unattended. According to a private waste management company operating in three panchayat blocks, only 10-20% of collected waste undergoes processing.

Financially, panchayats are burdened with MCC maintenance costs alongside expenses for waste collection and segregation by workers, with repair costs occasionally exceeding ₹1 lakh, noted by a panchayat union member.

In contrast to Coimbatore city, town panchayats note that a higher rate of ‘at-home composting’ due to open backyards, has made waste management simpler to an extent. “But sustainability challenges are expected with population growth and development,” Mr. Paramasivam said.

However, to promote sustainable practices, the DRDA has established material recovery facilities (MRFs) in 11 town panchayats for plastic waste processing, converting the Somayampalayam MCC into an MRF while constructing another facility in Pollachi North.

In response to the rising concerns, Sweta Suman, Additional Collector (Development), Coimbatore district stated, “Solid waste management is a significant challenge in peri-urban regions of the district. The DRDA is working to develop an issue-based plan to address this, as each panchayat faces unique challenges.”

Further, advocating for comprehensive solutions, Annur-based activist T. Poovarasan proposed centralising and privatising waste management across panchayats under unified contracts. “These should be taken up by proficient administrators capable of overseeing maintenance as well, aiming for a sustainable management model,” he added.

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