Chennai

A sustainability classroom at a Chennai college

Around 300 metres from Shri Shankarlal Sundarbai Shasun Jain College for Women in T Nagar, a “classroom” functions at Kannammapet crematorium and burial ground.

Since February 2022, the college has been maintaining a micro-composing facility at the burial ground in accordance with a consent it received from the Greater Chennai Corporation last September.

This micro-composting facility serves as a classroom initiating students into composting and entrepreneurship.

Under this initiative, every day, conservancy workers of Urbaser Sumeet bring to the facility four tonnes of organic waste collected from the neighbourhood including the T Nagar vegetable market. The green waste is processed in concrete pits. Four workers and one supervisor, hired by the college management, handle the various processes, ensuring every load of bio-degradable garbage is composted.

As the one leading the project, college principal S Padmavathi says the management has always worked towards the upkeep of the burial ground.

Exnora International and Sri Rajasthani Jain Samaj in T Nagar joined hands to form Param Shanthi Nilayam Trust under which they maintain and improve the facilities at Kannammapet burial ground since 1992. In 2007, the facility got an electric crematorium, she says.

In June 2021, the GCC commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi had visited the facility and after which the management placed a request if they could oversee the maintenance of the micro composting unit that was already in place.

The college started upgrading the facility with the assistance of an environmental organisation, Namma Ooru Foundation. Following an analysis of the facility, “windrow composting” was implemented.

Students are encouraged to understand the various processes. The signages around the facility are based on inputs from students.

The college moved an important process to its campus. “The compost has to be sieved before it is dried and packed, so we brought the sieving machine to the college grounds for students to operate it,” says the principal. “Through our clubs, numbering between 20 and 25, various tasks are assigned to each group for a week,” Padmavathi says the college has 4000 students.

Staff and students at the facility

Staff and students at the facility

The packed compost is sold by students from an outlet at the college. It is also being sold to farmers at a nominal rate. The inventory is maintained by students and staff. The Enactus members of the college play a major role, assigning responsibilities to various clubs, says Padmavathi.

Sundarameena Senthil, director of Solid Waste Management, says finding labour has been a challenge.

Extending term

Initially, the college signed an agreement to oversee the micro composting unit for one year, and it now seeks an extension.

“A lot of money has gone to keep this unit up and running thanks to the the CSR funding by Venkata Narayana Active Ingredients Private Limited. As we have invested a lot of our time, energy and money into this unit, we are keen on continuing with the project for the long term,” says Padmavathi.

“We are fighting problems of the earth and do not expect this to be profit-oriented,” she adds.

If the project were to make any profit, the college would share it with its students, she says.

Meanwhile, the college is looking for CSR funding.

The project coordinators are happy with the buzz the unit has been creating on and off the campus. “A batch of MBA students from SRM University are currently doing internship where they are studying the model,” says Sundarameena.

‘Success of MCUs depends on how the processes are followed’

P Natarajan, founder, Namma Ooru Foundation, the consultant guiding the college, says the success of micro-composting units depends on how well the processes are followed by the workers. “These units must run like a factory and every checklist must be followed meticulously,” says Natarajan, praising the college management for adopting the unit at the burial ground.

After studying various models including the one widely followed in Kerala, the Foundation went for “windrow composting” method but not before making some modifications in the tanks. Here, 1 to 1.5 tonne of organic (green) matter is added every day to the brown matter like tender coconut shell and garden waste. It takes four to six weeks for the end product to be ready.

Natarajan says windrow composting is cost-effective. “If you plan and scale it right, it can be a profitable model,” he says, adding a public-private partnership works better.


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Printable version | Sep 21, 2022 10:11:59 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-sustainability-classroom-at-a-chennai-college/article65757287.ece