A woman’s battle to keep waste from ending up in landfills

Updated - June 02, 2016 03:36 am IST

Published - August 15, 2013 08:50 am IST - CHENNAI:

Almitra Patel

Almitra Patel

Until 1991, Almitra Patel - whose landmark 1996 PIL in the Supreme Court against open dumping of municipal solid waste was instrumental in the drafting of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules- like many others did not know where garbage generated by the city ended up, until it landed near her village in Bangalore.

Instead of demanding that it not be dumped in her backyard, she set out to find a solution for hygienic municipal solid waste management, and found that most of the 80 Indian cities she visited in 1994-1995, had no where to dump their waste except in the outskirts of the city or approach roads.

Two decades later, the activist who has been in several government-appointed committees since, says that though there has been a huge leap in the awareness levels of both officials and citizens, when good cost-effective ideas exist, civic bodies must go ahead and start implementing them.

Over a decade since the MSWM Rules were notified, many of the recommendations relating to segregation, and disposal of waste, are waiting to be adopted.

“Starting tomorrow, the Chennai Corporation can start practising windrow stabilising of fresh waste on old levelled waste,” says Ms. Patel. “Bio-heat generated during the process kills bacteria which cause cholera, typhoid and kills weeding. The farmer who uses this compost saves on labour cost for de-weeding, which is quite high,” she says.

She suggests that instead of giving a tipping fee to the waste processor based on garbage intake for composting, an equivalent support price can be paid based on the amount of compost produced. “When the operator takes in more garbage than can be turned into compost, it ends up getting dumped untreated,” she says. The bio-methanation plant at Koyambedu market has failed to take off so far. “When there are good solutions conceptually, they should be made functional,” she says.

Citing examples of cities such as Suryapet, Warangal, Guntur and Visakhapatnam, which are striving to become zero waste cities, she says that if dry waste was sorted and sent for recycling, and unmixed wet waste for composting, there is little that will find its way to the landfills.

“Residents need to see the advantages of keeping their garbage unmixed. When a large housing colony sees that the compost they generate is going for their gardens, they will be motivated,” she assures.

“If all bulk generators of waste decide to manage their waste on site or give pure wet waste to farmers who are willing to compost it, the model can work. In Bangalore, the Pollution Control Board has permitted 20 tonnes an acre per year. Bangalore is setting up dry-waste collection centres in all wards,” she says.

Any city of any size can do it, she says. “It is a matter of administrative and political will.”

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

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

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