Are zero-waste cities possible?

Excerpts from a Facebook chat conducted on The Hindu's Chennai Central page last week had experts from Kerala and the Philippines answering numerous questions. More than 20,000 perople viewed the chat

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:29 pm IST

Published - August 14, 2013 09:21 am IST - Chennai

Shibu Nair (left) and Froilan Grate

Shibu Nair (left) and Froilan Grate

'ARE ZERO-WASTE CITIES POSSIBLE?' was the topic for discussion at > The Hindu's Chennai Central Facebook page on Sunday. Shibu Nair , zero waste practitioner & expert and program director at Thanal, a Kerala-based environmental organisation, and Froilan Grate , environment educator & consumer advocate, president of the Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines answered questions for over 2 days. More than 20,000 people viewed the discussion.

Some excerpts:

Shanthi Krishnan Why can't the Chennai Corporation provide bins to individual houses and show them how to segregate waste through TV Channels just before a serial is about to start? They also should remove the big garbage bins at the road ends. I am sure they can make it a success if they do this.

Shibu Nair Any garbage bin no matter how small or big is useless when there is no final disposal option/mechanism attached to the system at the end. These garbage bins at our households will get emptied into bigger ones and from there it will move to a temporary storage area and then will finally end up in the huge dump sites in the villages. Placing a garbage bin needs a greater responsibility. It should be well thought and consulted with the people in the region.

Lakshmi Narasimhan Lachin Actually zero waste has to be a subject in school. We also need to understand the way waste is being generated in Chennai; the approach to zero waste in Chennai should be on these

1) Individual Houses and Government offices should have mandatory composting.

2) Corporate buildings except few have no waste segregation so, they should be made mandatory to have zero waste policy and waste segregation.

I feel most of the waste generated by a household can be decomposed in the house itself. I feel, like solar, most of the waste can be used for bio gas generation too. Shibhu and Froilan Grate can enlighten us on these mini bio-gas plants and its feasibility. The mid day-meal/Amma canteens can use bio-gas for cooking from the decomposable waste generated by the city, provided it's safe. This depends on the first step of waste segregation.

Apart from that I have a fundamental doubt, why don't the companies that provide plastic water bottles take them (the bottles) back, like in many other countries. Do we have any such policies in India?

Froilan Grate On the question "Are Zero Waste Cities Possible?" I strongly believe Zero Waste Cities are possible. Allow me to share our experience here in the Philippines. We are currently working with the City of San Fernando, in central Philippines with a population of 300,000. The city is composed of 35 villages, with each village having at least 1,000 people up to 15,000.

In six months, we were able to reduce by 70% the amount of waste collected by the city. Littering and backyard burning has also been greatly reduced.

We were able to achieve this by doing the following:

1. Decentralised waste management - meaning waste management starts at home and in the villages. Local leaders have the primary responsibility in waste management instead of the city Mayor. This makes it very manageable.

2. Massive information and education campaign - we tapped local volunteers to go from house to house and educate every resident on proper waste segregation and management.

3. At source segregation - we believe that it is everyone's responsibility to segregate their waste and not that of the waste pickers.

4. No segregation, no collection policy - if the waste is not segregated at source, they will not be collected.

5. Materials Recovery Facility in every village - there are now more than 44 MRFs in the 35 barangays (village) in the city. There will be a hundred by December, that's one for every village and every school. An MRF is where we process segregated wastes, recyclables are stored for sale to factories, bio-waste composted and residuals are stored for collection by the city.

6. Promotion of composting - though there is composting at the MRF, we still encourage every household to practice their own composting. We have different methods that they can choose - using clay pot, drums, sacks, tires, vermi worms, depending on their capacity.

7. Strong enforcement - tickets are issued to repeat violators (non segregation, littering, etc) with corresponding penalties.

8. Involving waste pickers - the informal waste pickers were tapped and they are now recognised as waste collectors with regular salary from the villages and the city.

9. Financial support - the city gave financial support to the villages for the construction of their MRFs.

10. Awards - best performing villages, schools and businesses were given awards by the city during the annual Zero Waste Month celebration (every July).

Though there is no one boxed solution for every community, we found out from our experience that when all of this components are considered, zero waste is indeed possible.

By the way, they (City of San Fernando) are not yet a Zero Waste City as of today but we say they are on the road towards Zero Waste.

Gowri Shankar R. We can’t complain about the conservancy workers as they all come from an economically poor background and many of them stay near the Cooum. We also can’t expect them to understand the significance of hygiene and neatness as their own houses lack these things. Let’s discuss as to how each one us should initiate to keep the roads clean and litter free. We see educated people themselves throwing garbage around the dustbins instead of properly dumping them in... Ultimately it is attitude the matters a lot more than anything else....Thanks

Shibu Nair Dear Gowri, 80% of resources in a system is being consumed by just 20% people, that means this same 20% actually generates 80% of waste. Education have nothing to do with social awareness when it comes to waste management and littering. It is very hard to convince this 20% affluent, well educated consumers to change their behaviour for a mindful consumption. The backyards of conservancy workers are ugly not because they are not hygiene conscious; but they have limited or low bargaining power in our present governing system. It is the other side of politics of waste! Or we call it as environmental racism

Arun Srinivaasan Zero waste for organics is possible. We have Ecopots in which you can just dump your waste & grow plants directly, no waiting for compost. We have DSt gold medal too launching in Chennai by next week. You can have an organic home garden for Rs. 4000. Organic waste has NPK, nutrients for plants. This is the global first technology for institutional composting & planting. No more pesticide-loaded vegetables. You can grow them in your balconies & roof top.

Camille Van Neer Ever thought of enabling biogas to emanate from your kitchen waste? And use it?

Froilan Grate Hi Camille! Indeed, biogas as a solution for our biodegradable waste is indeed the way to go (or at least one of). In fact, we recognise India as a pioneer on this. I was part of a study tour to India last June and I personally saw so many examples (from schools, to community kitchens, etc). This is great because we're hitting two cans [because we can't hit birds] with one stone. We're addressing our waste problem and at the same time our energy problem. The challenge now for biogas is to make it feasible and practical at the smallest level - in every household for example. I'm sure we'd get a lot of interest if we can cook our meals directly using the gas produced from our own biowaste.

Arun Velayutham How do I start with household waste management?

Dharmesh Shah Hi Arun - to start with keep your kitchen waste and your other waste ie; plastics, paper, metals separate. This is a good resource on what you can do with your kitchen waste - >

The full chat can be viewed at >

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