Better recycling and resource recovery infrastructure is need of the hour

Some excerpts from the Facebook chat conducted last week

August 11, 2013 09:12 am | Updated June 02, 2016 03:36 am IST - Chennai

Dharmesh Shah (left) and Preethi Sukumaran

Dharmesh Shah (left) and Preethi Sukumaran

A Facebook chat on the ‘Garbage problem in Chennai’ with Dharmesh Shah , researcher and environment activist, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), and Preethi Sukumaran , CEO & Co-Founder of Krya, earlier this week had nearly 20,000 readers logging in to see the posts and comments.

The full chat can be viewed at >


Dharmesh Shah: I think that our understanding of garbage needs to go beyond cleanliness and aesthetics. It is not about keeping our streets clean and paying lots of money to haul as much waste as possible out of sight to Perungudi and Kodungiayur. With waste, the psychology is clear - out of sight is out of mind. But, is that a sustainable approach? Residents of Kodungaiyur and Perungudi face a living hell every day - a price they pay to keep our city clean. And as space there is running out, the Corporation is planning to open new landfills in places such as Kuthambakkam which is on the banks of the Chembrambakkam lake, one of the last remaining fresh waterbodies supplying water to Chennai. So, there seems to be no end to the madness unless our discussions evolve towards efficient resource management rather than mere waste management.

Cinnamon Green: I happened to come across >this page that says how Sweden loves trash .

Dharmesh Shah: This is mainly because Sweden has invested heavily into waste incinerators and they burn all of it. This is an extremely resource-intensive approach and comes at a huge cost to tax payers. Plus, there is no incentive to reduce waste generation as your city will be locked into this investment and forced to keep feeding the incinerator for several decades. And not to mention the toxic emissions - several projects, even in the most advanced countries such as Germany, have been found to emit toxic gases despite claims of having the best pollution control tech. I think India is better off investing in better recycling and resource recovery infrastructure than in incinerators.

Swaminathan Ganapathy: What is the Warangal Model which is reported to be considered by Coimbatore?

Dharmesh Shah: The Warangal Model is nothing but a tried and tested method of door-to-door collection of separated wet (kitchen) waste and dry (recyclable) waste. It is the method being followed by many progressive municipalities across the country as an alternative to centralised dumping system which is being followed in Chennai. This reduces the load on city landfills and is the first step towards a good system. In Warangal, the only aspects that make it an incomplete system are the continued dumping of organic waste in the city landfill and exclusion of waste pickers. You can read more about the system on the Warangal corporation website -

Hema Raman: We need to forcibly enforce dry and wet garbage segregation at source. City cleaning crew should be told to inform residents on the streets they cover. Two warnings and then they should be fined for not segregating at source. Only possible if the Corporation takes up the issue with a vengeance.

Pavitra Mahale: I guess a reward model in our society will work better rather than penalising!

Preethi Sukumaran: I think a community-wide initiative has led to success in some wards in Bangalore where this movement has gathered greater steam. I have to agree with Pavitra: Real, lasting change can come only from within and when citizens choose to partner with the State. While forceful implementation as a result of policy can help to jump start the process, it has to come hand-in-hand with citizen acceptance and partnership - which explains why this has not been a complete success in Bangalore across all wards.

Yuvaraj Ravi: Should ban plastic bags and water bottles first. This contributes 90% of garbage.

Preethi Sukumaran: I’ve seen an interesting citizen-led initiative in Australia that worked on this. I feel banning water sold in plastics should go hand-in-hand with providing citizens access to clean safe drinking water. If that is done, we can all be encouraged to carry our own bottles (glass or steel) and re-fill them when out.

Rubesh Krishnan: Why don’t we look for ecological scientists in India who can provide a scientific approach to recycle or decompose such garbage? Zero Waste Home is more practised in rural areas by heritage where they mostly adopt a nature-friendly life. Cities shall take lessons from villages.

Dharmesh Shah: There is enough knowledge out there in the country to scientifically and ecologically manage a lot of waste, especially organic/kitchen waste you are referring to. It is a matter of political will which is what is lacking in Chennai. We need more citizens to demand such interventions.

Preethi Sukumaran: As Dharmesh says, science and knowledge is already available, and composting is something that used to be practised as a matter of routine in earlier times. I believe we lack pride and the will to do something about this today, and tend to take the lazy way out and blame the system. Each one of us needs to start practising solid waste management in our homes right away.

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