Cashing in on trash

To reduce our carbon footprint, a separate garbage fee or tax can be imposed

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:32 pm IST

Published - August 09, 2013 04:15 am IST - CHENNAI

Small traders often end up dumping their waste in front of their shops  Photo: S. S. Kumar

Small traders often end up dumping their waste in front of their shops Photo: S. S. Kumar

As we keep adding mounds of garbage to the city’s dump yards, we learn that nothing valuable ever goes into the bins. Residents and shopkeepers alike sift through waste and remove what can be sold.

“Big shops in areas like T. Nagar don’t throw out cartons or gunny bags or paper that can be recycled. At night after they shut shop, the recyclers come to collect the material. Only food waste, small pieces of paper and mud are found in their bins,” said a conservancy employee, who has been in this business for 15 years now.

Recyclers play a vital role in reducing the garbage that goes into bins. T. Krishnan, who has been collecting plastic sheets and cartons from various shops in the retail areas, said he gets at least 50 kilos per day from 15 shops in a particular retail hub. “I collect cardboard boxes for Rs. 5 per kilo and plastic sheets for Rs. 15 per kilo. I visit one retail area a day such as Purasawalkam or T. Nagar,” he said.

There are many others like him who have taken up such work on a large scale. “We have provided phone numbers to several shops. When they call us, we go and collect the waste that is re-saleable,” a vendor said.

However, they struggle to keep up with the sheer amount of trash generated. There are shops that generate up to one tonne daily. And there are smaller establishments whose garbage is dumped into the bins along with that from households. “At times, small traders sweep out the garbage and push it onto the water table (the small space between the road and the footpath). On Ranganathan Street, shopkeepers sweep the garbage onto the middle of the street. Though the Chennai Corporation has started imposing fines on shopkeepers who litter the footpath in front of their shops, we have had to face stiff resistance from the traders,” said an official of the Chennai Corporation.

At a policy level, one way to reduce our carbon footprint, activists say, is to introduce a separate garbage fee or tax that will be linked to what is generated by commercial establishments and individual homes. “Currently, garbage clearance is covered in the amount paid for obtaining trade licences. They are issued to commercial establishments on the basis of a one-time payment every year. That amount varies between Rs. 500 and Rs. 15,000 based on the size of the building. However, that amount is nowhere on a par with what is required to clear the garbage generated. It costs around Rs. 1,400 to clear a tonne of garbage. Given this, garbage clearance should not be linked with the trade licence, said an environmental activist. He said that a tax would help generate more funds for the civic body and be a disincentive to persons generating undue amounts of garbage.

However, A.M. Vikramaraja, State president of Tamil Nadu Vannigar Sangankalin Peramaipu, said the association was against imposing a separate tax on garbage. “We have submitted a petition against such a plan to the Chennai Corporation. In case such a tax is levied, this would only lead to an increase in price of commodities, thus further burdening the consumers,” he added.

Sources in the Chennai Corporation, too, said that imposing a new tax was not the way forward to reduce garbage. “We have enough funds to dispose off garbage. All that is required is an increase in property tax, which would be done next year. It is a misplaced notion that additional tax will bring about responsibility. The population has grown and so garbage has also increased. We should see that this waste is recycled and reused. It takes time to change habits. IEC is a more sustainable approach. We have also started in a limited way to segregate garbage,” said an official.

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