Conservancy workers bear the burden of segregation at source

Workers end up segregating waste to meet their daily target; only 50% of solid waste is segregated at source; appeals by the Corporation to citizens largely ignored

February 07, 2022 12:08 am | Updated 12:10 am IST - CHENNAI

Last mile hiccups: Conservancy workers often manually segregate waste in their tricycles in Ambattur Zone as citizens ignore appeals by the civic body.

Last mile hiccups: Conservancy workers often manually segregate waste in their tricycles in Ambattur Zone as citizens ignore appeals by the civic body.

Chennai has for long been struggling to achieve its goals towards solid waste management, mainly due to the difficulty in getting a crucial component right — the segregation of waste at source.

Though there has been a gradual improvement on this front, thanks to sustained efforts in the last couple of years, the city is yet to get anywhere close to even achieving 50% compliance in source segregation.

With sustained pressure from the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) officials on recycling and reducing the waste going to landfills and with inadequate cooperation from households and bulk waste generators, the burden seems to have fallen on the conservancy workers to bridge the gap.

Conservancy workers The Hindu spoke to from different zones, where waste collection is managed by either private contractors or GCC itself, said they had to do the additional work of segregating wet, dry and hazardous waste apart from collecting them from households.

The city generates 5,100 tonnes of solid waste daily with Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Royapuram, Anna Nagar, and Tondiarpet being the top five zones accounting for more than 50% of it.

According to official account, nearly 42% of the households segregate waste before handing it over to the conservancy workers. However, the supervisors and workers The Hindu spoke to suspect that the figure may be exaggerated as the waste segregated by the workers gets counted as that of households.

A supervisor from Anna Nagar zone, where the conservancy operations are directly managed by the GCC, said each tricycle or battery-operated vehicle (BOV) operator had a target of providing 50 kg of wet waste every day.

“The compliance from households are poor. Hence, under pressure, the workers segregate the waste in their tricycles,” he said.

A tricycle operator from Ambattur zone said that they did not have any protective equipment and had to segregate waste with their bare hands. “Except for a few households, everyone put all sorts of waste, including diapers, together. It is an additional task for us to segregate them,” the woman worker said.

Another worker from Tiruvottiyur zone, which is under the management of Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd., said that while officials asked them to insist that the households segregate the waste, it did not prove fruitful.

“They do not listen and if we refuse to collect, they dump it in the bin or on the road, which becomes even more difficult for us,” he said.

A worker from Perungudi zone, which is being managed by Urbaser Sumeet, said many ended up collecting wet waste from bulk waste generators such as restaurants to meet their daily target of wet waste.

“Sometimes, it becomes difficult to segregate the waste provided by households, because of which we fail to meet our targets. To compensate, we collect waste from eateries and vegetable sellers even though it is not our job,” she said.

Perceptible change

There are some success stories. Apart from certain pockets in areas like Raja Annamalai Puram, Mandaveli, Perungudi, Kasturba Nagar (in Adyar) where active residents’ welfare associations have been segregating waste for long, conservancy workers have managed to bring about a noticeable change in a few other localities.

A case in point is Karani Garden in Saidapet, where conservancy worker N. Stella, 39, handles waste collection on three streets.

From minimal compliance in her locality four months ago, Stella says she has managed to achieve nearly 95% compliance through her perseverance.

“I do not refuse to collect waste if it is not segregated. Instead, I do not let them go. I make them wait for a few mins and explain why segregation is important. I tell them the example of people living in hazardous condition near the landfill in Perungudi. While talking to them, I segregate the waste to show how easily it can be done,” said Ms. Stella, who has been working as a conservancy worker for more than 10 years. While Ms. Stella’s experience stands as an isolated example, workers feel that sustained campaign and penalties are needed to ensure segregation at source by the majority.

In the last six months, GCC issued at least three public announcements to warn people about the fines to be imposed for dumping of garbage in public places. According to the announcements, a fine of ₹100 can be imposed on individual households for dumping of unsegregated waste. While the civic body has imposed hefty fines for those dumping construction debris in public places and waterbodies, the penal provisions are rarely invoked in case of households for non-segregation of waste.

A senior official from GCC, requesting anonymity owing to the ongoing local bodies election, said that improving compliance on waste segregation at source was a priority.

“We are regularly conducting reviews with officials and private contractors to explore ways to improve this. We hope that a newly elected local body will provide impetus to these efforts,” he added.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.