Dishing out trash in Chennai

A large percentage of the waste generated in the city consists of food and vegetables

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:32 pm IST

Published - August 06, 2013 02:21 am IST - CHENNAI

Biodegradable waste constitues a substantial part of the city's garbage  Photo: N. Sridharan

Biodegradable waste constitues a substantial part of the city's garbage Photo: N. Sridharan

The large green compactor bin on the road has a capacity of nearly 400-500 kg. In your average full bin, 65 -70 per cent is food and vegetable waste. Every day, around 600-800 tonnes of food waste is collected by the Chennai Corporation from restaurants, pizzerias, roadside eateries and garbage bins.

But, this was not the case until a decade ago.

“Earlier, people valued food and since it cost much more, tried not to waste it. For instance, leftover rice used to be consumed in the mornings or made into vadagams using jeera, salt and chillies that were dried and fried later,” said Ramakrishnan, a resident of Besant Nagar.

L.N. Srinivasan, a caterer in Mylapore, noted that the number of dishes served at weddings has increased. “Customers ask for around 30 items while booking a feast. Though most people do not eat so many dishes, we have no option but to cook that much food. We try to distribute the extra food but we cannot do anything about leftovers on the leaves,” he said.

In residential areas, the amount of food waste, including non-vegetarian waste, is quite high during the weekends, said waste managers. There are nearly 4,000 restaurants and eateries in the city and just one large restaurant generates around one tonne a day. “However, during the weekend, the amount sometimes increases to 3 tonnes. During the wedding season, marriage halls too waste a lot of food,” said a source.

Ecologist Sultan Ahmed Ismail said that earlier, the food cycle used to be completed by dogs, cats, cows and hens at homes. These days, however, houses do not have space for such animals and pedigree dogs cannot eat salt.

He suggested a reduction in the default serving in hotels, college and school hostels and marriage halls. “You can always ask for more. Hostels should avoid pre-cooked food and consider grinding coriander and curry leaves so that children eat them. Green waste can be just left in a corner of your garden and some mud can be put on it so that it gets composted,” he added.

Human hair, cotton, dry leaves, ash, vegetable peels, meat waste, tree trunks and waste from gardens are other forms of bio-degradable waste in the city and comprise around 32 per cent of the overall trash generated every day. “Due to the high quantum of bio-degradable waste, the best option for a city like ours is composting or producing bio-gas,” said a former civic body official.

The Chennai Corporation is planning to set up two biogas plants developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in the city on a pilot basis. “We are also trying to tie up with hotels for setting up such plants as they discharge around one to five tonnes of food waste a day. But availability of space is an issue. A few apartment complexes too have come forward to set up such plants,” said an official.

Trash statistics

5,000 tonnes of waste are generated in Chennai every day

1) Biodegradable waste - 47%

a) Green waste - 32%

b) Food waste - 8%

c) Wood - 7%

2) Inert material - 34 %

3) Plastic waste - 6.98 %

4) Rags - 3.1 %

5) Miscellaneous waste - 8.02%

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

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