Green thumbs up

RECYCLE, REUSE, REDUCE: Green friends of Hand-in-Hand at work and the project site  

Drive down ECR a decade ago: Clean roads, the sea to the left, scenic route. Crank down the windows! Bend the breeze! Now: Look at the garbage man, raise the glass! Thank god for AC, and where is the sea?

But the scene changes dramatically when you reach Mamallapuram, thanks to Hand-in-Hand, a professionally-run organisation that specialises in total solid waste management (SWM). In January 2008, HiH set foot in this historic-but-now-gone-commercial city with a comprehensive SWM project to make it clean, banking on their experience in community work to ensure success.

On our drive to the project site, assistant project director Parisutham details the “battle” plan. “We started with three ‘green friends' (for door-to-door collection, segregation, waste-processing) in one ward covering 380 households, and by June 2010 we touched 10 wards with nearly 3,600 establishments including small businesses.” On an average four metric tonnes of waste is collected daily, out of which nearly 60 per cent is processed. The green (kitchen, garden) waste is converted into bio and vermi-compost in a constructed-for-the-purpose compost park. Recyclable waste is segregated into plastic bottles, aluminium foil, rubber products, plastic carry bags, metal and glass products and sold to respective recyclers.

How it works

HiH officials call a meeting of elected officials, SHG members and student representatives to explain the plan. “After the okay, we sign an MoU with the local government,” says Shiva Krishnamurthy, project director. “We recruit green friend, flag off operations with a mass-cleaning drive. Collection — in different bins — starts at 6 a.m. If you're not willing to segregate, green friends do it in front of the house. It is then transported to the “park” for conversion. The local government helps with infrastructure such as vehicles and tractors to collect garbage. They also give us financial support.” HiH charges a user-fee and raises funds to fill the gaps. The project generates employment and eventually pays for itself.

“We began SWM in Mamallapuram in 2008,” says Shiva. “We did intensive campaigning for a ban on plastic carry bags, distributed pamphlets to tourists, put up boards in shops and public places. We persuaded shops to sponsor cloth bags for distribution, promoted paper cups.” After a trip to Kanyakumari where the plastic ban has been successfully enforced, members gave the nod: disposable plastics will go. The Town Panchayat signalled its support.

With nearly a thousand eateries, Mamallapuram throws away mounds of cooked food. “It smells foul when it rots,” informs Parisutham, moving to the biogas idea. HiH got 2.02 acres of land allotted, sourced 45 per cent of the funds from SIDA, (Swedish International Development Agency) through Tillvaxtverket and built the circular 100-cubic-metre biogas plant in the park complex funded by ADB. Here, every morning, some 1,000 kg of leftover food is mixed with water at a 1:1 ratio, stirred, ground and pumped into the massive digester. The gas holder floating in a water tub soon fills with methane gas and helps produce 10 kw power through a 12.5 KVA generator run exclusively on biogas. The precious electricity lights the entire complex and the slurry speeds up bio-composting.

Safely transported, methane gas can be used for cooking and lighting. It can run a gen-set. Bottled gas can be sold to households and restaurants. “People are welcome to tour the place,” says Parisutham. HiH knew they had a good thing going and decided to apply for the BBC World Challenge Award. “Our nomination was among the 640 chosen from across the world,” says a proud Shiva. “The BBC sent a video documentation team, which left highly impressed with our bio-gas plant. Now we're one of the 12 finalists who will be voted for to reach the top three. This is the only Indian project short-listed for the 2011 contest.”

Voting on the project (Trash to Gas) started on September 26 and you can vote till November 11. On November 29, the top three nominations will be ranked by a Dutch jury and all three will get cash awards. “If we win, we can establish a completely self-supporting bio-gas bottling plant which will facilitate sale of bottled gas. The award will bring waste management to centre-stage, throwing the light on an important, but often neglected aspect of our lives.”

“The award will make Mamallapuram retain its glory and convert the project into a sustainable enterprise,” says CEO Kalpana Sekar, who gave up a government job to head HiH. It is replicable across India. This project is everything for me.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 10:17:59 PM |

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