Chennai

The face of waste management

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From Mylapore to Pammal, Mangalam Balasubramaniam has been tirelessly promoting a model of converting waste into renewable energy. She has extended this work to many other Indian cities too

In my opinion, Mangalam Balasubramaniam is the brand ambassador of waste management in India. Her scroll of achievements is long and it got longer still, recently, when two biogas units were installed on the premises of Kapaleeswarar temple.

In 1994, Mangalam, who is the managing trustee of Exnora Green Pammal, launched a campaign promoting source segregation of waste with the help of a small group of women from the neighbourhood. She trained these women for the campaign. To drive home her message more effectively, she set out on a tricycle, and going from street to street, shouted slogans on how segregated waste at source can lead to wealth creation.

Even when she was handling a raft of important portfolios, including health and promotion of women’s welfare, given to her by various organisations, she kept beating the drum for a waste-less environment. For the next one decade, she devoted time to showing residents how to prevent and minimise the generation of waste and encouraged the use of waste as a raw material in generating renewable energy, compost as well as employment.

And in 2006, what started as a neighbourhood association was officially registered as a Trust, Exnora Green Pammal. Soon, with the support of several corporates, residents and local administrations, Mangalam replicated her seminal waste management model in several Indian cities.

Today, with over 20 years of functioning in this sphere, Exnora Green Pammal (EGP) is a recognised name in solid waste management, with a focus on developing public-private partnership. “Through our citizens’ social responsibility (CSR) activities, we ensure community partnership in spreading awareness about sustainable waste management practices in any community,” says Mangalam. Mangalam ensured that EGP kept pace with the rapidly evolving trends in waste management and technology.

“Earlier, organic waste was treated through vermicomposting. However, composting food and organic waste started posing a challenge as it invariably attracted fruit flies and houseflies. Besides, as we worked in suburban and rural areas, we noticed that several roadside eateries dumped food waste in waterbodies. All these factors drove us to think of an alternative – an anaerobic digester,” she says.

Thus, in 2010, Mangalam incepted the concept of fuelling kitchens using methane gas extracted from food waste. EGP collects waste from restaurants, roadside eateries and houses, removes the plastics and converts the waste into biogas at its bio-methanation plant in Sankar Nagar, Pammal. “Every day, we generate biogas from one tonne of food waste,” she adds.

Through this initiative, Mangalam not only ensured the resourceful use of waste but also empowered many with employment opportunities. While some operate the unit, others collect waste and a few are involved in preparing food using the methane gas.

Mangalam also installed a two cubic metre digester in Shankara Vinayaka Koil in Pammal. The leftover prasadham, milk and flower waste are put into the plant to produce fuel for cooking. This, in turn, is used to prepare more prasadham. Seeing the success of this model, ITC approached Mangalam to replicate it at the Kapaleeswarar Temple, as part of the former’s campaign to make the temple eco-friendly.

Providing technical expertise, Mangalam and her team are currently training the temple staff in how to collect cow dung and waste and feed it into the plant, without any trace of plastic; as well as in how to control the burner flames for effective use of the gas.

She says that being in this field comes with its own set of challenges, naming toxic smell from managing the waste among them. “Besides, in the public-private participation model, which comprises the government, corporates and communities, every stakeholder’s expectations are different. As a technical partner, I have to balance these activities in a way that does not affect anybody’s interests,” she points out.

On her to-do list, Mangalam says, “With the help of a people’s forum at the Kapaleeswarar temple, we are in the process of training owners of shops selling puja items to switch to mandhara leaves, paper bags and plantain leaves. In addition to Ramky workers cleaning the area around the temple in the morning, my team cleans it again between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Also, the people of Mada Street and Ramky have joined hands with us in making the streets litter-free.”

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 6:02:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-face-of-waste-management/article17319191.ece

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