One of the biggest challenges to waste management in Chennai is the lack of separation of waste at the source. The issue that primarily arises in such a scenario is that the unsegregated waste often ends up in landfills where they are burnt away to give room for new waste, polluting the environment. Pallikarnai marshlands, a wetland within the city limits, is a victim of such waste dumping. This article aims to analyse the system of waste management in Chennai alongside the role to be played by consumers and citizens in order to holistically address waste problems.
In 2017, the City Corporation made it mandatory for individuals to segregate waste at the source in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 published by the erstwhile Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017). Further, the Solid Waste Management Department has also issued by-laws to provide guidelines to segregate waste. Yet, has it changed the scene of waste disposal in Chennai?
Chennai generates around 5600 tonnes of waste every day (Prabhakar et al., 2020), and in 2014 it was recorded that Chennai had the highest per capita waste in the country (Times of India, 2014). These are infamous records the city has created for itself over the years. As of 2014, with 730 hospitals, the city generated on average 9,898kg of biomedical waste (Times of India, 2014). With the pandemic and the heavy reliance placed on masks, gloves and medical equipment, it is highly likely that the problem of waste has only increased in the recent past.
As a matter of fact, in 2021 post-Diwali, Chennai Corporation collected 40 tonnes of additional waste from the previous year (ABP News, 2021). This happened to be the highest amount of waste collected in 5 years. This is the reality despite legislative regulations that aim to address waste.
Role of the City Corporation
Confronted with the problem of waste, the City Corporation has taken various measures to tackle the same. In 2020, the Corporation collaborated with a Spanish company by the name, Urbaser Sumeet, in an 8-year contract to assist the city’s waste management department in handling waste (The New Indian Express, 2020). The initiative aimed to achieve 100 per cent waste segregation at the source. Though the target has not been achieved to its full potential, the efforts are laudable in light of the present circumstances.
In 2018, the city corporation joined hands with TERI under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) project to train ‘animators’ to monitor waste segregation at the ward level. The role of the ‘animators’ was primarily to bring accountability at each ward and distribute the role of the waste management department. Chennai took the above initiative as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan whereby it introduced 200 animators across 200 wards in the city.
Nevertheless, waste management is still a challenge in Chennai and the role of the Chennaiites is indispensable.
Role of citizens
Among all the waste generated, 68 per cent of it comes from households and it is thus imperative for citizens to play an active role in mitigating waste. (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2017)
Firstly, choosing the right alternatives. There was a time when children were taught to put trash in the trash can. But today there is a dire need to rephrase it all together – put less trash in the trash can. With the amount of waste generated, it is not just about using paper bags over plastic bags or using glass bottles over plastic bottles, but to overall reduce the waste regardless of the nature of the materials. Nevertheless, given the choice to make between paper and plastic, it is very crucial that one makes the former choice naturally.
In light of the above, consumers can never become sustainable consumers, without the supply chain becoming sustainable. In other words, a consumer becoming sustainable lies in the hands of the supplier. To fill this gap, sustainable stores can help. Sustainable stores ideally provide a platform for alternatives to all consumer products taking into account environmental sustainability. As far as Chennai is concerned, it is home to several organic stores including EcoIndian which works towards giving consumers sustainable choices in achieving their day-to-day tasks.
Apart from these supply-centric initiatives, it is equally important that citizens are educated about waste segregation at the source. As mentioned above, lack of waste segregation is one of the primary reasons why waste ends up in landfills. If waste is segregated at the source as per the guidelines given by the legislative bodies, it would provide a solid impetus to recycling of waste.
Apart from these individualistic initiatives, social entrepreneurs (or ‘waste entrepreneurs’) have also entered the market to spread awareness about waste segregation. Ventures including Paperman and Kabadiwalla Connect conduct these awareness sessions from household to household to include more citizens within the ambit of waste segregation.
In this backdrop, waste management is the need of the hour. It not only helps the city become greener and cleaner, but it also protects the ecology of the city. If waste management is executed efficiently, animals like goats, dogs and cows of the city giving company to our urban lifestyle will no longer feed on papers and plastics strewn across the city. A good waste management system will ensure the environment is healthy and protected.
ABP News. (2021, November 6). Diwali 2021: Chennai Corpn Collects 40 Tonnes Of More Waste Than Last Year, Highest In 5 Years. ABP LIVE. https://news.abplive.com/tamil-nadu/diwali-2021-chennai-corporation-collects-40-tonnes-of-more-waste-than-last-year-highest-in-5-years-1491771
DTNext. (2019, August 20). Urgent need to shift dump yard from Pallikaranai marshland. DTNext. https://www.dtnext.in/News/City/2019/08/20003735/1172397/Urgent-need-to-shift-dump-yard-from-Pallikaranai-marshland.vpf
Gopalakrishnan, S., Natarajan, A., Raju, S., & Shekhar, L. (2017, November 10). Waste segregation: The challenge Chennai must overcome. Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-waste-segregation-and-urban-flooding-2924
The New Indian Express. (2020, October 1). Spanish company to manage Chennai’s wastes from Thursday. The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2020/oct/01/spanish-company-to-manage-chennais-wastes-from-thursday-2204178.html
Prabhakar, B., Kumar, M., & Abraham, K. (2020, November 19). Where does the waste generated in your home go? Citizen Matters, Chennai. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://chennai.citizenmatters.in/chennai-where-does-our-garbage-go-21148
Sujatha, P., & Janardhanam, P. (2012). Solid waste management in Chennai city. Indian Journal of Education and Information Management, 1(3), 115-125. http://ijeim.iseeadyar.org/articles/solid-waste-management-in-chennai-city
Times of India. (2014, January 2). Chennai’s per capita waste at 0.7kg highest in country | Chennai News. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/chennais-per-capita-waste-at-0-7kg-highest-in-country/articleshow/28256852.cms