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Solid Waste Management in the City: Time to take serious steps before its too late

July 19, 2011

When Perungudi was carelessly chosen as a dump site way back in 1987, it was obvious that the government gave scant regard to the ecologically sensitive marshland of Pallikarnai-a hot spot for biodiversity that was situated right next to it. Ever since, the marshland has shrunk in size and the sewage treatment facility that is located nearby only makes matters worse for the flora and fauna of Pallikarnai. Studies that were conducted around Perungudi produced alarming results. The level of dioxins and furans that were found in breast milk samples collected from the vicinity were 25 times higher than WHO’s recommended limit. Dioxins are by-products of industrial process and municipal solid waste and are said to be one of the most harmful chemicals to humans.  Adding to these distressing results is the fact that the effects of such an ‘unengineered’ dump yard stretches for miles around and is not just contained in Perungudi.

The government’s policy towards waste management has the reputation of being knee-jerk reactions, and might have still continued to be so if it wasn’t for the introduction of the ‘Municipal Solid Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules’ in 2000. It took a PIL for the country to realise the disastrous path that it was following and change tracks. The ruling makes source segregation, door to door waste collection, abolition of open storage, daily sweeping of streets, transportation of waste in covered vehicles, waste processing by energy recovery or composting and sanitary landfills mandatory.

With Chennai having the highest per capita waste generation rate in the country (.6kg a day), well-planned, long-term solutions is the need of the hour. Solid waste management in the city is the responsibility of the Corporation of Chennai. The CoC has also been the first in t he country to allow private players into the dirty business. With public-private partnerships gaining popularity, the DMK government ushered in CES Onyx into 3 of the 10 zones in the city in 2000(-a good move considering the following figures, that the total cost for street sweeping, collection and transportation per Metric ton of waste for CoC and Onyx was approximately USD 33 and 25, respectively. Also CoC handled 2000 tonnes per day with a manpower of 10,000 including administrative staff and workers, while Onyx managed 1100 tonnes with a manpower of just 2000). Exnora also forayed into the picture by encouraging CBOs and it easily gained patronage from communities as they appreciated the benefits of environmentally-safe handling of waste.

Dumpyards find themselves at the end of the waste management process and are perennially overflowing with unthinkably enormous proportions of the city’s trash. Should the process really stop there? Will creating n number of dumpyards be a solution to the garbage problem of a country that’s growing at alarming rates? Recent estimates show that approximately 48 million tons of urban solid waste is generated annually in India and is increasing by approximately 1.3% each year.  With all this garbage around, a new approach to waste management is being encouraged by the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources. The ‘National Programme on Energy Recovery  from Urban Wastes’  was initiated in  1995 to  develop the waste-to energy market. This approach not only results in a substantial reduction in the area that is ear marked for dump sites but it also addresses the acute power shortage that we face. In a report brought out by Frost and Sullivan, it was predicted that the Indian municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy market could be growing at a compound rate of growth of 9.7% by 2013.

Taking all of this into account, a long term solution to real waste management must include steps to reduce garbage generated at the household level through means like recycling and also encourage segregation of garbage and even compost pits for bio-degradable waste at the community level. But private operators like Onyx or presently Neel Metal Fanalca lack the incentive to segregate garbage as they are paid based on the weight of garbage collected, and fines are rarely levied for non-segregation although it is part of their contract. Instead they blame the public for their lack of awareness on the issue.

Ever since Neel Metal Fanalca found its way into the city, Chennai’s residents have only had harsh words to describe its work. The city quite visibly became dirtier with NMF’s arrival and there were even instances where their workers had the audacity to ask for tips to clean streets. It was pretty sad as Chennai was just beginning to see the effects of what a well managed and efficiently run SWM operator could. The citizens of Chennai uniformly agreed that CES Onyx’s performance was far better than the Corporation’s, but much to the city’s dismay, it was shown the door. Why you may ask?-it refused to give in to the new government’s ‘demands’ and this meant that their contract would not be renewed. With the change in government in the State in May, it might be safe to say that we can again expect the incumbent private solid waste management (SWM) company to be kicked out and a new entrant having greased the hands of the new government, mine riches for itself via the city’s overflowing garbage.

References:

Municipal Solid Waste Management in Chennai City, India :S Esakku,A swaminathan, O Parthiba Karthikeyan, J Kurian and K Palanivelu   http://www.swlf.ait.ac.th/UpdData/International/NRIs/MSW%20management%20in%20Chennai.pdf

Public, Private and Voluntary Agencies in Solid Waste Management,A Study in Chennai City by Krithika Srinivasan http://www.kcl.ac.uk/content/1/c6/04/27/08/swmepw.pdf

Capacity-to-Act in India’s Solid Waste Management and Waste-to Energy Industries by Perinaz Bhada http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/Bhada_Capacity_to_Act_in_India.pdf

http://www.kleanindustries.com/s/environmental_market_Industry_news.asp?ReportID=452731

http://digitaljourno.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/payment-calculation.pdf

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Maria Terase, student of BA(H) Economics, currently interning at Transparent Chennai