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T(h)rashing it out

The solid waste management team at TC is working to finalise a proposal based on our research and sample survey for sustainable and inclusive solid waste management (SWM) in Ward 173. What we are proposing is a decentralised system of municipal solid waste premised on the concept of zero-waste. The key requirements for this are source segregation, door-to-door collection, separate transportation of different streams of waste, establishment of resource recovery parks for secondary segregation and organic waste processing units, and a monitoring system that is run by citizens.

Over this past weekend (February 8-9, 2014), we held four community meetings at various places in the ward to explain the important aspects of the proposal to the residents and seek their inputs. The first meeting was held at Govindasamy Nagar, the site of our pilot and subsequently the final sample survey. Residents in the neighbourhood who had participated in our survey had been given dustbins to segregate waste, and we were horrified to learn that the conservancy workers who had helped in the collection in this area during the nine day survey, had stolen the dustbins given to the residents here, claiming that they were needed to be given to another area where a similar survey was being conducted!

Graph 1: Researchers Aruna and Harsha explain the proposal to residents of Govindasamy Nagar

A common grievance was the inefficiency of the existing collection system and the residents were curious how our proposal would bring a change. They wanted to know about the regularity of waste collection that we were proposing and were happy to know door–to-door collection was being proposed for all residential areas, including theirs. Residents insisted that the key component of source segregation would not be a problem. Some continue to segregate even today, several months after the survey! Their other concern was of how the Corporation could be held accountable for efficient waste collection. The proposal was met with a lot of positivity and the residents assured us of their cooperation.

The second meeting, held at the Corporation playground on Broadies Castle Road, received a lukewarm response with about 12 people attending from different localities including Greenways Lane, KVB Garden, and Krishnapuri. Residents were frustrated with the poor garbage collection and performance of the existing private company, Ramky, in charge of SWM in the ward. Two important points that were brought up in this meeting were; First, that while suggesting bio-gas plants for processing wet waste, the usage of the gas must be ensured since non-usage of gas is often the reason behind breakdown of this technology. Second, that in situ waste management should be made compulsory for bulk waste producers with strong penalties for non-compliance.

Graph 2: Community meeting at the Corporation playground in progress

The third meeting was held at MRC Nagar, and was attended by residents from MRC Nagar and Karpagam Avenue. They expressed concerns about possible non-compliance by bulk waste producers (BWPs) in setting up in situ waste processing facilities and cited instances in the past where the residents have had to rally to stop BWPs from disposing garbage on a large scale and inconveniencing the residents. The residents were in favour of institutionalising processes and monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance. However, the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ sentiment was very prevalent amongst the residents here, and is something that the proposed awareness campaign will have to take cognizance of to ensure success of the proposed system.

The last meeting at Keshavaperumalpuram was attended by 18 people. They suggested that to ensure compliance in segregation fines should be imposed on households that did not segregate, and that training should be provided to domestic workers since they deal with the waste disposal in most households in the area. Residents were completely in favour of a citizen-driven accountability and monitoring mechanism. Their main concern was how garden waste would be dealt with since the area generated dry leaves, etc. in large volumes.

The common threads through these meetings were a dissatisfaction and frustration with current solid waste management systems – poor service delivery and poor cleanliness on streets; and an eagerness to do something to rectify the situation. Everyone was in broad agreement with the contents of the proposal. Notably, nobody objected to charges being levied for apartment units of more than 50 units that did not process organic waste on their premises. People from all the localities wanted us to help them make their locality a model neighbourhood that would spur the Corporation to action across the ward, and perhaps, the city.

In total, we were able to speak directly with about 60 to 65 people over four meetings held on the two days, while flyers with details of the proposal were distributed to over a thousand people. We will continue our outreach efforts in other areas of the ward as well as take the proposal to as many people as possible before we submit a final version to the Corporation. Please do take the time to give us your comments here.

Written by Avni Rastogi, researcher, Transparent Chennai