Thursday, November 1, 2007

Landfills need no more refills

Ten feet high-unsorted garbage spread over 250 acres of the Perungudi landfills is testimony to the fact that there is no segregation of solid waste despite the claims of the Chennai Corporation.
No effort for sustainable waste management has been taken by the Corporation or the private companies who are in-charge of collecting the waste despite the MSW (Handling and Management Act 2000) which specifically states that segregation of solid waste is a must. The garbage is also dumped in ecologically fragile areas like the Pallikaranai Marsh in spite of the High Court granting it protected status. A corporation official says that it does not dump waste at the marsh but it’s the local people and town panchayat who do. But one look at the Pallikaranai ‘dump yard’ and the leveled out garbage spread across 10 acres is proof that an organization is involved. There is a run-down unit with a dysfunctional weigh bridge and private security guards at the entrance of the marsh leading to speculation in the involvement of the Chennai Corporation and other private players. Prashant, a resident of the area, says “Once a week, the garbage at the ‘dump yard’ is burnt and the smoke causes a lot of health problems. We have to wait for the smoke to settle before we can start driving.” More garbage is heaped onto the ashes and the cycle goes on.
The Perungudi landfill has been in use for 20 years, yet there is no reform in the manner in which the garbage is dumped. The road that leads to the landfill is a mud-track despite the claims made by the Corporation of spending Rs 25 lakh to build the road. It is a place where rag pickers earn their living. Plastic, paper, optical fibers, rubber products, organic waste all of it can be found together in large heaps that have accumulated over the years. It is left to dry in the sun; the latest garbage is taken to the back of the landfill and the front of the landfill is dried garbage. During the rainy season, the environmental and health hazards are prominent and the stench is unbearable. Bags with segregated garbage which is meant for recycling can be found lying amongst the other trash. So the efforts made by an individual become meaningless due to official apathy. 50 trucks carrying garbage come to the landfill everyday and they cannot measure the quantity as the weighbridge hasn’t been working for the last two months. The Supervisor at the landfill says, “Each truck can hold 5 tonnes of garbage and that’s how we note it down.” As per his calculation there are 2500 tonnes of garbage that are collected and disposed at the landfill. But most trucks are not filled to their entire capacity and this is overlooked by the Chennai Corporation.
The Chennai Corporation could learn from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras on how to collect and manage waste. They segregate their garbage into organic and non organic waste. The organic waste is dumped into a pit dug in the forest which is partly consumed by monkeys and deer, and the rest is composted by nature and acts as manure. The non-organic is sold and sent for recycling.

Jackpot with Garbage: IIT-M

Zero Waste Zone (OZONE) is IIT-Madras’s scheme of handling solid waste and recycling management. It was started in October 2004 with the help of Exnora, Vellore who studied the garbage in the campus. Based on the study a segregation plan for garbage disposal was set up.
The OZONE follows an eco-friendly method of disposal. They segregate their waste into organic and non-organic material and dispose it in two different bins present all over the campus. Pits are built in the forest area of the campus and the organic waste is dumped into these pits. Jayashree Anand, committee member of OZONE, says “The monkeys, deer and other campus animals know our timings and are ‘bang on time’ to pick the best out of the lot for food. The rest of it acts as manure for the forest.” Apart from being eco-friendly, this is also an economically viable method as IIT earlier used to pay Rs 30,000 once in two days to Onyx to collect their garbage. The non-vegetarian organic waste is dumped separately in a bin which is emptied once a week by Neel Metal Fanalca. Sujatha, Treasurer of OZONE, says “If we dump the vegetarian and non-vegetarian into the pit, it will cause a foul smell.”
The non-organic waste consisting of glass materials, plastic, cement, aluminium foils, electrical and barbed wires, papers are all collected into separate bags and at the end of the month it is auctioned to the highest bidder who then recycles it. OZONE earns Rs 70,000 a month from selling their non-organic waste. Jayashree says, “By the mad scramble for our waste material, one would think we have gold. There is a slight problem when it comes to selling polystyrene as there is no way method to recycle it.” even the paper is separated into colour and white paper as the Weight of colour is more and fetches a higher price.
The campus is divided into three zones – residential, academic and hostel. An awareness campaign via distribution of pamphlets was carried out. Each of these zones has red and green bins for people to throw the garbage in. From here, the garbage is collected using tricycles to a shed in each of these zones where a group of men and women segregate it. The segregated garbage is stored in synthetic sacks until the month end.
There are a total of 75 men and women employed from the neighbouring slums. They work six and a half days of the week and earn Rs 90/day. There is a two-week training programme conducted by Exnora and everyone is given certificates. Jayashree Anand says, “We have adult literary programmes as most of them couldn’t sign their names. Each one of them has a bank account now and all of them can at least sign their names now.” These classes are held every afternoon for half an hour and an incentive of Rs 4 is given to every worker to motivate them to attend these classes.
In collaboration with State Bank of India – IIT Branch, OZONE has formed two women and one men self-help groups. Taking into account how long these people have been working here, they get a loan from Rs 5000 to Rs 25,000 per person. These accounts are handled by the Ladies club and they help out the workers in case of any problems. There are quite a few men who have been working within the campus for as long as 14 years. One of the workers has built himself a house. They use the loans for paying their children's school fees, taking care of the house, investing in small chit schemes. Most of their husbands are contract workers and do not have a permanent job hence the women have to take responsibility of their family. A few of the worker's children are given scholarships for their education and recommendation for admission in the Kendriya Vidyalaya – IIT by the resident professors. This has helped them deal with financial problems largely. They are also paid overtime in case of extra clearance work in labs.
Salary of the workers is drawn from contributions made by the residents and is handled by the Ladies Club Madras.
OZONE’s policy of non-hazardous disposal of waste is one that should be replicated by larger sections of the people for a pollutant free environment.