Ambitious budget for Chennai waste management but no coherent strategy
Mayor R Priya presented the 2022-23 annual budget of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) on April 9, 2022. Budget allocations for solid waste management are based on the principle of effective segregation on the ground, but what are the current realities?
“Waste management in the city of Chennai is pretty much the same as before, in some places people segregate waste and in some gated communities people manage their wet waste using in situ composting. Color coded bins are new and uniforms have changed. GCC has not been able to enforce the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016,” says P. Natarajan, Founder of Namma Ooru Foundation, a non-profit organization working on decentralized solid waste management in Chennai .
Pursuant to the orders of the Honorable National Green Tribunal (NGT) in A No. 606 of 2018 dated 2nd July 2022), the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has imposed environmental compensation of Rs. 120 lakh on the GCC for non-compliance with the solid waste management rules 2016.
What the numbers say
GCC generates approximately more than 5600 tons of waste every day and until recently it followed a mixed waste collection, transportation and dumping system. According to the TNPCB Annual Report 2021, out of the total number of households – 21,21,669 in Chennai, about 20,58,018 households are covered by door-to-door service and only 9,46,688 households distribute sorted waste.
The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is divided into 15 zones and has 200 wards. In an attempt to move towards decentralization, GCC has set up Micro Composting Centers (MCC) for biodegradable waste and Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) for non-biodegradable waste. However, the collection is not uniform and no reliable data is available to monitor the amount of waste treated in each of these services and on what basis the facilities have been set up.
The GCC website states that 3,600 tons of waste reaches the seven transfer stations and currently the waste generated in Chennai is dumped in two landfills in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi.
Who are the bins for?
In October 2020, a new waste management company URBASER SUMEET was hired for seven areas containing 86 divisions in Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Adyar, Perungudi and Sholinganallur to collect and transport waste, for eight years at a cost of Rs .447 crore per year.
The other company Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd (REEL) has been awarded a similar contract for seven years to manage Tiruvottriyur, Manali, Madhavaram and Ambattur in 2021.
The GCC in its budget has allocated Rs. 2.90 crores for the procurement of 16,500 plastic bins, for Tondiarpet, Royapuram, Thiruvikanagar and Anna Nagar. According to Vamsi Sankar Kapilavai, Senior Researcher, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), “These areas report directly to the GCC. These are the blue and green roadside wheeled bins.
Read more: Can Chennai one day become a city without bins?
Decentralized incineration vs decentralized waste management
The budget provided for 16,500 metric tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste to be disposed of using incinerators, to reduce the load on landfills. “In 2019, GCC had set up the first incinerator in Manali, by MAK Incinerator at a cost of Rs. 65 crores. The incinerator had to treat 10 tonnes of dry waste in 20 hours. The GCC had planned to set up additional factories in different areas of the city. The problem is that decentralized incineration is not decentralized waste management,” says Vamsi.
The Annual Report on the Implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 for the State of Tamil Nadu 2020-21 states that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has not permitted the operation of incineration plants under of the Law on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution and Prevention and Air Pollution. Act of control to one of the plants.
The GCC is also targeting the sale of 2,600 metric tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste to cement factories after being processed through baling presses. Interestingly, the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2022 clearly state that only waste that cannot be recycled should be sent for end-of-life disposal, such as waste on the road, waste on ovens oil or cement.
“The problem is that Indian cities are not holding polluting brands responsible. In an ideal system, the cost borne by the city or any other association of informal collectors or service vendors and part of the treatment cost borne by cement kilns should be reimbursed by brand owners, manufacturers and importers. to be truly held accountable,” says Karthik Natrajan, Project Manager – Recycling, Hasiru Dala.
Composting facilities and targets
The civic body is aiming for an ambitious goal of 1,200 metric tons of compost for the year through wet composting of waste. Also, they are planning to operationalize a biogas plant in Madhavaram.
“The numbers don’t match,” says Vamsi. “In general, 1000 kg of compostable waste gives 100 kg of compost. Thus, to generate 1,200 metric tons of compost, the city must compost 120,000 tons of compostable waste. If that goal is one year, I don’t know how they’re going to reach it.”
For 2018-2019, Tamil Nadu annual report on GDS observed that out of 165 sanctioned micro-composting centers at 259 TPD capacity, only 159 with 246 TPD capacity were commissioned and from that only 148 TPD of compost are generated. But the numbers on the GCC website do not match what was submitted to the Pollution Control Board, as can be seen in the following graphic:
Read more: What do we do with Chennai’s legacy waste?
The budget also states that the bio-mining of the Perungudi landfill will be carried out with an allocation of Rs 350.65 crore from the Swacch Bharat Scheme. However, in 2019-20, the state budget had allocated Rs 5259 crore to remediate and reclaim existing landfills in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi and also to set up waste-to-energy plants. Biomining work started at Perungudi in October 2021 and is expected to last 39 months. According to the annual report of TN, for Perungudi, the total funds required is in the range of Rs. 35064.59 crores.
In the submission to the district committee meeting of January 23, 2020, based on National Green Court management, the GCC stated that the average waste generation was 5100 tons per day, of which wet waste was about 2600 MTPD and dry waste was about 2500 MTPD. Of the total waste generated, 4,500 tons of mixed waste was sent to landfills and of the remaining 600 tons, approximately 461 tons of wet waste and 200 tons of dry waste were treated.
The next steps for GCC
Overall, the GCC needs to reassess solid waste management operations in the city. While well-meaning decentralized infrastructure has been built, these facilities are currently underutilized. GCC will need to step up sorting of waste at source, streamline door-to-door collection of sorted waste and ensure that data is captured.
Rapid waste dumping and burning solutions are not only capital intensive, but are also a brake on segregation. Hence, it dilutes the spirit of decentralization and makes Chennai non-compliant with the solid waste management rules of 2016.
“While Chennai has taken steps for decentralized waste management, recognizing bulk generators and aggregation service providers, what is needed now is for the authorities to focus on waste management, especially through in-house or on-campus management of wet and dry waste,” says Wilma Rodriques, Founder and CEO, Saahas Zero Waste
“The SWM Rules 2016 clearly call for trilateral segregation of waste at source and each waste has clear destinations. In the case of Chennai, organic waste in microcomposting centres, dry waste in material recovery centres. In one service you will receive approximately 7-8 tons of compostable waste and 2-3 tons of recyclable waste, if we are able to track this correctly across all services and ensure that this waste reaches its correct destinations, we will not we won’t need to throw the waste in landfills,” adds Natarajan. “GCC needs to streamline MCCs, MRFs and get bulk generators to manage their waste. This is the only way to go”.