Mandatory segregation? Great idea, but how can we implement it?


Pic: Indi Samarajiva [Representational image from archives]

A few days ago, I read on an online news website, that the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) was planning to make source segregation of waste mandatory for all residents, beginning October 2, 2017.

If this was true, it was music to the ears of citizens like me – segregation maniacs that have been trying to get their family members, neighbours etc to segregate household waste at source – but with very limited success. Chennai reportedly generates the highest per capita garbage among the large metros in India – 750 gms per person per day, and we send about 5000 tons of unsegregated waste to our two landfills every day. Finally, our city was going to do something about its absolutely gigantic garbage problem.

A day passed,  then two, and now it has been a week since the news article. We have not seen any official announcement from GCC regarding the guidelines or directions for citizens. However, the fifteen zonal offices of GCC have reportedly been reaching out to various groups of citizens – Resident Welfare Associations, Commercial establishments, schools and colleges, etc – to inform them of this impending rule and seek their cooperation.

A group of us have been trying to segregate waste at source in our homes and our neighbourhood, for the past two years. I also know of several similar efforts all around the city. There are a few common reasons why these efforts have only succeeded within a very limited area, and not scaled up across the city. Here are a few that come to my mind:

  • Publicity blitz

Haven’t we all been reading about segregation of waste at source for years now? Into biodegradable, recyclable and medical/inert waste? Yes, it is true we are talking about this, but only amongst the newspaper reading, Internet surfing and news watching population.

The vast majority of people, who go about working 12-14 hours a day making ends meet need to be sensitized too. The vegetable/fruit/flower sellers, the tea stalls, small roadside eateries, small merchants and kirana stores, hotels and restaurants – they all need to start segregating at source too. A massive multilingual awareness campaign is the absolute need of the hour.

  • The message

GCC says over 68% of the waste collected in the city is from residential sources, so segregation at source in people’s homes would be the first big step. But this needs to be conveyed clearly and crisply to all residents of this city. That segregation is no longer DESIRABLE, but MANDATORY.

In fact, the Central Government’s Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000, later amended to Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 – clearly states that every waste generator shall segregate and store the waste generated by them in three separate streams namely bio‐degradable, non‐bio‐degradable and domestic hazardous wastes in suitable bins, and handover these segregated wastes to authorized rag‐pickers or waste collectors.

People need to be told in no uncertain terms that unsegregated waste will NOT be collected.

  • Training  of conservancy workers .

Several homes and apartment buildings that presently segregate their waste have been known to complain to the GCC that waste collectors have mixed the garbage, the minute the residents’ backs are turned. I believe they do this because they do not know any better, nor are they trained and equipped for the same.

The conservancy workers on the ground must be trained to accept ONLY segregated household waste and carry it in separate bins to the vehicles that will take the waste to the nearest transfer station. And more importantly, they must be made to understand WHY they must accept only segregated waste. In the long run, apart from solving a national problem, it will make their work easier

Read: What Manali can teach the rest of Chennai about waste

  • The garbage collection process

The collection of garbage must change fundamentally. Biodegradable waste needs to be carried to the nearest biogas plant or composting yard, while recyclables must go to a different collection point for recyclers and vendors. Medical waste and inerts must be collected separately and sent to the landfill. At the moment, in Chennai, we only see the large compactor trucks carrying all kinds of waste. We need smaller vehicles too.

  • The street corner dumpster must go!

As long as the green/blue dumpsters stay on the street corners, homes that don’t segregate will dump their garbage in them, under cover of night if not in broad daylight. These dumpsters must go, and door to door collection must be stepped up, if the move is to succeed.

Several cities in Tamil Nadu – Tirunelveli, Coimbatore, Vellore – have already begun effective waste management through segregation at source. As the capital city, it is indeed time for Chennai to join their ranks!

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About Meenakshi Ramesh 31 Articles
Meenakshi Ramesh is involved in civic initiatives in Chennai and anchors the Chennai edition of Citizen Matters. She has also worked with Pratham. She can be reached at