“Transferring waste from one area to another area involves carbon footprint and it’s an environmental injustice to dump garbage from one place at another, resulting in an unhealthy environment for residents of other areas,” says Geo Damin, an environmental activist with Poovulagin Nanbargal.
In recent years, Chennai has attempted to revamp its waste management system to reduce the quantum of waste reaching landfills. Under the decentralised waste management system adopted to achieve this goal, large apartment complexes and commercial establishments that are classified as Bulk Waste Generators (BWGs) are responsible for handling their own waste with the help of vendors.
Despite the rules on paper, many bulk waste generators in Chennai do not handle their waste themselves. The failure to segregate waste at source and lapses in engaging vendors means most of the waste ends up in street-side bins unsegregated.
Bulk waste generators in Chennai
The Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules of 2016 and SWM bye-laws of 2019 have laid rules for each section of the city’s population for garbage disposal. Residential apartments and gated communities generating 100kgs of waste or more per day or having more than 5000 sq. m as area are categorised as Bulk Waste Generators (BWGs).
The BWGs must enrol with an empanelled vendor vetted by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) for the disposal of waste generated by them. But in many areas across the city, the BWGs have resorted to dumping the waste in garbage bins on the streets.
According to officials of the SWM department of GCC, there are 1411 Bulk Waste Generators, both residential and commercial buildings, across the city from Zone 1 to 15. The quantity of waste generated by BWGs amounts to 2,67,932 kgs per day. Around 58,675 kilograms of garbage is processed in-house by 263 BWGs.
The data shared by GCC shows that only 619 BWG are disposing of their waste of approximately 1,36,614 kilograms through service providers or vendors.
“The SWM act has clearly mentioned that as far as possible, the waste generated by BWGs should be managed inside their premises either by bio-degradable methods or bio-methanation,” says Geo.
Yet, many large apartment complexes in the city have failed to segregate at source or engage empanelled vendors to carry out garbage disposal, adding more stress to the systems in place. Vendors have also contributed to the issue through delays in clearing of waste.
Issues faced by residents in disposal of bulk waste
The experience of large apartment complexes with empanelled vendors has not always been smooth sailing.
Shivani Apartments in Thiruvanmiyur has 105 units in three blocks, with a mix of both residences and commercial establishments.
R Rajeswari, President of the RWA says, “We segregate our waste into wet, dry, and domestic hazardous and collect maintenance fee of Rs 2.7 per square foot of each unit and take care of our expenses including garbage fee charges. The previous vendor gave us just 15 days to terminate the contract and search for another vendor and luckily, we were able to enrol with another vendor and the transition was smooth. But this has not been the case for many of the other BWGs.”
Aashiana Apartments in Alwarpet has 175 residential units. The apartment complex has not signed up with an empanelled vendor of the civic body but has in place a system for the disposal of segregated waste.
“We work with a local waste product dealer and he ensures that recyclables are collected from households. These are further segregated before being sent to different recyclers to dispose of them responsibly. Other dry wastes (non-recyclables) like hair, house dust, diapers etc are collected door to door and deposited in association bins from where they are collected by the corporation contracted agency, says Mano Vijayakumar, President of the RWA.
“Sanitary and hazardous waste is marked as such and deposited into a red bin for collection by the corporation’s contracted agency to be deposited with the corporation. The kitchen and some garden waste is composted on-site. We have a gardener as an employee trained in composting,” she adds.
C Ananthakumar, a resident of Radiance Mandarin Apartments, says, “GCC should fix a uniform rate for empanelled vendors. Many vendors quote different rates and that’s why many BWGs hesitate to sign up with empanelled vendors for proper disposal.”
The frequency of waste collection by vendors is also an issue. With vendors operating on different timelines for waste disposal, any delay results in the apartment complex having waste accumulated on the premises.
“For garden waste, clearance must take place once a week or fortnightly. When vendors do not collect on time it becomes a major hassle for residents. In such cases, GCC must make provision for clearing of garden waste,” says Ananthakumar.
Residents who segregate diligently have had positive experiences with empanelled vendors.
Vinu Nayar, President of Newry Park Towers, Anna Nagar, says “We do not have any issues with the vendor. We segregate our wastes into 3 categories – dry, wet, and domestic hazardous and hand them over to our vendor who collects and disposes of them scientifically. Our garbage does not go to landfill is what we have achieved from the time we occupied our units. We follow proper SWM rules but there is a deterrent in the form of roadside bins placed next to our compound which is creating a nuisance for us.”
Issues faced by vendors in dealing with BWGs
It is not just BWGs who have had issues with vendors. Empanelled vendors too have faced a range of problems that have sometimes forced them to terminate the contract with BWGs.
D Venkatesh, Vice President of Srinivasa Waste Management Services Private Limited, an empanelled vendor of the GCC, says, “ Residents fall out with us for three major reasons – our refusal to collect mixed waste, delays in collection due to labour issues, or the chance to engage another vendor offering a lower quote.”
“When BWGs get a low quote from other vendors who agree to collect even mixed waste, people shift to that vendor as it is easy for them to hand over their mixed waste. They are not concerned about whether the new vendor has the proper infrastructure to handle the waste. As long as the waste is removed from their premises, some BWGs do not consider the need for proper scientific disposal,” says Venkatesh.
I Priyadarshini of Waste Winn Foundation, an empanelled vendor of GCC, says, “Most of the BWG residential complexes do not follow the norms laid out in the bye-laws of the SWM Act 2016.”
“They are supposed to segregate their waste into dry, wet, and domestic hazardous but they ask us, the vendors, to engage labour to segregate and also refuse to pay extra for the work. Vendors help the residents by setting up their compost units. We do not encourage the collection of mixed waste and insist on waste being segregated,” says Priyadarshini.
“Some of the residential units are looking for very low-cost solutions or ask us to collect garbage free of cost. They are not ready to segregate and even the RWA does not take interest in the scientific disposal of garbage from their premises. GCC is not strict with the BWGs and the local conservancy team clears their mixed garbage and the residents find this loophole easy and do not enrol with us,” says Mohammed Dawood, Founder of Earth Recycler Private Limited, another vendor with the GCC.
“We give notice of a minimum of one month and terminate the contract if the BWGs do not segregate or default on payment. But sometimes, the BWGs do not give us notice and suddenly end their contract which results in a huge loss for us,” says Priyadarshini.
“Residents’ mindset needs to change in protecting the environment. They think that if waste is cleared from their premises, that is enough. The residents unite and take immediate action for power cuts or water or sewer line issues but when it comes to waste, even the educated individuals are not bothered. There are very few residents who take an extraordinary interest in the scientific disposal of waste,” says Mohammed.
The role of RWA office-bearers too plays a part in waste management.
“The main problem with residential complexes is that whenever there is a change in office bearers, others who take charge do not cooperate with the vendors. There should be a system in place for apartments even if office bearers change,” says Priyadarshini.
Streamlining bulk waste management in Chennai
Jayanthi Premchandar, an SWM enthusiast from Thiruvanmiyur, says that issues with BWGs can be remedied easily by GCC at the first stage when the approval for the construction of a building is granted.
“First, the BWG must have an on-site composting unit set up with extra amenities like they have a plan approval for a gym, hall etc. Secondly, the BWG must also create a place for storing their recyclable wastes and other dry items in a proper place so that vendors can pick them up regularly,” she says.
The roadside bins kept near all the BWGs should be removed immediately for proper implementation of SWM rules.
“Most of the BWGs dump their mixed waste into these roadside bins during night hours which is against the SWM Act. The GCC must also sensitise their field staff not to encourage illegal dumping by any BWG in roadside bins and collection of garbage from BWG by the respective team,” says Jayanthi.
Surya Prabha, Urbaser Sumeet Facilities Limited, says, “All BWGs should have a notice board in front of their premises detailing the number of units, vendor name and whether they have an on-site composting facility and method of disposal of garbage.”
“Source segregation is the most important for proper waste management. This should be insisted on by the authorities concerned and they should be able to take proper action. The authorities should levy heavy penalties or fines for defaulters. A garbage handling fee was introduced by the previous government but had to be rolled back due to opposition from the public and others. There needs to be political and bureaucratic will to enforce fees or fines from defaulters for proper waste management,” says Geo.
“In-house composting should be made mandatory much like how rainwater harvesting has been made compulsory,” adds Jayanthi.
N Mahesan, Chief Engineer of SWM Department, GCC, says, “BWGs are supposed to do in-house composting or process their waste with the vendor but they are not doing it as per rules. GCC shall deal with defaulters of BWG and monitor them regularly and levy penalties for the defaulters.”
As for proper conduct by the vendors, Mahesan says, ”The entire list of vendors enrolled with the GCC will be monitored and their infrastructure will be checked periodically. Any deviation from norms will invite sanctions. If vendors are dumping in roadside bins, they will be identified and blacklisted.”