The idea of ‘bin-less streets’ has long captured the imagination of residents and authorities. The Greater Chennai Corporation had planned to make Chennai ‘bin-less’ as part of the Solid Waste Management Rules(SWM) framed in 2016. The GCC had decided to slow down this process, however, as a number of complications arose in removing the bins.
Few neighbourhoods in the city have managed to go bin-less on account of rigorous awareness programmes and associational activity. Some attempts at going ‘bin-less’ have however inconvenienced residents in the area. While these cases could be chalked up to a matter of shoddy implementation, we will need to look at the motivations behind going bin-less, and how it has panned out over the years
Journey of waste in the city not uniform
Currently the city generates around 5400 MT of waste per day (as per corporation data), out of which zones such as Kodambakkam, Teynampet, Royapuram and Anna Nagar account for more than 50%. While the GCC has warned that fines will be imposed on those not complying with segregation rules, these are rarely invoked.
The journey of waste differs in different areas. For a few zones, conservancy workers collect segregated from homes. In others households dump unsegregated waste in large bins at the end of roads and streets. This is then cleared by a team of workers and then piled into garbage trucks. These are then deposited at the two dump yards in Perungudi and Kodungaiyur.
Read more: Where does the waste generated in your home go?
For segregated waste, wet waste is taken to Micro Composting Centers (MCCs) for processing and conversion into compost. The compost is either sold to organic farms or to residents for Rs. 20. Currently there are 141 MCCs in Chennai.
Non-biodegradable waste is taken to Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) where they are further separated based on material, and either burned or recycled. Around 10 tonnes of dry waste are incinerated in Manali
Construction debris is taken to Resource Recovery Centers, where private companies then take it for recycling. Other than this, hazardous waste is taken to the dump yards ( in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi)
All mixed waste is taken to the dump yards as well. The lorries offload the waste from the garbage bins to the transfer station for assessing the weight. The garbage is then disposed in the dump yards
Roadblocks to GCC’s push for bin-less city
In 2016, as part of the SWM rules, the Chennai corporation announced that it would be starting a pilot program to enforce bin-less neighborhoods in its newly added zones. This move was made with the aim of increasing household waste segregation and the larger goal of becoming a zero waste city. The pilot was then to be scaled up and implemented across all the 15 zones.
The SWM rules focused on source segregation, decentralisation of waste processing and monitoring of these changes by government bodies. Source segregation and reducing waste going to landfills, was the primary goal. Source segregation involves door to door collection of segregated waste from all households, commercial and non residential areas, and institutional areas. Removing street bins as per the rules, would ideally encourage source segregation and prevent the usual journey of waste ending at the landfill
However, since then, the plan to remove bins has seen a number of limitations, with the corporation ultimately scrapping the city wide plan as many zones where the plan was to be implemented, were not able to come up with alternative arrangements to bins and ensure 100% compliance with source segregation.
The plan to go bin-less also required the setting up of composting pits in apartments, parks, offices, and open lands; the permissions regarding setting up of these pits were consistently delayed. The corporation still stresses on bin-less areas being a goal, often removing bins in streets without warning. In some zones however, the corporation has floated tenders for monitoring via remote tagging of bins and trucks as opposed to doing away with bins altogether
The problems with public bins
During various conversations with Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) and civic organisations in the city, one of the RWAs in Kodambakkam had raised the goal of ‘bin-less neighbourhoods’ in Chennai. They had formulated a plan titled ‘bin-less Kodambakkam’ in an attempt to reduce the menace of overflowing dustbins in the area.
According to Vetrivel, an active member of the Koddambakkam Residential Welfare Association, overflowing bins are a huge inconvenience for many in the neighbourhood. Mosquitoes often fly around overflowing garbage, posing potential health problems for nearby residents. People even urinate on the bins.
Many people drink alcohol by them and throw empty glasses around, leading to presence glass shards in and around the area. Dead cats and other animals are often found in the public bins. Even after the bins were revamped, and two bins were provided down each road, the waste that ends up in these bins is often mixed. During rainy seasons the waste from these bins overflow onto the road.
Conservancy workers face challenges
According to a worker from Adyar, “Many of us (conservancy workers) are afraid to segregate the waste in these bins as there are glass pieces present. We are not even provided gloves to handle such materials. We could even get electrocuted by items in the bins. We have to wade through sanitary napkins and diapers also.”
On speaking to workers in Besant Nagar, they mentioned how last year, a group of workers even found human bones in plastic bags while clearing garbage cans in the area. The skeletons were discovered in the intersection of first main road and the sixth cross street
Mixed results with going bin-less
While many city dwellers have advocated for bin-less neighborhoods over the years, there are a number of complications that arise from removal, especially since the removal is often sudden and without much warning. The result is that often garbage piles up openly on roads and vacant corners of the city, exacerbating existing problems caused by dumping in bins
According to the Corporation data, the city had 12,301 garbage bins on the streets, as of January , 2021. Out of these, 790 bins have been removed as of November 2021, while the civic body has identified 259 garbage bins that will be removed.
In 2020 the GCC removed bins from two neighbourhoods, Ullagaram and Puzhuthivakkam.This led to residents and those from commercial establishments disposing waste openly in streets and vacant plots. Six months prior to this, bins in the neighboring Karthikeyapuram in Madipakkam were removed without warning, leading to the same issue.
In Alwarpet, bins were removed from three neighbourhoods: Bawa Road, Ananda Road and Alwarpet Road, resulting in a dumping ground around the bins in Bheemana Gardem Street. One of these bins is right outside a corporation school, overflowing with items such as glass panels, iron and steel bars. In Kolathur, removal of bins has led to garbage collecting on the main road. For many of these open dumping grounds, conservancy workers take around 4 to 5 trips to clean them up.
A few areas have managed to go bin-less successfully, however. Thiruveedhi Amman Kovil Street is an example of this. The work was largely carried out by the residential welfare association in the area. One of the first steps towards removing the bins, was to adopt waste segregation in every household. This was initiated as early as 2013. A key difference from the other examples is that they also set up common compost pits for all houses and apartments, to process wet waste. A majority of manure generated from the compost pits is used for the street garden, and the remaining is sent to the corporation’s dry leaf composting unit at a park in the vicinity.
Greater awareness necessary
According to Vetrivel the move to remove bins can be very helpful in encouraging source segregation, but it must be accompanied by a number of awareness programs for residents.
“These awareness programs should stress on where exactly unsegregated waste from bins ends up i.e. in landfills, and the potential of source segregation in curbing such a life cycle of waste. In addition to awareness programs adequate facilities to allow for source segregation should be present. Purchasing 120 liter bins to segregate at home and hold a day’s waste is quite expensive, often coming up to Rs. 2000 per bin. This has discouraged many from carrying out source segregation in a prolonged manner.
Source segregation and zero waste: Where does the city stand?
While improvement in source segregation can be seen over the past few years, the city is nowhere near 50% compliant. Greater compliance with source segregation at the household level is necessary to do away with bins without creating issues such as piling up of waste.
It is important to note that as a result of heavy publicity around SWM goals, there is added pressure on conservancy workers to bridge the gap between poor household segregation and the goal of zero waste, as they are made to provide visual deliverables in the form of targets of segregated waste.
A worker in Anna Nagar mentioned how even in areas where door to door segregation takes place, workers receive unsegregated waste from households. They are them forced to segregate the waste themselves to meet various targets in the push to achieve zero waste.
Conservancy workers also collect waste from commercial establishments, vegetable sellers (both locations outside the ambit of their work) to make these routine targets. Many workers can be seen separating mixed waste from overflowing bins, without any protective gear
Ultimately the goal to go bin-less has been carried out irregularly by the city administration in the recent past. More transparency in the process regarding the potential alternatives to bins and tweaks to the the overall process of waste management is required when implementing changes across the city.
In addition, information on work and dignity of conservancy workers and the kind of materials that end up in garbage bins, should be periodically disseminated to residents as a measure towards zero waste.
Without these changes, the goals of a bin-less Chennai will long remain a pipe dream