Trash-busters @ OMR, Chennai

OMR Greens write-up0001A reader of TOI article – OMR residents go on trash-busting drives – left a comment, asking “Where does the garbage and trash go? How do you transport it ?”   Philo Stalwin,  a resident of Kelambakkam, provides the answer:  In a mail to  OMR Greens   Stalwin says the garbage that the local panchayat collects from households and streets is dumped in make-shift landfill  by the side of  a lake  behind the Puravankara residential complex that is under construction. The trash heap is set on fire ,  every other night, burning the dump to make space for more garbage.

Trash that is burnt,  unsorted,  may include used tyre,  plastics,  spent battery,  expired medicine , and substances generating toxic fume that spread in the wind in populated neigbourhoods.  Isn’t it time people living in emerging high-rise buildings took congnizance of this smouldering health hazard ?

Skeptics ask  OMR Greens,  ‘what is the big deal in trash-busting  when garbage gets dumped at the same spot the day after it is done’?  Trash-busting is not a waste disposal solution,  but a token initiative by a community group,  to create public awareness  that waste disposal problem  can only get worse, and eventually,  unmanageable,   if we continue to  ignore it.  And   a solution has to be sought with community participation.

OMR Greens is for  a cluster approach to creating infrastructure,  for effective waste and sewage disposal. Government and civic bodies never allocate adequate funds .  Trash-busting is our ways of mobilizing support for setting up area-specific,  locality-wise waste-to-energy plant.  It is  a residents  initiative to bring together,  neighbourhood people,  panchayat, and property developers , as joint stakeholders  in creating and sustaining  social assets such as  waste-to-energy plants,  sewage-free neighbourhood lakes,  community tree-planting in public space.

Hand-in-Hand,   an NGO runs  Mamallapuram waste-to-energy unit  fed on kitchen waste collected from households,  restaurants, and hotels.  They generate energy enough to light their 3-acre unit,  and also the street that leads from the plant to ECR. The land for the waste conversion unit has been given by the local panchayat. The Mamallapuram waste-to-energy plant is located on land that was used as a trash dump by the civic authorities.

Kelambakkam panchayat can learn a lesson here.   What they can do :

1) Set aside ,  for waste-energy conversion plant,   a part of the land that is now used for dumping and burning trash;

2) Seek guidance of  NGO – Hand-in-Hand, Exnora  IndrakumarVivekananda Kendra  –  to prepare a project proposal, and costs estimate.

3) Convene a ‘town-hall’ public hearing,  to share with residents  project details,  and proposal for a monthly waste-disposal charges  (like OMR Expressway toll)  to be  collected from residents,  shops, eating houses and corporates located in the panchayat area; and

4) Levy social infrastructure fee on property developers, in proportion to the scale, size and the number of apartments.

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Students for community service

posterA couple of college boys  (KSR College, Tiruchengode)  hit upon a community initiative to address food wastage by customers in restaurants.  They got a poster printed ,  showing  photo of a needy child  with empty plate.  The message :  ‘Please don’t waste food….wrap it’.

Palaniappan, and  Mohammed Ali, both engineering students, with Merwin Wesley,  found waste of  food by people visiting restaurants unacceptable and decided to do something about it.  The boys designed and printed about 4,000  ‘don’t-waste-food’ posters and distributed in restaurants and eating house in several Tamil Nadu towns, through a network of volunteer students.  They have mobilised over 100 volunteers in 17 towns.

Muhammad Ali – 0-8122139893- and Palaniappan – 0-9500488803 –   registered a society SEEDS.   They conduct awareness programme  to curb wastage of food, household  energy consumption  and conserve  other resources.  Their student volunteers  visit old age homes. With guidance from college alumni, SEEDS conduct counseling sessions in schools for Plus 1 and Plus 2 students  on choice of courses and subjects for higher education.

Interestingly,  the focus of SEEDS  initiative is on smaller towns – Dharmapuri, Erode, Darapuram, Bhavani, Attur, Mettur, Udmelpet, Hosur and Sathy. They  have volunteer representation in some  bigger cities as well – Trichy,  Selam,  Coimbatore, Tirupur,  and Chennai  (volunteers – Sibi Rajan and Rahul).

SEEDS approached 20 schools in Mettupalayam,  Erode and Tirupur,  asked students to come up with 15 suggestions to conserve electricity… School students are involved in household energy auditing in their neighbourhood, and community tree-planting in their localities.  During Deepavali,  SEEDS ogranised  door-to-door and distributed 5,000 pamphlets on how firecrackers pollute environment.

Says SEEDS president Muhammad Ali:  “We don’t approach the Government; instead we go to people. They have supported us. Some people have thrown the pamphlets back on our faces, we take it in our stride.”

Secretary Palaniappan: “I used to spend my pocket money on mobile recharge and snacks. Now, I save it to buy gifts for school children as we conduct a number of competitions for school students.”