Unfinished Garbage Tales from Chennai

The story of garbage is being written in every home and every street corner. An everyday drama where everyone is an actor! If you take any other issue, say corruption, one may flick it away with a ‘No! I have never taken or given a bribe. Not my concern’. But is there anyone who can say I produce no garbage at all? Maybe because everyone is responsible, we tend to think that someone else will do something about it!
When you exert even the slightest of mental effort, you’ll find that this isn’t some kind of rocket science. There’s a simple solution as has been demonstrated so many times – Segregate, Recycle, Compost. I even heard a development scientist remark that all the research that needs to be done on solid waste management has already been done. So, why then are our streets still in this state? Why hasn’t all that research translated into action and results for the common man? With all these thoughts bubbling within me, I decided that instead of just cribbing, I should actually do something about it. Living in a block of apartments, I wanted to talk about this to the residents. I wanted to at least find out what people thought about this, if at all they thought. Some insights gleaned were the issue of time. When there’s so much to juggle – work, family, children’s education, where is the time to think about this? Some were so busy that they shut the door in my face as if I were just another annoying salesman. Some people did welcome me, but they too filled me with their tales of cynicism and everything else that was wrong in the place. Many also said yes and they would be willing to work on this. But still, there is a stepping back, a lack of drive when it asks for more than just words. 
While the challenges of confronting minds are many, it’s heartening to observe that the floods have lit a flame of passion in people. Many have this burning intensity to do something about this. Maybe because they worked from their hearts selflessly during the floods for strangers or maybe having analyzed in their minds that the destruction caused by the floods was because of human action, they want to change this. I find there are many who want this but they know not how. At the same time, inertia and the comfort of not doing anything is pulling them back. It would take a lot of confident and strong hands to get them to the fighting side.
Many such hands have been and are at work at attacking this problem from angles many. Here are a few that I learnt of…
In the Past…
How can we forget the fervor initiated by street welfare associations of the 90s? Starting in 1989, the organization branched all over the city with the goal of making it green and clean. But why has their presence diminished? Even on their website, there’s hardly any activity since 2013. Have we changed as a city? Have they not been able to keep up with the dynamics of this internet driven world? Any organization working on this problem now needs to look at where this organization went and what they learnt, to continue to make a difference. 
This was an action research organization, which conducted and produced a lot of meaningful results for Chennai. Their research, maps and articles on solid waste management contain a wealth of on-the-ground data and strategy for tackling this issue. They have closed operations as of 2014 but some of the team members are continuing their work through the Citizen Consumer andCivic Action Group.
At the moment…
A social enterprise that focuses on the ‘Recycle’ segment of this cycle and attempts to connect the customers to the nearest recycler. Their aesthetically well done website exudes the freshness of youth and the promise of hope. Their upcykle store is yet to open but it seems the right fit for our artists aspiring to elevate things from the domain of dirt to the realm of art. Especially impressive is their research and mapping abilities which holds the promise of extending it not just to recyclers but also to all other stakeholders involved.
An initiative started by The Hindu, which aims to bring out the various infrastructure problems in the city. As of now, there are more than 500 stories and 1950 activists listed on the site. This forum needs to be appreciated for giving a space for citizens to tell the world what’s wrong around them. I only fear that people may become satisfied with simply ranting and not bothering about taking constructive action. While that could happen, this also holds the promise of ensuring accountability if ways are found to expand beyond reporting towards action. 
Whenever I talk to people working on this area, this name keeps popping up. I have come to learn that they are a group of activists working on various environmental issues towards inspiring citizens to act for their environment. 
Ask the Neighbors…
Siru thuli (a little drop) is an environmental NGO from Kovai, which works towards changing Garbage to Green and is helping communities to close in on the gap to zero waste. 
Daily dump is a start-up in Bangalore that focuses on the ‘Compost’ segment of this cycle. They produce composters for various needs as well as offer services to install the same in households and apartment complexes. They have outlets and franchises in Chennai. The Dailydump site and Youtube channel have many videos and links that makes you say, ‘Oh, that seems so easy!’ 
Sowing seeds of awareness…
Chennai Trekking Club

A group that is well known for its annual Chennai coastal cleanup initiatives.

Environmental Foundation of India

They focus on reclaiming the rivers and lakes, among other awareness programmes.

The Ugly Indian

A quirky initiative which believes in doing and showing by example. Cleaning a street, changing the look of a place, literally illustrating that change is possible. 
In addition, there are pockets of neighborhood activists who have been or are attempting to implement effective waste management even as I write this. An MRC Nagar community, CleanKotturpuram Campaign, Shanti Ulhas from Mahalingapuram are some names I have come across, who make hope burn brighter. No doubt there are many more doing this silently in their homes and apartment complexes. A salute to each and every one of them! You may climb the Everest, you may even fly to Mars but the ultimate challenge lies in changing people’s minds. These organizations and communities need something to feed their passion. What will we give them? Our time? Our money? Our minds? Our efforts? A question each one must ask of oneself, if we want to move to a different tomorrow.
Of our future…
Although the trajectory of today isn’t exactly heading to a clean and green future, can we try to reimagine a different tomorrow? Isn’t it still possible to conceive of a day when…
As you fly into the city, green smiles at you from every rooftop; 
Laughing children fill the groves of what were once the landfills in Perungudi and Kodungaiyur; 
IT employees turn farmers too, all in a day’s work.

Here’s to doing all it takes to get to this ‘The End’!

2 thoughts on “Unfinished Garbage Tales from Chennai

  1. A cleaner India will make the country healthier. If there is a system to clean the garbages on the street weekly and dispose them in a safe manner, and not just dumping them all on a waste land, it would be a great improvement for our city ! 🙂

    Nice work on your research about these organisations !


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