July 11, 2016
A scene outside the ever-crowded Kottur Market in Chennai. Source: India Water Portal

New rules putting higher responsibilities on plastic manufacturers and citizens might work wonders

THE CHENNAI floods in December 2015 had little to do with nature’s fury and more about city’s flawed urban planning and decades of improper garbage management. Chennai generates between 4,500- 4,800 tonnes of waste every day, and about 1.8 million tonnes a year. 

Soil waste is collected from 95 per cent of households in the city. After being unloaded at eight transfer centers, the garbage is taken to two dump yards in the northern and southern parts, which are nearing their maximum capacities. Of the 15 zones in the city, waste management has been privatised only in three. This seems to be a potent system, but is perpetually beset with problems of implementation.  

Despite the campaigns promoting segregation of waste at source, there was very poor compliance. The only widely known and implemented method was the regulation of the usage of plastic bags by charging an amount for them, and increasing their thickness to 50 microns. 

Given the magnitude of the situation, changes are required both at the policy level, and in the domain of citizen lifestyle. However, the city seems to be learning its lessons pretty quickly, and the effort of some responsible citizens has culminated into the Plastic Waste Rules 2016, and the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. 

Reclaim Chennai’, a citizens' platform helmed by journalist- turned activist Nityanand Jayaraman is familiarising citizens with these rules. The newly-enacted rules have, for the first time, recognised the informal sector as a big player in waste management. The rules focus on bulk waste generators, and prescribe extended producer responsibility, wherein manufacturers (such as chips companies), must also deal with the plastic waste they generate. 

Residents have to inform municipal bodies when they organise gatherings comprising over 100 people to ensure that the waste generated is segregated.

In addition, these rules identify three levels of waste: biodegradable, non- biodegradable, and hazardous. These encourage the state government to come up with policies and promote responsible collection of dry waste, and creation of deposition centers for hazardous wastes. Building associations have also been enthused to carry out composting to whatever extent they can. More importantly, residents have to inform municipal bodies when they organise gatherings of over 100 persons to ensure that the waste generated is segregated. A monitoring framework, including a state-level advisory body to meet every six months and a central monitoring committee to meet once a year, has been espoused. 

Use of plastic bags below 50 microns has been prohibited and greater responsibility has been placed on the manufacturers. Besides compulsory registration, they have to now fund the mechanism put in place for collecting multilayered packaging waste. Also, plastic bags are expected to possess a micron stamp, and mark of the manufacturers. 

‘Reclaim Chennai’ has formed volunteer groups to focus on three areas, namely registration of the retailers and manufacturers, ensuring formulation of policies, and citizen outreach through vision documents. These groups will monitor the functioning of all the stakeholders through use of RTI and other means and take necessary action to ensure proper implementation of the waste management rules. 

Besides compulsory registration, manufacturers have to now fund the mechanism put in place for collecting multilayered packaging waste.

An issue as basic as garbage management holds immense significance, especially for Chennai which is competing for the Smart City tag. For a country that is perpetually beset with problems of implementation, ‘Reclaim Chennai’ seems to have aptly recognised that citizen empowerment stems from making people feel like they are a part of the problem and the solution. 

You can join 'Reclaim Chennai' here