Past the tipping point - Garbage and the aftermath of the Chennai floods.

Dear Chennai, It's been the most testing week you have seen in a century, but you have shown extraordinary resolve in handling yourselves as well as selflessly lending support to the most desperate. We hope everybody is okay and that those of you who were badly affected, are slowly able to start rehabilitating yourselves after convalescence.

As you may have noticed, the city is now facing a massive garbage crisis. When human survival takes precedence over everything else, understandably waste management takes a backseat. But, this highlights the much larger issue that had been building up to a tipping point, which we now witnessed in full force.

Trash thrown back from the ocean at Besant Nagar beach, after unprecedented flooding caused the complete submersion of the sand.

Trash thrown back from the ocean at Besant Nagar beach, after unprecedented flooding caused the complete submersion of the sand.

The Adyar river and the Coovum, which have long been abused to dump garbage, swelled menacingly with the rains and completely whitewashed all the settlements and roads next to them with all their garbage. Now as the water recedes, the devastation is emerging. Without exaggerating, houses and trees have been left looking like fixtures from Perungudi or Kodungaiyur.  Throughout the city, the flooding has left garbage strewn everywhere, a dismal reminder that we ignored the ominous signs leading up to this point. The scale of the damage is unfathomable and the municipality has been left with a mammoth task ahead of it.

New dumpyard at Pammal, with trash scattered everywhere.

New dumpyard at Pammal, with trash scattered everywhere.

Garbage collection is yet to resume in most parts of the city. Considering Velacheri which is close to where one of our city’s landfills is located, was badly affected by the rains, it could be weeks before normal collection routines resume (We actually don't have any information on the state of the Perungudi landfill). We have seen what a few days of mounting garbage looks like. We don’t want to know what a few weeks looks like. We are now faced with another potential disaster in the form of a public health crisis. With the city’s sewage polluting all the stagnant water, leptospirosis is currently the biggest known threat to people wading through it. (consult your physician for a prescription on the appropriate preventive medication)  But, we really don't know how bad the fallout is going to be. Considering our landfills are unscientifically managed, the leachate from Perungudi could very well have polluted the stagnant water and furthermore, the flooding could have carried the leachate farther, polluting groundwater in other areas. We really can't say at this point, but the outlook is grim.

Trash deposited on the higher branches of trees.

Trash deposited on the higher branches of trees.

It is critical at this point, that we manage our garbage output as best we can, so as not to exacerbate the already dire situation. We request everybody to please segregate your waste at source and prevent any more garbage from accumulating. A lot of kabadiwalla shops are back in operation so you can sell all your paper, plastic and glass waste to them. (Many of them too, have taken a beating). If you don't know of any, use our information service to find kabadiwallas in your locality. The plastic waste that has been generated from relief efforts as well as deposited by the floods, now stands as a first hand reminder of the problem we have been sweeping under the carpet.

It would also be a good time for all of you to start composting your organic waste at home. There are mountains of putrid, rotting organic waste all over the city.

If you would like advice or resources on how you can manage your waste better, please feel free to get in touch with us on 9884467608 (Farhaad) or 9840295081 (Siddharth). There are a number of organisations who have already been working on promoting segregation, composting, and conducting terrace gardening workshops. We have connected with several of these organisations over the past few months. Contact us if you would like to get in touch with them.

A lot of you whose homes were damaged in the floods will be left with a number of damaged household goods. Please do not dispose of them and add to the mess on our streets. Contact your local kabadiwalla using our information service and ask if they will take the items of you. Give it to them free if you must.

It’s time to rebuild Chennai - let’s rebuild smarter and stronger.