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Solid Waste Management

Solid Waste Management (SWM) is one of the key challenges facing Indian cities including Chennai, having important environmental, public health and livelihoods implications. The Corporation of Chennai (CoC) devotes a sizable proportion of it’s resources, time and labour to SWM. In spite of this, hundreds of tons of waste go uncollected daily, with slums and low income settlements in particular finding themselves chronically under-served. Furthermore, the ‘garbage problem’ is usually framed only as a public health or aesthetic problem with the livelihood aspect scarcely acknowledged.

Our work centres on research and promotion of sustainable and inclusive solid waste management in Chennai. It is aimed at filling gaps in knowledge and understanding about waste, it’s management and the actors involved through both qualitative and quantitative research. Our primary focus at this time is the role and contribution of ‘waste-pickers’ or informal waste workers (popularly known as ‘rag pickers’) in the city’s waste scenario.

This work is done by CAG as part of the Initiative on Waste, Informal Workers and Chennai’s Future, that was formed in 2013 by Transparent Chennai along with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Madras Institute of Development Studies. The local CBOs that are part of this Initiative include Pennurimai Iyakkam, Unorganised Workers’ Federation, Thozhamai, Arunodhaya, Real Charitable Trust and Construction Worker’s Union.


Empowering waste-pickers

Waste-pickers, who form the vast majority of the informal waste sector, help divert hundreds of tons of waste from the city’s overloaded landfills. Waste-pickers are almost exclusively responsible for any recycling activity in most major cities in India and yet remain among the most economically and socially marginalised groups in urban India. Because of the social stigma attached to their work and because their occupation is not recognized by the government, their livelihood is constantly threatened and they are highly vulnerable to exploitation.

We aim to create research and documentation that increases the general awareness and understanding of the informal waste sector. This is aimed at guiding policy-makers as well as the public towards recognising the labour of waste-pickers and acknowledging their right to livelihood.

Promoting sustainable SWM

With the increasing burden of managing the solid wastes generated in the cities, it is highly imperative for the governments to move towards adopting sustainable solid waste management models as well as addressing the livelihoods, environmental, and health concerns connected to it.

Sustainable SWM implies both environmental sustainability, (through segregation-at-source, composting/bio-gas and an emphasis on the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle), as well as social sustainability (through effective decentralization of waste management, and inclusion of the informal work force that is engaged in waste recovery and recycling).

Our work involves research and promotion of sustainable and inclusive Solid Waste Management practice in Chennai. Through qualitative and quantitative research we aim at filling gaps in knowledge and understanding about waste and it’s management.


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