Years ago, Clean India Journal featured a story titled ‘Starting Young’, about two friends – engineering college students from Coimbatore – C Prashanth and Saran Raj. Eschewing the beaten track of placements and well-paid corporate jobs, the duo picked up the cause of waste segregation and recycling. Evangelising the concept, which was relatively new at that time, they went from one housing colony to the other, educating residents, collecting waste and ensuring that it was disposed of properly. Their aim? To make Coimbatore a zero-waste city.
Today, the leadership team has grown to five members. They also have six field in-charge personnel, including three ladies. They are continuing on their mission and have expanded their operations footprint greatly from their humble beginnings, writes Ravi Chandran.
The primary focus of Planethuggs (as the group is now called) is solid waste management. This has gained primacy in both rural and urban areas because of the recent Swachh Bharat initiative, as well as several sustainability related laws passed by the Tamil Nadu state government.
Planethuggs has started a huge program in Kurudampalayam village, Coimbatore. The village consists of nine habitations with a population of approximately 45,000 individuals spread across 14,500 households. The aim of the mission is to spread awareness about solid waste management, provide an infrastructure for segregation, collection and transportation of wet and dry waste, ensure that the process is repeatable and sustainable, and lastly, educate the residents to maintain the overall cleanliness of the surroundings.
Currently, they collect over 92,000 kg of segregated waste per month and process it into usable end products.
Implementing the plan
For this project, the group took a step-by-step approach. First, they conducted a survey of the area where they identified the target households. Next, each household was given three bins to collect the waste segregated into three categories: wet, dry and sanitary. After that, the necessary supporting infrastructure was estimated. In this case, a number of pushcarts were required, each of which could accommodate the waste from 150 households.
Early each morning, between 6-6.30 am, the residents are woken up by the sound of the volunteers driving in their pushcarts, coming to empty the bins.
The dry waste is further segregated into four types.
- Hard plastics, coconut shells and glass bottles go into one bag.
- Another bag receives plastic waste like milk bags and polythene covers.
- A third bag is reserved for paper waste, cardboard cartons and the like.
- A fourth bag is reserved for cloth waste and multi-layer plastic packaging.
The entire collection and segregation process is completed within a span of two hours.
Fate of the waste
The dry solid waste materials collected initially land up in a segregation factory where they are packaged in large bags. Smaller pieces less than 10 mm in size are sent onwards for use as raw material in road-making.
The wet waste and organic waste are segregated and diverted towards a micro composting facility. The waste is shredded mechanically into small bio-degradable pieces, which are converted into manure within the span of a month. Fruit and vegetable waste is treated differently. It is cleaned, fed to cattle and the dung of the cattle is later converted into vermicompost.
The sanitary waste is sent to an incinerator, where it is destroyed safely.
The road ahead
While the group has ramped up operations, and is expanding in a big way, they have still not attained financial self-sufficiency which is required for any social enterprise. With some help from corporate CSR contributions, local support and private funds, they are able to keep operations going. Above all, they have the strong moral backing of the Panchayat President and the Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore.
It is truly heartening to see the Planethuggs team extending their broader vision outside their own sphere. They are on a mission, not only to execute solid waste management strategies, but also to educate others about the uses and benefits. Groups of school children are often seen visiting their facilities to learn more about recycling and sustainability. The group is also a source of inspiration for other social entrepreneurs whom they mentor. Their eventual aim is to increase the number of social entrepreneurship organisations in both rural and urban areas.