Managing Garbage: Chennai adopts a smart waste management model

Chennai adopts a smart waste management model

Solid waste management (SWM) is one of the key challenges facing Indian cities including Chennai. If not dealt with properly, it can have various environmental and public health implications. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is one of the largest generators of solid waste, generating nearly 5,400 metric tonnes of waste per day.

Smart Utilities takes a look at the SWM initiatives undertaken by GCC…

Involvement of private players

In an attempt to encourage private participation in the waste management sector, Chennai has taken the initiative to privatise the collection and transportation of waste. With the consensus of  stakeholders, the mayor passed a resolution approving the privatisation of MSW services. In October 2020, Chennai adopted a new SWM system, a move that enabled the switch from the tipping fee model to a more decentralised system. Waste management under this system is being done by Urbaser SA and Sumeet Facilities Limited, a Spanish-Indian joint venture. The company will collect and dispose of waste in Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Adyar, Perungudi and Sholinganllur zones for eight years. The corporation will pay the private player based on 34 key performance indicators, which include primary collection, secondary collection and transport, street sweeping and collection, compliance, complaint redressal and information, education and communication (IEC). The initiative is expected to help Chennai achieve 100 per cent waste segregation in all households and maintain it consistently. A third-party consultant has been appointed to monitor the work.

Use of smart technology

Under the new waste management system, battery-operated vehicles would be used for door-to-door collection of segregated and non-segregated waste from households and marketplaces, and horticultural waste from public places. Approximately 125 compactors, 38 mechanical sweepers, 3,000 e-rickshaws, 300 heavy motor vehicles/light motor vehicles and 11,000 compactor trash cans (in different colours for different types of waste) would be deployed to ensure proper collection and transportation of waste. The company would employ nearly 10,844 workers to carry out the cleaning work. Under this system, work would be taken up in 16,621 streets in seven zones, catering to a population of nearly 3.7 million .

Further, a smart control room would be set up at Alandur. It would have separate teams to address complaints for each zone. The control room would also monitor the route maps of trucks and compactor bins. The entire system will be geotagged and vigilantly monitored by GPS.

Chennai is also switching to a system of smart bins wherein garbage bins at public places are enabled with sensors to track the quantity of garbage being dumped in the bins. The installed sensors transmit the data about the status of bins in real-time through wireless networks.

Zero Waste Initiative-Madras Waste Exchange

In a bid to tackle the increasing waste management issue in the city and reduce its carbon footprint, Chennai launched the Madras Waste Exchange in December 2019. It is a web portal-cum mobile application, which facilitates the trading of recyclable non-biodegradable waste. The application provides an online market to sell and purchase recyclable scrap materials and products in Chennai. It is the first-of-its-kind initiative, which is developed under the Smart Cities Mission. The idea of an online portal tackles the issue of waste management by facilitating the trade of recyclable waste on a marketable platform.

It enables buyers and sellers to identify each other through geotags. Traders are required to register themselves on the portal and provide their location details and get verified with the help of a one-time password. Once the verification and registration are done, registered buyers and sellers can view their materials for sale with the help of the concerned trader’s geotag. Given that buyers and sellers are connected directly, middlemen are automatically eliminated and transparency is ensured. Further, the pricing of the materials is left to the sellers. Bargaining becomes easy between buyers and sellers given that there is no minimum or maximum gap.

All solid municipal waste that can be recycled including plastic, clothes and glass can be traded on the portal. The website is an attempt to bring Chennai a step closer to zero waste by ensuring that no landfills are created. The GCC has set up a resource recovery centre (RRC), where the waste collected from households is segregated before being sent to the city’s landfills. There are nearly 210 RRCs in Chennai and the government has listed the RRCs on the portal so as to inform people of the materials that are available for selling.The GCC can also fix prices for these materials. As per latest data, nearly 2,000 scrap dealers, 600 buyers and 420 sellers have registered themselves on the portal.

Other initiatives

In order to promote wet waste processing, the GCC is setting up four bio-CNG plants in Chetpet, Madhavaram, Pallikaranai and Sholinganallur. These plants would reduce the waste going into the landfills by 350 tonnes.

Under the Zero Waste Initiative, the GCC is segregating waste and treating different kinds of solid waste as per its composition. The waste collected from homes is sent to the civic body’s SWM plants where plastic is separated fromnormal items. Further, the corporation has decided to charge extra user fee from households, owners of commercial establishments and those hosting events, for its services. As per the SWM by-laws, the occupants of a house with a built-up area of up to 500 square feet have to pay Rs 10 every month, while those living in a house with a built-up area of over 2,400 square feet have to pay Rs 100 per month.

Antariksh Waste Ventures Private Limited, a start-up incubated by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, has developed a “smart bin system”. The smart device called Airbin is  internet of things (IoT) enabled. The Airbin smart bin system would provide additional support to the existing waste management system as it would send alerts to the sanitation teams at regular intervals on fill levels and on-demand clearance requests from end users for faster waste disposal. Five Airbin devices have been deployed on regular dustbins the Thiruvanmiyur beach (Valmiki Nagar) on a trial basis and are expected to be launched in the market soon. In the long run, the use of IoT-enabled solutions can help in the segregation of waste at the time of generation.


Chennai’s new SWM system focuses on source segregation, garbage collection, transportation and recycling. It is now possible for Chennai neighbourhoods to have cleaner streets, a better standard of living, and, most of all, sustainable SWM practices. It has, however, been observed that the residents are concerned over the fact that the local body has not created enough facilities and infrastructure to tackle the collected waste, hence all the waste would end up in dumpyards and the situation would remain the same as before. It is, therefore, imperative to facilitate a proper infrastructure to tackle waste management effectively. It is also equally essential for the local body to spread awareness about the importance of waste segregation at source. Given the increasing burden of managing the solid waste generated in the city, it is crucial for the local body to adopt more sustainable and smarter SWM models and address the livelihood, environmental, and health concerns connected to it.