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Plastic, not rain, wrecker-in-chief

Karthik Subramanian

Mounds of plastic alongside stormwater canals the reason for inundation Mounds of plastics alongside storm water canals point at the real reason for the inundation



POLYTHENE DANGER: Mounds of plastic clog the Otteri Nullah near Pulianthope. — Photo: V. Ganesan

CHENNAI: What harm can the innocuous little plastic carry bag do?

Plenty as thousands of city residents in North and Southernmost fringes of the city would testify. Of course, there was the torrential rain last Thursday and the problems with excess flow of water along Otteri Nallah and Buckingham canals. But one of the main reasons why rainwater would not drain quickly, which even the officials agree, was the plastic waste clogging the canals.

On Tuesday, the impact of the plastic waste was most evident along Otteri Nallah canal at Demellows Road in Pulianthope. The street was one of the worst affected in the floods with water levels up to chest-high for three days before receding. Dark black mounds of soggy plastic waste occupy the canal way.

Not far away, two earthmovers were digging out the sludge from Buckingham Canal close to Basin Bridge. Once again it was evident that most of the heavy sludge removed were plastics.

Despite the Chennai Corporation improving garbage clearance through its door-to-door collection drive over the past two years, it is evident that the waterways serve as a dumping yard for residential colonies.

Several residents in the past week have pointed out to the similarities between the floods last week to the heavy flooding of Mumbai earlier this year.

One of the fallouts of the floods there has been the Maharashtra Government ordering a blanket ban of producing plastic products.

According to an analysis in 2002, more than 240 tonnes of plastics reach the city's dumping grounds in Perungudi and Kodungaiyur everyday.

Experts opine that in the Indian context, no recyclable waste would ever reach the dumping grounds given the proactive recycling in most households and by rag-pickers.

It is only logical to assume that a large portion of the waste is non-recyclable.

Environmental organisations have highlighted the biggest myth of `recyclable' plastics: Not much of it actually gets recycled.

In the environment-conscious countries, a small `recycle tax' is levied on carry bags. "Plastic carry bags are to be given free of charge in supermarkets. If there is just a small charge on the bag, most shoppers would prefer using their cloth bags," said K.S. Sudhakar of Toxics Link.

The State Government had in the past contemplated legislation to ban plastics in 2001. Several environmental groups had hailed the move. But the Bill never came through.

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