Being The Change: Stop That Dumping

By TheHindu on 14 Sep 2016 | read

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Padmanabhan Gopalan ( in white shirt) and his team at Spice Foundation segregate waste at an apartment in Coimbatore. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

Padmanabhan Gopalan envisions a swachh Coimbatore and he is working round-the-clock to realise it.

"It’s a big achievement,” says Padmanabhan Gopalan, a 23-year-old entrepreneur. He is talking about the 5,200 houses in the city where people are segregating waste. From January, Padmanabhan and his young team have started a ‘no-dumping movement’ to make Coimbatore litter-free. “We want to ensure there is minimal waste in the landfill. This is possible only when we segregate waste at source. While organic waste can be used for compost or in biogas plants, dry inorganic waste like foil and metals can be sent to bottle- or paper- making units. Some high density plastics can be recycled up to eight times. The non-recyclable waste finds use as Alternative Fuel Resource (AFR) in companies like ACC Cements in Madukkarai. The hazardous waste is incinerated,” Padmanabhan explains.

His 20-member team collect wastes from 20 different locations including apartments, gated communities, and airport and segregates it at a Coimbatore Corporation premise. “We process 110 tonnes of organic and inorganic waste every month. Suresh Bhandari, the solid waste management advisor at the Corporation, guides us. As of now, we cover Ward No. 90 and 92 in Kovaipudur and Kuniamuthur. Corporation commissioner Vijay Karthikeyan wants us to replicate the model in 50 other wards. Once that happens, we will handle about 60 per cent of the waste generated in the city,” he says.

Padmanabhan says an open garbage dumps ruin the environment. Besides pollution, it affects the ground water table and emits poisonous gases. “In bigger cities, over 1000 tonnes of waste go into the dump yard every single day. In tier II cities, it is just a little less. Awareness and recycling is the way forward,” he insists.

He wants to motivate more youngsters to take up waste management as a career option. “We want to develop a self-employment model and motivate entrepreneurship. Youngsters can log on to and apply for internship. It’s a two-month training programme with a stipend where we educate them on how the model works.”

Padmanabhan has also developed a No Dumping app for the areas they work in. A live recovery meter gives data on the waste coming into these locations. “Our representative at each location enters the data and captures the image of garbage using geo-tags in real time. This gives the data authenticity,” he explains. Through this, they want to create awareness in the common person on the amount of waste he/she generates.

His supportive team includes other youngsters like C. Prashanth and D. Saran Raj who work tirelessly to ensure that no waste goes to the landfill. “It helps that we are all in the same age group and eager to see change. We met at an event where Coimbatore entered the Guinness World Records for the ‘Largest Recycling Lesson’. From then on, we have been a team.”

Social entrepreneurship has always been a driving force for Padmanabhan. As a student of production engineering at the Government College of Technology, he started a Green Club to groom engineers to make sustainable products. One of the products they developed was alternative wood using sugarcane molasses and coconut shells.

“We also developed a renewable mobile charger that uses solar and wind energy to charge.” In college, his classmates and he entered the Limca Book of Records for organising a college symposium without using any paper. “We saved 40,000 sheets of paper. We created an app and used only digital communication during the event.”

Padmanabhan started the Spice foundation, a start-up to focus on education, self-financing, health, sanitation, and more.

“We have a 10-dimensional approach. We want to create leaders for every new initiative and motivate them to take it forward. Coimbatore is always positive to social initiatives and we want to institutionalise social enterprise. That is the bigger plan.”

Padmanabhan calls this initiative a CCC model. It involves the corporation, community and corporate houses. “The city generates more than 500 tonnes of waste each day. We want one entrepreneur take charge of 10 wards. He will have a team for door-to-door segregation of waste in household. We also want to buy dry waste from workers who collect garbage in push carts on a daily basis. A swachhCoimbatore is our goal.”

What else?

No food Waste app: Through this app, Padmanabhan and his team can be alerted about food going waste at marriages and other big functions. The team collects the food and redistributes it to the hungry. This initiative is working in Coimbatore, Chennai, Salem, Erode, Delhi and Noida. To kmow more, visit This is a crowd funding initiative that supports students who drop out of college as they are unable to pay the fees. It is a people-driven movement and they have so far generated Rs. 14 lakhs for 75 students in Tamil Nadu. A simple step but empowers the needy.