A sustainability class at a college in Chennai

Shasun Jain College for Women students get a bird’s eye view of composting, thanks to an initiative at Kannammapet Cemetery

Shasun Jain College for Women students get a bird’s eye view of composting, thanks to an initiative at Kannammapet Cemetery

About 300 meters from the Shri Shankarlal Sundarbai Shasun Jain College for Women in T Nagar, a ‘classroom’ operates at Kannammapet Crematorium and Cemetery.

Since February 2022, the college has been maintaining a micro-composition facility at the cemetery as per a consent it received from the Greater Chennai Corporation last September.

This micro-composting facility serves as a classroom to introduce students to composting and entrepreneurship.

As part of this initiative, every day, workers from the Urbaser Sumeet reserve bring four tons of organic waste collected from the neighborhood, including the T Nagar vegetable market, to the facility. Green waste is treated in concrete pits. Four workers and a supervisor, hired by the college management, manage the various processes, ensuring that each load of biodegradable waste is composted.

As the head of the project, the principal of the college, S Padmavathi, says that the management has always worked on the upkeep of the cemetery.

Exnora International and Sri Rajasthani Jain Samaj in T Nagar have joined forces to form Param Shanthi Nilayam Trust under which they have been maintaining and improving the facilities at Kannammapet Cemetery since 1992. In 2007 the facility got an electric crematorium, she says .

In June 2021, GCC Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi visited the facility and after which management asked if they could oversee the maintenance of the micro-composting unit which was already in place.

The college has started upgrading the facilities with the help of an environmental organization, the Namma Ooru Foundation. Following an analysis of the installation, “composting in windrows” was set up.

Students are encouraged to understand the different processes. Signage around the facility is based on student contributions.

The college moved an important process to its campus. “The compost needs to be sieved before it is dried and packaged, so we brought the sieving machine to the college grounds for the students to operate,” explains the principal. “Through our clubs, 20 to 25 in number, various tasks are assigned to each group for a week,” says Padmavathi, the college has 4,000 students.

School staff and students

School staff and students

The packaged compost is sold by students at a college outlet. It is also sold to farmers at a nominal rate. The inventory is maintained by students and staff. College Enactus members play a major role, assigning responsibilities to various clubs, Padmavathi says.

Sundarameena Senthil, director of Solid Waste Management, says finding labor has been a challenge.

extend duration

Initially, the college signed an agreement to oversee the microcomposting unit for one year, and is now requesting an extension.

“A lot of money has been spent to keep this unit operational through CSR funding by Venkata Narayana Active Ingredients Private Limited. As we have invested a lot of time, energy and money in this unit, we are keen to continue the long-term project,” says Padmavathi.

“We fight the problems of the land and don’t expect it to be profit driven,” she adds.

If the project were to generate profits, the college would share it with its students, she says.

Meanwhile, the college is looking for CSR funding.

Project coordinators are pleased with the buzz the unit has created on and off campus. “A group of MBA students from SRM University are currently doing an internship where they are studying the model,” says Sundarameena.

“The success of MCUs depends on how the processes are followed”

P Natarajan, founder of the Namma Ooru Foundation, the consultant who runs the college, says the success of the micro-composting units depends on how well the processes are followed by the workers. “These units must operate like a factory and every checklist must be followed meticulously,” says Natarajan, praising the college leadership for adopting the unit to the cemetery.

After studying various models, including the one widely used in Kerala, the Foundation turned to the “windrow composting” method, but not before making some modifications to the tanks. Here, 1 to 1.5 tonnes of organic (green) matter is added daily to brown matter such as tender coconut shell and garden waste. It takes four to six weeks for the final product to be ready.

Natarajan says windrow composting is profitable. “If you plan and size it right, it can be a profitable model,” he says, adding that a public-private partnership works best.

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