Date Range
Sort by Relevant
piles of trash with birds overhead
Chennai, India

Meat Waste: The Undeclared Pollutant in the Dump Yards of Chennai, India

Every night, R Vetrivelu, a sanitary supervisor in Chennai, ensures that meat waste from the four retail meat shops in Anna Nagar, collected separately, is transferred to the lorries. Inedible waste from these shops, along with biodegradable and mixed waste collected from the locality reaches the Kodungaiyur dump yard. This is the journey of meat waste in Chennai. The journey that defies the norms of the Central Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Urban Development. 

GPS-tracked electric vehicles for garbage collection, vacuum cleaners to clean the debris, collaborations with foreign firms and much more: GCC’s waste management practices look fancy. GCC recently passed a resolution to reclaim 252 acres of land at the Kodungaiyur dump yard through biomining, months after the project was initiated at the Perungudi dump yard. These stop-gap measures, however, don't restrict the dumping of meat waste at dump yards. 

"I don't understand why we have to follow the norms of dumping the meat waste separately when the Corporation dumps it all at one place," said Vijay Kumar, who works at one of these shops. 

Lack of data

GCC does not maintain data about the meat waste generated. There are around 2,750 meat retail shops in the city, according to the veterinary officer of GCC, Dr J Kamal Hussain.

On average, a small-scale meat shop produces around 15 kg of waste a day. During weekends, it goes up to 30-40 kg per day, said Vetrivelu. Roughly, 41.25 tons and 82.5 tons of meat waste produced during weekdays and weekends respectively are dumped in landfills. This statistic is collaborated by the solid waste department officials of GCC.

Wet waste constitutes 2,500 tons of the total 5,200 tons of waste generated in the city every day. While 1,200 tons of wet waste is treated through micro composting, bio-CNG, and other methods, the rest is dumped in landfills. So, around 41 tons of meat waste is dumped along with the 1,300 tons of unprocessed wet waste.

Time and again, researchers worldwide have proved the potential of meat waste in generating electricity. The high-fat levels in the meat waste contribute to the high methane yield, which in turn helps in electricity generation, noted a research paper from November 2016 from Ireland.

Closer home, Coimbatore Corporation partnered with two private companies to process the waste into pet food. GCC sources said these companies also sent proposals to replicate the model in Chennai. "We have kept these projects on hold as our current focus is to process 100% of the wet waste," said a senior corporation official on conditions of anonymity.

Off the streets and landfills

Employees and owners of the nine meat shops TNIE spoke to, said that they place their waste separately in the bin for the GCC sanitary workers to collect. “Waste is collected every day. But during festivals and weekends, they leave it uncollected for days leaving an unbearable stench. We dispose of it in the dustbins and in abandoned spaces,” said Babu Kumar, who runs a meat shop at Vadapalani. 

From the corner of meat shops to material recovery facilities and eventually to the landfills, meat waste takes a long road not to be treated, but only to be dumped. “Biodegradable waste (food and vegetable waste) is dumped on meat waste in the landfills to reduce the stench,” said a worker at the Perungudi dump yard. He wished to be anonymous as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Yet, citizens residing close to the dump yard find it troublesome. “I don’t know what causes the stench. But the foul and stagnant smell is a constant reminder of how our lives shouldn’t be,” said Prema, who resides within a radius of 1km from the Perungudi dump yard. 

Contributor of greenhouse emissions

Researchers say untreated meat waste leads to more health and environmental issues than other biodegradable waste. The production of methane is higher in meat waste, said Dr John Abraham, professor and head of the Department of Livestock Production and Management (LPM), Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU).

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and is believed to trap up to 20 times more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide.

John Abraham suspects this could be one of the reasons behind the landfill fires.

"Meat waste has nutrients in abundance. Bacteria such as Coliform and Salmonella present in meat wastes multiply faster than vegetable waste and cause diarrhea, pneumonia and severe respiratory illness," he said.

Not only do the tons of meat waste remain a missed opportunity, but it is also the root cause of methane generation in landfills – a driver of global warming. 

“Leachate, formed from wet waste in landfills, pollutes groundwater. It also attracts dogs and pigs. GCC should empanel vendors to collect meat waste separately and treat it rightfully through deep burrowing or composting or biomethanation. Rich in calcium, meat waste can be converted to compost within 45 to 50 days,” said Nalini Shekar, co-founder of Hasiru Dala, a social impact organization from Bengaluru.  

Defying the law of the land

Issuing guidelines to the civic bodies, the urban ministry and the CPCB mandated the local bodies to follow composting, bio methanation, rendering or incineration to process meat waste.  According to the Ministry of Urban Development, it is not preferable to add slaughterhouse waste to MSW waste piles, as they require specific closed systems (or closed containers).

GCC doesn’t adhere to any of these norms to treat meat waste, except for one waste-to-energy plant setup in a public-private partnership at Perambur slaughterhouse. 

Meat waste from retailers is a significant contributor to greenhouse emissions and subsequently climate change. “Due to the absence of air, meat waste, just like any other biodegradable waste, produces methane and carbon dioxide,” said Vamsi K, Senior Researcher, at Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG). 

Animal Solid waste generation (% of animal weight)
Bovine 27.5
Goat and sheep 17
Pig 4

Source: Central Pollution Control Board. 

“As of now, we are focusing on wet waste treatment units to produce bio-CNG. The technology used here doesn’t support meat waste treatment. We do wish to encourage entities that can utilize meat waste from retail shops and utilize it for energy production. We want to utilize waste in a useful way rather than letting it rot in dump yards. We are exploring the possibilities and will opt for more such private-partner partnerships,” Gagandeep Singh Bedi said. 

Knocking on the right doors

In its pilot study, CSIR-CLRI came up with a technological intervention to solve the issue.

Named Indo-German renewable energy from the vegetable market and Slaughterhouse, CSIR-CLRI’s environmental engineering department commenced the project in 2018. CSIR-CLRI established a pilot biogas plant of 500 kg/day that produces biogas using meat wastes. Dr S V Srinivasan, senior principal scientist, Environmental Engineering Department, CSIR-CLRI along with German project partner, Leibniz University, Hannover, have experimented with a method of mixing vegetable waste and slaughterhouse waste to enhance the quantity of biogas production. "Vegetable waste is rich in carbon and meat waste has nitrogen in abundance. By co-digesting both these wastes, bio-gas yield can be enhanced," Srinivasan said.

In this plant, waste from the Perambur slaughterhouse and vegetable waste from the Koyambedu market (1:3) were pre-treated and fed to the plant to enhance an additional biogas yield of 30-40%.

About 27 to 30m3 of biogas, equivalent to approximately 50 units of electricity was generated every day. In other words, 10 kg of waste (1:3 ratio of slaughter and vegetable waste) would yield about 500 to 600 liters of biogas, which is approximately equivalent to one unit of electricity (1kWH) and can power a 1000-watt bulb for an hour or a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours. After the implementation of this process, CSIR-CLRI planned to use the facility to treat the waste generated from the institute campus including the canteen.

"We are not aware of CLRI's initiative. The solid waste management department of GCC would be interested to collaborate with CLRI," said a Chennai corporation official.

‘Meat waste can power 240 cars in Chennai a day’

Meanwhile, in Kerala, Dr John Abraham, professor and head, the Department of Livestock Production and Management, at Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has made headway in processing chicken waste into biodiesel.

In a rendering plant, the chicken waste undergoes three procedures: dry cooking, pressure cooking, and moisture reduction. "The procedure takes up to three hours yielding two byproducts: protein powder and oil. While the protein powder can be used as a feed for pets, oil can be converted into biodiesel," Dr Abraham said.

Biodiesel which can be used as an alternative fuel has better efficiency than petrol-diesel. It is cheaper and is a perfect solution to hazardous meat waste, he added. 

"With about Rs 4 crore as initial investment, rendering plants can be set up to process 41 tons of meat waste into manure. Each day, 10 tons of fertilizer worth 1.2 lakh can be produced from the meat waste in Chennai," said S B Senthil Kumar, managing partner, Bhairav Renderers, who has partnered with Coimbatore Corporation to process the meat waste into fertilizer.

About 41 tons of meat waste in Chennai can be converted to 4.1 tons of bio-diesel through bio-rendering, according to Dr John Abraham. "A car has a fuel capacity of 35 liters. While half of it can be bio-diesel, another half can be diesel. That way, 4.1 tons of biodiesel will power 240 cars every day," he added.

To convert electricity from meat waste following CLRI's technology, an initial investment of `18 crore is required.  "Around 4,000 units of electricity or 600 kg of bio-CNG can be produced by processing 41 tons of meat waste," Srinivasan said.

While these studies demonstrate the potential of converting waste into useful fuels, it can become a reality only when Greater Chennai Corporation leads the way. 


  • An eco-friendly, renewable energy source, bio-gas is produced when organic matter such as food or meat waste is broken down by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen, according to National Grid. It is used to fuel vehicles, power lights and as a replacement for natural gas, Biogas can be used in cooking.  
  • India accounts for ~18% of the world’s population but produces only 0.6% of the world’s natural gas and 0.4% of crude oil. India imports 83.6% of its crude oil requirement and 47.2% of its natural gas requirement, according to an article from the Confederation of Indian Industry published on February 2023. The government aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2070 and biogas plays a major role in achieving the target. Indian biogas market is expected to grow from $1.47 billion in 2022 to $2.25 billion in 2029, logging a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 6.3% between 2022 and 2029, the article noted. 
  • In India, the estimate for the production of biogas is about 20,757 lakh cubic meters in 2014-15. This is equivalent to 6.6 crores of domestic LPG cylinders, according to the former MNRE Minister Piyush Goyal. 
  • Generally, about two-thirds of landfill waste contains biodegradable organic matter from households, businesses and industries. As this material decomposes, it releases methane - a potent greenhouse gas that traps up to 20 times more heat in the atmosphere compared with carbon dioxide, according to an article at Sciencing

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published on 20 February 2023 in The New Indian Express and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Untreated meat waste leads to more health and environmental issues than other biodegradable waste / Credit: Ashwin Prasath.