India’s challenges in waste management

The key to efficient waste management is to ensure segregation source and resource recovery

By Samar Lahiry
Last Updated: Wednesday 08 May 2019
waste management in india
Most recyclable waste ends up in a dump yard due to the lack of efficient waste management (Credit: Agnimirh Basu/CSE) Most recyclable waste ends up in a dump yard due to the lack of efficient waste management (Credit: Agnimirh Basu/CSE)

Waste management rules in India are based on the principles of "sustainable development", "precaution" and "polluter pays". These principles mandate municipalities and commercial establishments to act in an environmentally accountable and responsible manner—restoring balance, if their actions disrupt it. The increase in waste generation as a by-product of economic development has led to various subordinate legislations for regulating the manner of disposal and dealing with generated waste are made under the umbrella law of Environment Protection Act, 1986 (EPA). Specific forms of waste are the subject matter of separate rules and require separate compliances, mostly in the nature of authorisations, maintenance of records and adequate disposal mechanisms.

With rapid urbanisation, the country is facing massive waste management challenge. Over 377 million urban people live in 7,935 towns and cities and generate 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum. Only 43 million tonnes (MT) of the waste is collected, 11.9 MT is treated and 31 MT is dumped in landfill sites. Solid Waste Management (SWM) is one among the basic essential services provided by municipal authorities in the country to keep urban centres clean. However, almost all municipal authorities deposit solid waste at a dumpyard within or outside the city haphazardly. Experts believe that India is following a flawed system of waste disposal and management.

The key to efficient waste management is to ensure proper segregation of waste at source and to ensure that the waste goes through different streams of recycling and resource recovery. Then reduced final residue is then deposited scientifically in sanitary landfills. Sanitary landfills are the ultimate means of disposal for unutilised municipal solid waste from waste processing facilities and other types of inorganic waste that cannot be reused or recycled. Major limitation of this method is the costly transportation of MSW to far away landfill sites.

A report by IIT Kanpur (2006) found the potential of recovering at least 15 per cent or 15,000 MT of waste generated every day in the country. This, the report said, could also provide employment opportunities to about 500,000 rag-pickers. The report added that despite immense potential in big cities in this area, participation from non-profits or community is limited.

In some urban centres, people working in the informal sector collect solid waste for each doorstep to get a collection fee and derive additional income from sale of recyclables. The informal recycling industry plays a major role in waste management. It also ensures that less waste reaches landfills.

Iswar Ahluwalia, in an article, points out that more than three-fourth of solid waste management budget is allotted to collection and transportation, leaving leaves very little for processing or resource recovery and disposal.

There has been technological advancement for processing, treatment and disposal of solid waste. Energy-from-waste is a crucial element of SWM because it reduces the volume of waste from disposal also helps in converting the waste into renewable energy and organic manure. Ideally, it falls in the flow chart after segregation, collection, recycling and before getting to the land fill. But many waste to energy plants in India are not operating to their full potential.

Installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants would reduce the load of landfill sites. The biodegradable component of India’s solid waste is currently estimated at a little over 50 per cent. Bio-methanation is a solution for processing biodegradable waste which is also remains underexploited. It is believed that if we segregate biodegradable waste from the rest, it could reduce the challenges by half. E-waste components contain toxic materials and are non-biodegradable which present both occupational and environmental health threats including toxic smoke from recycling processes and leaching from e-waste in landfill into local water tables.

The concept of common waste treatment facility (ENVIS Newsletter, December 2010) is being widely promoted and accepted as it uses waste as a resource by either using it as a co-fuel or co-raw material in manufacturing processes. This has led to rise of Public Private Partnership (PPP) models in waste management which has open doors for doing business in waste management.

Bio-medical waste (management and handling) rules, 1998 prescribe that there should be a Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF) at every 150 kms in the country. CBWTFs have been set up and are functioning in cities and towns. However, establishment of functional CBWTF throughout the country must be ensured. Integrated common hazardous waste management facilities combine secured landfill facility, solidification/stabilisation and incineration to treat hazardous wastes generated by various industrial units. They contribute about 97.8 per cent of total landfill waste and 88 per cent of total incinerable hazardous waste generated in the country, as per an environment ministry report.

The way forward

Around 100 cities are set to be developed as smart cities. Civic bodies have to redraw long term vision in solid waste management and rework their strategies as per changing lifestyles. They should reinvent garbage management in cities so that we can process waste and not landfill it (with adequate provisioning in processing and recycling).To do this, households and institutions must segregate their waste at source so that it could be managed as a resource. The Centre aims to do away with landfill sites in 20 major cities. There is no spare land for dumping garbage, the existing ones are in a critical state. It is reported that almost 80 per cent of the waste at Delhi landfill sites could be recycled provided civic bodies start allowing ragpickers to segregate waste at source and recycle it. Compost pits should be constructed in every locality to process organic waste. Community participation has a direct bearing on efficient waste management. Recovery of e-waste is abysmally low, we need to encourage recycling of e-waste on a very large scale level so that problem of e-waste disposal is contained.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
Related Stories

India Environment Portal Resources :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

  • Hello ,
    i appreciate ,what u said in this blog .you are right due to lack of efficient of waste management ,waste which can be recyclable also going to dumping yard and till now we are not serious about it ,how to manage these and recycle these waste and make a healthy environment .

    i really like your blog ,please write like this and continue awareness amonge people.

    Posted by: Disposal Of Waste In India | 3 years ago | Reply
    • Sir, I am trying to set up a composting plant to tackle both the menace of chemical fertilizers and solid waste. Any guidance woud be appreciated

      Posted by: Shashwat Tri[athi | 2 years ago | Reply
  • It would be highly appreciated if you could please highlight a probable reason why civic bodies don't allow ragpickers to segregate waste at source and recycle it

    Posted by: Ayush | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for sharing such valuable topic with us , really it is a big issue in current time.
    e waste collection in tamilnadu

    Posted by: Ewasterecyclerultrust | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Our Honorable VIP's Ministers, MP's, Bureaucrats keep travelling abroad but they do not involve in replicating in india good things from there. Why can't we replicate garbage management, environment pollution control adopted in advance countries like US.
    Initially they also had taken the help in developing technology and machines from china.
    Govt should set up time bound task forces comprising engineers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and work on this menace which has become global threat for present and future generation. India has become one of the biggest contributors in menace in spoiling the world environment.

    Posted by: Subbramaniam K | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent Article!! I appreciate your blog; It's very informative information for us. It's a very big issue in current time.Thanks for sharing your valuable blog here.

    Posted by: Michael Coates | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent.

    Posted by: Rasputin | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Great article. The thoughts you expressed in the article is lamplight for the society.
    We could help you with best waste management service:.
    Please visit our website:


    Posted by: Anjali Pradhan | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for sharing valuable information about android developer

    Posted by: Ajeevi | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Interesting initiatives have been taken up in India when it comes to the waste collection process, although, not pertaining to e-waste particularly. If the initiatives that have been taken are particular to that of the e-waste management, and if the recycling is done right, it seems like the adverse effects that improper disposal and recycling of electronic waste on environment could be rectified.
    ref: https://www.rplanet.in/

    Posted by: Kunal Gopalani | 8 months ago | Reply
  • crapbin.com in Hyderabad, India is working to make the city zero waste. I think there is a need for the startups in other cities to come up with such innovative ideas.

    Posted by: Zuber | 8 months ago | Reply
  • The article is rife with grammatical errors. Your team should be more careful with proof reading the content that is put out on your website. Such errors will make you loose credibility. It is a good article otherwise. This is constructive criticism, no offence intended.

    Posted by: Maulishree Gupta | 7 months ago | Reply
  • It's really a nice article. Keep updating more on the same… We BinCruhser have come up with a solution which is "FREEDOM FROM WET WASTE". To get more information on the same, visit our website & watch our product video.
    Website: http://bit.ly/31H7VXC
    Video: https://youtu.be/fYGh1j5IlDQ

    Posted by: BinCrusher | 3 months ago | Reply
  • Talking about this problem is a very speculative thing but about solutions is just look a little bit for other countries (ex: Brazil using Usinas ,and Boras a city in Sweden) I know for a fact people in India have bossiness In is blood and I think really they will help if will be some remuneration, just a thought

    Posted by: Angie Nascimento | 2 months ago | Reply