You are on page 1of 12

Solid Waste Management in India 1

Solid Waste Management in India

Challenges and changes needed

Farhan Danish

California State University, San Bernardino

Author Notes

Farhan Danish, Department of Health Science and Human Ecology,

California State University, San Bernardino.

This special assignment was conducted as a requirement in course HSCI 616.

Special thanks to Prof. William Van Dyke for many helpful comments and support.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Farhan Danish,

Department of Health Science and Human Ecology, California State University, San Bernardino,

5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino CA 92407. Contact:

Solid Waste Management in India 2


Waste can be garbage, refuse, or any material that is left discarded and rendered useless

arising due to human or animal activity. Generation of this waste is a regular

phenomenon pertaining to everyday life. Solid waste is generated from and not limited to

households, industries, farming and commercial activities. Regardless of the type of

waste generated, it is essential for proper management as waste can be detrimental and

harmful to the environment as well as human health. (US EPA, 2016). Solid waste

management (SWM) is an important discipline incorporated by nations to protect their

environment and population. As the waste generated continually rises, so do the problems

in effectively managing it. Effective solid waste management includes measures taken to

reduce waste, enforcing segregation, handling and transport and disposal in an

environment friendly and in accordance with public health. SWM is a challenging

problem especially for developing countries like India. Challenges are often laced with

increasing population, poor planning, lack of infrastructure and technology. These

problems have a direct impact on the environment and the health of the population. There

is an urgent need in India to redraw attention towards long term sustainable waste

management and to include innovative interventions from other nations to deal with the

Solid Waste Management in India 3

History and Present Scenario

India is vast country housing the world’s second largest population of 1.2 billion

contributing to 17.5% of the world’s population. Its 5 major cities, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi,

Bangalore and Chennai are home to 32% of this population. There has been a significant growth

in population, with an addition of 181 million people in the decade 2001-2011 (“Census of India

Website : Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India,” n.d.). Population

growth is the key factor for the increase in solid waste as total quantity of waste generated in the

country in the year 2000 was estimated to be 100,000 MT. This amount is expected to grow at a

rate of 1.33% annually. (“HOME :: Welcome to Central Pollution Control Board,” n.d.).

Table 1: Solid waste generation trends in 5 major Indian cities.

City Population Waste Generation (Tons per day)


1999-2000 2004-2005 2010-2011 2015-2016

Mumbai 12,442,373 5,355 5,320 6,500 11,000

Bangalore 8,443,675 200 1,669 3,700 3,700

Delhi 11,034,555 400 5,922 6,800 8,700

Kolkata 4,496,694 3,692 2,653 3,670 4,000

Chennai 7,088,000 3,124 3,036 4,500 5,000

Solid Waste Management in India 4

India, with its vast population lacks infrastructure and methodology in the disposal of

solid wastes. The Environment Protection Act of 1986 enables the current system to involve

municipal corporations in playing a vital role in the handling and disposal of solid waste in each

city (Needhidasan, Samuel, & Chidambaram, 2014). Land filing has been the most popular

choice for disposal of waste in India followed by open combustion of wastes and recycling. Only

a small portion of solid waste is properly treated. Open dumping of solid wastes into river beds

and city lakes has been a practice in many cities in India (De & Debnath, 2016).

The current system of solid waste management has been linked with many flaws. The

system encompasses failures in segregation of waste at source, lack of transportation, lack of

work force and failures in effective management including treatment and disposal. This has

consequentially caused concern amongst governing authorities and the public due to

considerable damage to the environment, soil contamination, groundwater contamination, and as

potential health hazards (De & Debnath, 2016). The open dumping practice of untreated waste

poses a threat to surrounding neighborhoods due to dangerous gases and emissions from them.

The famed Bellendur Lake in Bangalore and the Srinagar Lake in Jammu & Kashmir stand

testament to this type of open dumping which has resulted in the lakes consequently depleting

their dissolved oxygen levels due to heavy metal contamination and increased toxicity

(Lokeshwari & Chandrappa, 2006). Uncontrolled burning of wastes has contributed to health

hazards in many localities across India. In a particular study, involving the neighborhood of

Garia in Kolkata, open dumping and burning of waste has led to the accumulation of

polychlorinated dibenzo-dioxins(PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) in the soil

which further increases the risk of health hazards to its population. Furthermore, these dumping
Solid Waste Management in India 5

sites despite having carcinogenic and teratogenic effects, can also create fire hazards,

unsightliness and bad odor (De & Debnath, 2016).


The effective process of solid waste management requires measures in segregation, safe

handling, strategic processing and disposal. There are numerous challenges entailing developing

countries like India in every step of the process:

 Urbanization:

India, being one of the fastest growing economies of the world, deals with rapid

expansion and urbanization of its cities. The economic boost in the cities has attracted

people from all parts of the country to migrate to the big cities. With the existing problem

of over-population, the rate of solid wastes produced by these cities has increased

significantly. This has led to develop strain on the existing infrastructure as well as in

depletion of waste management resources (Shekdar, 2009).

 Segregation & Collection:

Segregation is the initial and considered the most vital step towards effective solid waste

management. When the waste is segregated at the source level, the pressure on

municipality corporations is reduced on a large scale. According to a study done in a

major city in India, 78.3% of the households did not participate in segregating the waste

before dumping. This clearly represents a lack of awareness and unregulated law system

in the segregation of solid waste from either households or community bins.

The collection of solid waste varies from city to city and is different from a rural

standpoint. The collection system comprises mainly the ardent task of door-door
Solid Waste Management in India 6

collection of solid waste through community cleaners. Certain cities and communities are

equipped with community bins, but collection varies with timing and availability of

workforce and disposal trucks. Certain rural areas are also poised with waste not being

collected for over a long duration on time (Ramachandra, Bharath, Kulkarni, & Han,


 Transportation and Disposal:

Another key challenge for India is allocating resources towards transportation. As it is a

labor intensive activity, allocating workforces as well as keeping up with the demands of

organizations amongst laborers is challenging for the municipalities. A majority of the

financial resources, about 80% are kept aside for salaries of the work forces,

transportation services as well as waste segregation. These are key areas where cost can

be reduced and resources better used by the use of alternatives. A vast majority of the

urban cities continue the practice of uncontrolled land dumping of their waste in nearby

low lying areas. There is added pressure on the current infrastructure as land fillings

continue to be a popular choice for the disposal of solid wastes leading to these sites

overflowing. There has also been a direct conflict with regard to availability of land as

the existing infrastructure is already being burdened. As majority of the cities look for

immediate options to deal with their waste woes, only 9% of the cities practice eco-

friendly options such as composting (Gupta, Mohan, Prasad, Gupta, & Kansal, 1998) .
Solid Waste Management in India 7

Alternative Options

At the core of the all the problems faced in India, the vision for effective waste

management should entail on recycling, recovery and reuse. Working models can be adopted

from developed countries such as Sweden, Japan, Singapore and America for effective solid

waste management. Eliminating landfills from the system and investing on a variety of legal

measures for waste handling and disposal can be a start. Investing on technology instead of

manpower, enhancing community awareness and participation, formulating strategies for

recycling can result in sustainable solid waste management. Changing strategies include:

 Awareness amongst citizens:

Programs need to be developed that focus on creating awareness amongst citizens

about the available resources and their civic responsibilities in waste segregation.

Countries such as Japan are highly invested into such programs which empower

citizens to lead by example and in turn have realistic expectations from the authorities

(Ahmed & Ali, 2004).

 Policy and framework:

In most of the developed countries, the policy and law encourages citizens to

engage in waste segregation at source. Failure to comply results in fines. A strict

framework, in terms of penalties can be adopted in India which would enforce waste

segregation amongst households as well as businesses (Shekdar, 2009).

 Characterization of waste:

Focus needs to be laid by governing authorities to characterize waste at collection

points as well as disposal sites. Separating inorganic waste, electronic waste and bio-
Solid Waste Management in India 8

degradable waste should be the responsibility of the waste producer. This strategy can

aid in efficient segregation and benefit the waste to energy plants.

 Investment in technology:

Recycling technologies adopted by countries such as Sweden and Hong Kong are

environment friendly options which have a tremendous opportunity for the recovery

useful materials from wastes. Several European countries also lay emphasis on

mandating high recycling percentages on its industries (Goddard, 1995). It aids in

reducing the waste load, cuts down transportation costs and can lead to significant

opportunity in economic gain as well as employment (Kaseva & Gupta, 1996).

Focusing on waste to energy technology such as bio-methane plants for solid waste

can pose as a beneficial option as it would considerably reduce the work load of

available landfills and provide with a renewable source of energy which could result

in managing economic costs (Ambulkar & Shekdar, 2004). Investment into existing

infrastructure, involving upgrading to thermal treatment technologies is a viable

option for the Indian cities. The various thermal procedures including pyrolysis,

gasification and incineration can reduce the volume of solid waste considerably and

the by-product produced, methane, can be utilized as an energy alternative. (Moya,

Aldás, López, & Kaparaju, 2017).

 Public and private partnership:

The authorities must encourage involvement from private sectors and

organizations to offer cost effective new technologies and in setting up

commercialized establishments which can generate revenue as well as balance

Solid Waste Management in India 9

sustainable management of solid waste. Countries such as China, Brazil and Mexico

have switched to their citizens in formulating projects which result in cleaning of the

environment as well as to cash in on the opportunities in waste management. (Potdar

et al., 2016).


India, with its economic development and transformation has a considerable backlog in

terms of solid waste management. The current situation in India relies on inadequate governance

and infrastructure coupled with a lack of public awareness and participation which continues to

cause damage to the environment as well as its public’s health. There is an urgent need to restore

waste management strategies by empowering citizens with knowledge. The citizens are the first

respondents to this waste challenge. Implementing best practices into them is the first stepping

stone in building new strategies for solid waste management. A combined systemic effort is

required to overcome various challenges including and not limited to changes in policy,

improvement on current infrastructure, adopting new technologies as well as encouraging

partnership with public and private sectors.

Solid Waste Management in India 10


1. Ahmed, S. A., & Ali, M. (2004). Partnerships for solid waste management in developing

countries: linking theories to realities. Habitat International, 28(3), 467–479.

2. Ambulkar, A. R., & Shekdar, A. V. (2004). Prospects of biomethanation technology in

the Indian context: a pragmatic approach. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 40(2),


3. Census of India Website : Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner,

India. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2018, from

4. De, S., & Debnath, B. (2016). Prevalence of Health Hazards Associated with Solid Waste

Disposal- A Case Study of Kolkata, India. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 35, 201–


5. Goddard, H. C. (1995). The benefits and costs of alternative solid waste management

policies. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 13(3), 183–213.

6. Gupta, S., Mohan, K., Prasad, R., Gupta, S., & Kansal, A. (1998). Solid waste

management in India: options and opportunities. Resources, Conservation and Recycling,

24(2), 137–154.

7. HOME :: Welcome to Central Pollution Control Board. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2018,


8. Kaseva, M. E., & Gupta, S. K. (1996). Recycling — an environmentally friendly and

income generating activity towards sustainable solid waste management. Case study —
Solid Waste Management in India 11

Dar es Salaam City, Tanzania. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 17(4), 299–309.

9. Lokeshwari, H., & Chandrappa, G. T. (2006). Impact of heavy metal contamination of

Bellandur Lake on soil and cultivated vegetation. Current Science (00113891), 91(5),


10. Moya, D., Aldás, C., López, G., & Kaparaju, P. (2017). Municipal solid waste as a

valuable renewable energy resource: a worldwide opportunity of energy recovery by

using Waste-To-Energy Technologies. Energy Procedia, 134, 286–295.

11. Needhidasan, S., Samuel, M., & Chidambaram, R. (2014). Electronic waste – an

emerging threat to the environment of urban India. Journal of Environmental Health

Science and Engineering, 12, 36.

12. Potdar, A., Singh, A., Unnikrishnan, S., Naik, N., Naik, M., Nimkar, I., & Patil, V.

(2016). Innovation in Solid Waste Management through Clean Development Mechanism

in Developing Countries. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 35, 193–200.

13. Ramachandra, T. V., Bharath, H. A., Kulkarni, G., & Han, S. S. (2018). Municipal solid

waste: Generation, composition and GHG emissions in Bangalore, India. Renewable and

Sustainable Energy Reviews, 82, 1122–1136.

14. Shekdar, A. V. (2009). Sustainable solid waste management: An integrated approach for

Asian countries. Waste Management, 29(4), 1438–1448.
Solid Waste Management in India 12

15. US EPA, O. (2016, January 10). Criteria for the Definition of Solid Waste and Solid and

Hazardous Waste Exclusions [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved May 13, 2018, from