Solid Waste Management in India IAS Target

Solid Waste Management in India

29 Jul 2020

Category : Environmental Issue

Topic: Solid Waste Management in India

Solid waste means any garbage, sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant and other discarded materials. ‘Wastes’ are materials which are thrown out after using at the end of their intended life-span. Waste management is a collective activity involving segregation, collection, transportation, re-processing, recycling and disposal of various types of wastes.
Waste management differs for different types of wastes in different geographical locations such as urban, rural and hilly areas. The management of perilous domestic waste is the responsibility of the citizens, the local government, and the management of commercial, industrial. Hazardous waste is also the responsibility of the waste generators like commercial establishments, healthcare establishments, industries and the pollution control boards.

Sustainable waste management can be achieved through

  • strategic planning and fiscal incentives
  • institutional capacity building,
  • techno-economically viable technologies,
  • partnership between private and public sectors,
  • participation of communities

Solid Waste

Rapid industrialization and population explosion in India has led to the migration of people from villages to cities, which generate thousands of tons of MSW daily. The MSW amount is expected to increase significantly in the future as the country tries to attain an industrialized nation status. The Waste Generation pattern is dependent on the living style of the population.
The quantity of waste generated in Indian cities reported to be in the range from 0.2 to 0.6 kg/capita /day as per the “Manual on Solid Waste Management” estimated by Central Public Health & Environment Engineering Organization (CPHEEO), Ministry of Urban Development, and Government of India.

Important Facts

  • India is considered the world’s fifth largest electronic waste (e-waste) producer.
  • India discards about 18.5 lakh tonnes of e-waste each year and telecom equipment alone accounts for 12% of it.
  • India generates over 150,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day
  • According to MoEF, 62 million tonnes of waste is generated annually in the country by 377 million people living in urban. Currently, India is the world’s third-largest garbage generator-
    • out of which 5.6 million tonnes is plastic waste,
    • 0.17 million tonnes is biomedical waste,
    • toxic waste generation is 7.90 million tonnes every year
    • 15 lakh tonnes is e-waste
  • According to the World Bank, India’s daily waste generation would reach 377,000 tonnes by 2025. Merely 83% of waste is piled up and less than 30% is treated

Waste: Broad Categories of waste are-

Organic waste kitchen waste like peels of vegetables, flowers, leaves, fruit and many more
Toxic waste Expired medicines, paints, chemicals, bulbs, spray cans, canister, fertilizer and pesticide containers, batteries etc.
Recyclable Paper, glass, metals, plastics
Hospital waste such as clothes with blood, injections and more

Source and Types of Solid Waste in India

Source Typical waste generators Types of solid waste
Residential Single and joint-family dwellings food wastes, paper, cardboard, plastics, textiles, leather, yard waste, wood, glass, metals, ashes, special wastes like electronics, batteries, oil and household hazardous wastes
Industrial light and heavy manufacturing, fabrication, construction sites, power and chemical plants housekeeping waste, packaging, food, wastes, construction and demolition materials, hazardous, wastes, ashes, special wastes
Commercial stores, hotels, restaurants, markets, office buildings etc paper, cardboard, plastics, wood, food wastes, glass, metals, special wastes, hazardous wastes,
Institutional schools, hospitals, prisons, government center same as commercial
Construction and Demolition new construction sites, road fixing up, renovation sites, destruction of buildings wood, steel, concrete, dirt, debris etc
Municipal services street cleaning, landscaping, parks, beaches, other recreational areas, and waste water treatment plants landscape and tree trimmings, general waste from parks and sludge
Process (manufacturing etc) heavy and light manufacturing, refineries, chemical and power plants, mineral extraction and processing crops, mining, orchards, vineyards, dairies, feedlots, farms industrial process wastes, scrap materials, off specification products, slay, tailings
Agriculture crops, orchards, vineyards, dairies, feedlots, farms spoiled food wastes, Agricultural wastes, toxic wastes (pesticides)

The Effects of Solid Waste

Land Use The size of some landfills is inconceivable. In a society that generates substantial amount of garbage, land use for landfills becomes an issue. Specifically, in densely populated, high-consumption places like Japan; the amount of space is dedicated to storing garbage disturbing to residents. Solutions include recycling, alleviating of packaging, and lowering consumption rates.
Toxins Many types of objects that are thrown off contain toxic substances that can leach into soil and water, affecting the health of plants, animals and humans. Electronics contain mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and other metals that affect environmental health. Construction waste may contain asbestos, fossil fuel derivatives, and other toxic substances. Measures to control these substances are hampered by the fact that they are spread within millions of tons of less toxic trash, making their removal very troublesome.
Methane When trash and garbage are put into an enormous pile, they begin to rot. This rotting creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane exits the landfill and floats up into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. One of the best solutions to this problem actually turns it into a benefit: if the methane is caught as it escapes the landfill, it can be burned and turned into electric power. This solution has been already used at many landfill locations.
Smell One effect of solid waste disposal that is less severe but more familiar to many people is bad smell. Neighbors of landfills often complain about the smell that emanates from them, and this is one of the reasons that proposals for new landfills are frequently opposed by neighbors of proposed sites. While projects that use methane for power reduce the amount of noxious gases that escape a landfill, they don't totally out the bad smell. Given the size that landfills grow to, there is no readily available solution for the problem of smell.
Oceans The effect of human waste on the oceans is becoming more widely known since wide publicity has been given to the "garbage patch" in the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than the continental United States that is overrun with plastic trash. This is only the most dramatic example of the threat to oceans that is posed by human waste.
Unscientific disposal of solid waste The group at risk from the unscientific disposal of solid waste include – the population in areas where there is no proper waste disposal method, especially the primary school children; waste workers; and workers in facilities producing toxic and infectious material. Other high-risk group includes population living near to a waste dump and those, who's water supply has become contaminated either due to waste dumping or leakage from landfill sites. Uncollected solid waste also increases risk of injury, and infection.
Organic domestic waste In particular, organic domestic waste poses a sober threat, since they ferment, creating conditions favourable to the survival and growth of microbial pathogens. Direct handling of solid waste can result in various types of infectious and chronic diseases with the waste workers and the rag pickers is the most vulnerable.
Hazardous waste Disclosure of hazardous waste can affect human health and children is more vulnerable to these pollutants. In fact, direct exposure can lead to diseases through chemical exposure as the release of chemical waste into the environment leads to chemical poisoning. Many studies have been carried out in various parts of the world to establish a connection between health and hazardous waste.
Waste from agriculture Waste from agriculture and industries can also lead to serious health risks. Other than this, co-disposal of industrial hazardous waste with municipal waste can expose people to chemical and radioactive hazards. Uncollected solid waste can also obstruct storm water runoff, resulting in the forming of stagnant water bodies that become the breeding ground of disease. Waste dumped near a water source also causes contamination of the water body or the ground water source. Direct dumping of untreated waste in rivers, seas, and lakes results in the accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain through the plants and animals that feed on it.
Disposal of hospital waste Disposal of hospital and other medical waste needs special attention since this may create major health hazards. This waste generated from the hospitals, health care centres, medical laboratories, and research centres such as discarded syringe needles, bandages, swabs, plasters, and other types of infectious waste are mostly disposed with the regular non-infectious waste
Waste treatment Waste treatment and disposal sites can also create health hazards for the neighbourhood. Improperly operated incineration plants cause air pollution and improperly managed and designed landfills attract all types of insects and rodents that spread disease. Ideally these sites should be located at a safe distance from all human settlement. Landfill sites should be well lined and walled to ensure that there is no leakage into the nearby ground water sources.
Recycling Recycling too carries health risks if proper precautions are not taken. Workers working with waste containing chemical and metals may experience toxic exposure. Disposal of health-care wastes require special attention since it can create major health hazards, such as Hepatitis B and C, through wounds caused by discarded syringes. Rag pickers and others who are involved in scavenging in the waste dumps for items that can be recycled, may sustain injuries and come into direct contact with these infectious items.

Solution to address Solid Waste Problem

Bioremediation Bioremediation uses natural and recombinant microorganisms to break down toxic and hazardous substances in a solid waste by aerobic and anaerobic means.
Biomining Biomining is the process of using microorganisms (microbes) to extract metals of economic interest from rock ores or mine waste. Biomining techniques may also be used to clean up sites that have been polluted with metals.
Laying down clear technical norms It is significant that Bio-mining and Bio-remediation is made mandatory for areas wherever it can be applied. It shouldn’t be left to the discretion of municipalities to decide whether there are geographical constraints that prevent the use of the aforementioned techniques.
Decentralization of waste management It is important that waste management is decentralized. Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh and Vellore present a very good example of the same where the waste was collected in a decentralized manner, composted naturally and is planted.
Awareness Campaign A massive awareness campaign in association with communities, NGOs, students and other stakeholders needs to be planned to push for better implementation of these rules. The Rules need to focus on making solid waste management a people's movement by taking the issues, concerns and management of solid waste to citizens and grass-roots.
Waste 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
Waste to energy Waste to energy is a key component of SWM. Installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants can reduce the load of landfill sites
Reinvention of waste management There is a need to bolster research and development so as to reinvent waste management system in India. The focus should be on recycling and recovering from waste, not landfill. Further, it is important to encourage recycling of e-waste so that the problem of e-waste can be resolved.
Public- Private Partnership Public- Private Partnership models for waste management should be encouraged

Methods of Solid Wastes Disposal:

Sanitary landfill Sanitary landfill, is the method to control disposal of municipal solid waste (refuse) on land. It is also called controlled tipping. Waste is deposited in thin layers (up to 1 metre, or 3 feet) and promptly compacted by heavy machinery (e.g., bulldozers); several layers are placed and compacted on top of each other to form a refuse cell (up to 3 metres, or 10 feet, thick). At the end of each day the compacted refuse cell is covered with a layer of compacted soil to prevent odours and windblown debris. All modern landfill sites are carefully selected and prepared (e.g., sealed with impermeable synthetic bottom liners) to stop pollution of groundwater or other environmental problems. When the landfill is accomplished, it is covered with a layer of clay and a synthetic liner in order to prevent water from entering. A final topsoil cover is placed, compacted, and graded, and various forms of vegetation may be planted in order to reclaim otherwise useless land—e.g., to fill declivities to levels convenient for building parks, golf courses, or other suitable public projects. See also solid-waste management.
Incineration Incineration is a waste treatment method that involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials. Incineration and other high-temperature waste treatment systems are elaborated as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, flue gas and heat. The ash is mostly formed by the inorganic constituents of the waste and may take the form of solid lumps or particulates carried by the flue gas. The flue gases must be cleaned of gaseous and particulate pollutants before they are broken out into the atmosphere. In some cases, the heat generated by incineration can be used to generate electric power.
Advantages of Incineration
  • Reduces Volume of Solid Waste
  • Power and Heat Generation
  • Reduces Pollution
  • Filters Trap Pollutants
Composting Another method of treating municipal solid waste is composting, a biological process in which the organic portion of refuse is allowed to decompose under carefully controlled conditions. Microbes metabolize the organic waste material and reduce its volume by as much as 50 percent. The stabilized product is known as compost or humus. It collects potting soil in texture and odour and may be used as a soil conditioner or mulch. Compo sting offers a method of processing and recycling both garbage and sewage sludge in one operation. As more stringent environmental rules and siting constraints limit the use of solid-waste incineration and landfill options, the application of composting is likely to increase.
The steps involved in the process include:
  • sorting and separating,
  • size reduction,
  • digestion of the refuse.

  • Sorting and shredding
    The decomposable materials in refuse are isolated from glass, metal, and other inorganic items through sorting and separating operations. These are carried out mechanically, using differences in such physical characteristics of the refuse as size, density, and magnetic properties. Shredding or pulverizing reduces the size of the waste articles, resulting in a uniform mass of material. It is accomplished with hammer mills and rotary shredders.
  • Digesting and processing
    Pulverized waste is ready for composting either by the open windrow method or in an enclosed mechanical facility. Windrows are long, low mounds of refuse. They are turned or mixed in every few days to provide air for the microbes digesting the organics. Depending on moisture conditions, it may take five to eight weeks for complete digestion of the waste. Because of the metabolic action of aerobic bacteria, temperatures in an active compost pile reach about 65 °C (150 °F), killing pathogenic organisms that may be in the waste material. Open windrow composting requires relatively large land areas. Enclosed mechanical composting facilities can diminish land requirements by 85 percent. Mechanical composting systems employ one or more closed tanks or digesters equipped with rotating vanes that mix and aerate the shredded waste. Complete digestion of the waste takes about one week.
  • Digested compost must be processed before it can be used as a mulch or soil conditioner. Processing includes drying, screening, and granulating or pelletizing. These steps increase the market value of the compost, which is the most serious constraint to the success of composting as a waste management option. Agricultural needs for digested compost is usually low because of the high cost of transporting it and competition with inorganic chemical fertilizers.
Pyrolysis Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures in an inert atmosphere. It involves a change of chemical composition and is irreversible. Pyro "fire" and lysis "separating".
Pyrolysis is most commonly used in the treatment of organic materials. It is one of the processes involved in charring wood. In general, pyrolysis of organic substances produces volatile products and leaves a solid residue enriched in carbon, char. Extreme pyrolysis leave mostly carbon as the residue, is called carbonization. The process is used heavily in the chemical industry, for example, to produce ethylene, many forms of carbon, and other chemicals from petroleum, coal, and even wood, to produce coke from coal. Aspirational applications of pyrolysis would convert biomass into syngas and biochar, waste plastics return into usable oil and safely disposable substances.

Issues, Shortcomings and Challenges

  • The technology requires drying of soil before treatment.
  • Limited performance data are available for systems treating hazardous wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and other organics. There is concern that systems that destroy chlorinated organic molecules by heat have the potential to create products of incomplete combustion, including dioxins and furans.
  • The molten salt is usually recycled in the reactor chamber. However, depending on the waste treated (especially inorganics) and the amount of ash, spent molten salt may be hazardous and require special care in disposal.
  • Pyrolysis is not effective in either destroying or physically separating in organics from the contaminated medium. Volatile metals may be removed as a result of the higher temperatures associated with the process, but they are not destroyed. By-products containing heavy metals may require stabilization before final disposal.
  • When the off-gases are cooled, liquids condense, producing an oil/tar residue and contaminated water. These oils and tars may be hazardous wastes, requiring proper treatment, storage, and disposal.
  • With rapid urbanization, there is substantial increase in solid waste generation which has strained the Solid Waste Management System
  • Most Urban local bodies in India struggling to provide efficient waste management services due to financial problems, lack of infrastructure and technology
  • Issues with segregation: Though solid waste management rules mandate source segregation of wastes, it has largely not been followed. Due to improper segregation of waste, much of recyclability of waste is lost.
  • Disposal of waste: Most of the municipal authorities deposit solid waste at open dump sites without any leachates treatment. These sites emanate foul smell and are breeding grounds for pests and insects causing disease. Liquid seeping out of waste pollutes groundwater and poses a serious threat to health and environment. Further, these landfill sites also introduce air pollution.
  • Processing/ recovery from waste: Most of the funds for solid waste management is allotted to collection and transportation, with very less left for processing or resource recovery and disposal. Also many waste-to-energy plants are non-operational.
  • Waste management sector- Workforce: The waste management sector in India is constituted primarily of the informal workers who come from the urban poor. The rag pickers, who are instrumental in waste recycling, are highly prone to health damages looking at poor work conditions.
  • Apathy on the part of management and also poor community participation is a major constraint in solid waste management in India

Solid waste is hazardous and risk to human life, environment and other organisms. So government came up with solid waste management rule 2016. Salient features of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016

  • The Rules are now applicable beyond Municipal areas and extend to urban agglomerations, census towns, notified industrial townships, areas under the control of Indian Railways, airports, airbase, Port and harbour, defence establishments, special economic zones, State and Central government organizations, places of pilgrims, religious & historical importance.
  • The source segregation of waste has been mandated to channelize the waste to wealth by recovery, reuse and recycle.
  • Responsibilities of Generators have been introduced to segregate waste in to three streams, Wet (Biodegradable), Dry (Plastic, Paper, metal, wood, etc.) and domestic hazardous wastes (diapers, napkins, empty containers of cleaning agents, mosquito repellents, etc.) and handover segregated wastes to authorized rag-pickers or waste collectors or local bodies.
  • Integration of waste pickers/ rag pickers and waste dealers/ Kabadiwalas in the formal system should be done by State Governments, and Self Help Group, or any other group to be formed.
  • No person should throw, burn, or bury the solid waste generated by him, on streets, open public spaces outside his premises, or in the drain, or water bodies.
  • Generator will have to pay ‘User Fee’ to waste collector and for ‘Spot Fine’ for Littering and Non-segregation.
  • Used sanitary waste like diapers, sanitary pads should be wrapped securely in pouches offered by manufacturers or brand owners of these products or in a suitable wrapping material and shall place the same in the bin meant for dry waste / non- bio-degradable waste.
  • The concept of partnership in Swachh Bharat has been introduced. Bulk and institutional generators, market associations, event organizers and hotels and restaurants have been made directly responsible for segregation and sorting the waste and manage in partnership with local bodies.
  • All hotels and restaurants should segregate biodegradable waste and set up a system of collection or follow the system of collection set up by local body to ensure that such food waste is used for composting /bio-methanation.
  • All Resident Welfare and market Associations, Gated communities and institution with an area >5,000 sq. m should segregate waste at source- in to valuable dry waste like plastic, tin, glass, paper, etc. and handover recyclable material to either the authorized waste pickers or the authorized recyclers, or to the urban local body.
  • The bio-degradable waste should be processed, treated and disposed of through composting or bio-methanation within the premises as far as possible. The residual waste shall be given to the waste collectors or agency as directed by the local authority.
  • The bio-degradable waste should be processed, treated and disposed of through composting or bio-methanation within the premises as far as possible. The residual waste shall be given to the waste collectors or agency as directed by the local authority.
  • New townships and Group Housing Societies have been made responsible to develop in-house waste handling, and processing arrangements for bio-degradable waste.
  • Every street vendor should keep suitable containers for storage of waste generated during the course of his activity such as food waste, disposable plates, cups, cans, wrappers, coconut shells, leftover food, vegetables, fruits etc. and deposit such waste at waste storage depot or vehicle as notified by the local authority.
  • The developers of Special Economic Zone, industrial estate, industrial park to earmark at least 5% of the total area of the plot or minimum 5 plots/ sheds for recovery and recycling facility.
  • All manufacturers of disposable products such as tin, glass, plastics packaging etc. or brand owners who introduce such products in the market shall provide necessary financial assistance to local authorities for the establishment of waste management system.
  • All such brand owners who sale or market their products in such packaging material which are non-biodegradable should put in place a system to collect back the packaging waste generated due to their production.
  • Manufacturers or Brand Owners or marketing companies of sanitary napkins and diapers should explore the possibility of using all recyclable materials in their products or they shall provide a pouch or wrapper for disposal of each napkin or diapers along with the packet of their sanitary products.
  • All such manufacturers, brand owners or marketing companies should educate the people for wrapping and disposal of their products.
  • All industrial units using fuel and located within 100 km from a solid waste based RDF plant shall make arrangements within six months from the date of notification of these rules to replace at least 5 % of their fuel requirement by RDF so produced.
  • Non-recyclable waste having calorific value of 1500 K/cal/kg or more shall not be disposed off on landfills and shall merely be used for generating energy either or through refuse derived fuel or by giving away as feed stock for preparing refuse derived fuel.
  • High calorific wastes should be used for co-processing in cement or thermal power plants.
  • Construction and demolition waste should be stored, separately disposed off, as per the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016
  • Horticulture waste and garden waste generated from his premises should be disposed as per the directions of local authority.
  • An event, or gathering organiser of more than 100 persons at any licensed/ unlicensed place, should ensure segregation of waste at source and handing over of segregated waste to waste collector or agency, as specified by local authority.
  • Special provision for management of solid waste in hilly areas:- Construction of landfill on the hill shall be avoided. A transfer station at a suitable enclosed location would be setup to collect residual waste from the processing facility and inert waste. Suitable land shall be identified in the plain areas, down the hill, within 25 kilometers for setting up sanitary landfill. The residual waste from the transfer station shall be disposed off at this sanitary landfill.
  • In case of non-availability of such land, efforts shall be made to set up regional sanitary landfill for the inert and residual waste.

Government put efforts to address solid waste management problem

Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has launched ‘My Home-My Neighborhood’ (Ghar Bi Saaf-Pados Bhi Saaf) campaign with the following six components:

  • Segregation of waste at source
  • Compost making from wet waste within the premises/ neighbourhood/area
  • Recycling of dry waste
  • Freeing the neighbourhood from open defecation and open urination
  • Motivating the residents of neighbourhood against throwing garbage in open spaces; and
  • Adopting a nearby park or open place for collection and waste segregation.


It is important that the decision-makers at all levels of government go for more innovative and green approaches rather than falling for the technology-extensive costly methods of waste disposal which are normally lobbied for by the manufacturers of such technologies. Right to a healthy environment is a fundamental right under Article -21 of Indian Constitution. Though, the Government plays an important role in waste management as per Article-48A. It should also be the responsibility of every citizen to enhance the quality of the environment around him/her (Art-51(A)G). Compost pits should be constructed in every locality to process organic waste. Community participation has a direct bearing on efficient waste management in the country.