Solid Waste Management in India: An Overview, Policy Frameworks, Government Initiatives and Opportunities

Are you someone who throws garbage out on the road? If not, do you throw it in dustbins? Do you dispose the garbage in the municipality’s garbage van or give it to a waste-picker or a rag-picker? Do you wonder where all the solid waste from your households, shops, public spaces and other establishments go? If these questions are relatable, then you may get a clearer picture in this article about India’s efforts towards Solid Waste Management (SWM).

SWM has emerged as one of the massive development challenges in urban India. Urban areas in India generate more than 1,00,000 metric tonnes (MT) of waste per day (CPHEEO, 2000). In metro cities, an individual produces an average of 0.8 kg/ waste/ person daily.

What comprises the Solid Waste?

Solid waste includes discarded solid fractions, generated from domestic units, commercial establishments, trade centers, industries, agriculture, public spaces, etc. One may categorize it in three ways consistent with its: Origin (domestic, commercial, industrial, construction or institutional); Contents (organic material, glass, metal, plastic paper, etc); Hazard potential (toxic, non-toxic, infectious, flammable, radioactive, etc). Out of all kinds of waste, municipal solid waste (MSW) accounts for 62 million tonnes annually in urban India (Planning Commission Report, 2014). It also predicted an increase to 165 million tonnes by 2030.

Mismanagement of Solid Waste

SWM includes collection, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of waste. India’s solid waste collection efficiency is around 70 per cent (43 million tonnes) at present, while it’s almost 100 percent in many developed countries. Out of total collection, about 12 million tonnes are treated, and it dumped 31 million tonnes in landfill sites. This leaves most of the waste hanging within the ecosystem causing adverse effects on urban ecology and health including — soil and water contamination, air pollution, various diseases causing harm to the living organisms, damage to human development, extreme weather caused by climate change, etc. Policy and legislative tools can address the ill-effects of solid waste.

Policy and Legal Framework for SWM in India

The Government of India (GOI) enacts various acts, rules, and regulations regarding SWM. Amongst which, Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 is the most vital legislation. New SWM Rules, 2016 replaced these old rules. The new rules now apply beyond municipal areas and included urban agglomerations, census towns, notified industrial townships, areas under the control of Indian Railways, airports, special economic zones, places of pilgrimage, religious and historical importance, and state and central government organizations in their ambit.

According to the 12th Schedule of the Constitution of India, urban local bodies (ULBs) are responsible for keeping cities and towns clean. However, most ULBs lack adequate infrastructure, financial incentives, regulatory oversight, political will, coordination between centre and states and awareness among the masses. These problems cause hurdles to the sustainable SWM. Government is taking the steps to overcome the problems through various policies and programmes and community participation.

Recent Government Initiatives

The SWM sector has seen positive changes during the past decade.

1. Swachha Bharat Mission – Urban (SBM-U): With the enactment of new rules, it started door-to-door collection, segregation at source, etc.

2. Swaccha Survekshan: An annual survey of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India. It launched as a part of the SBM-U under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). It gives star ratings to garbage-free cities and towns on several factors.

3. Swachhata Hi Sewa Campaign: for ensuring cleanliness through the various stakeholders’ engagement in the “Jan Andolan” (National Movement).

4. Compost Banao, Compost Apnao Campaign: a multi-media campaign launched by MoHUAon waste-to-compost under SBM-(U). The aim is to encourage people to convert their kitchen waste into compost to be used as fertilizer and to reduce the amount of waste getting to landfill sites.

5. Collection and disposal of Sanitary Waste under new rules: The standing committee on urban development revealed that 2,000 tonnes of sanitary waste is generated in India a day.

6. Promotion of Waste to Energy: Ministry of new and Renewable Energy (MNRE) launched Program on Energy from Urban, Industrial, Agricultural waste/residues and Municipal Solid Waste to promote setting up of Waste-to-Energy projects and to provide central financial assistance.

7. SWM is also a part of the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (2010), which is one of the eights missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) and addresses sustainability concerns associated with habitats, primarily urban areas.

8. Extended Producer Responsibility: under E-waste and Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016

We have to take part in government’s efforts towards SWM and emphasize on creation of role model towns and cities.

Best Practices in SWM in India

1. PPP between Pune Municipal Corporation and SWaCH, a cooperative of self-employed waste-pickers, to enhance the door-to-door collection.

2. Parisar Vikas Program: An initiative supported by Stree Mukti Sanghatan and Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation involving waste-pickers in community level recycling and processing.

3. Waste-to-Energy bio-methanation plant at Koyambedu wholesale vegetable market, Chennai.

4. Wake-up Clean-up Campaign and zero waste program involving the community in SWM by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

5. Exnora Green Pammal: Door-to-door collection, transportation and waste processing services using PPP to establish sustainable waste management systems in small towns.

6. Trashcon: a technology startup providing complete end-to-end technology like ‘TrashBot’ that sorts the waste and recycles it, thus convert every bit of waste to value.

7. Engage-14: An initiative by Gangtok Municipal Corporation to engage school students and generate awareness about sustainable waste management.

Government initiatives and society’s best practices need to be supported and speed up by technology and innovation. One must learn from these practices and innovate further to visualize the goal of sustainable SWM.

Innovation and Opportunities within the SWM sector

1. Smart waste management: digitization in waste collection and disposal operations will create improved data quality and better insights into waste streams during operations, real-time monitoring of collection and transportation and efficient assessment mechanism.

2. Circular Economy: In contrast to the ‘produce-consume-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is based on a restorative or regenerative design of industries, businesses, processes, etc. which minimizes/eliminates the waste and promotes sustainability throughout the life cycle. Treating waste as a potential resource and recovering materials from waste streams through recycling  might generate revenue  and make the value chain self-sustaining.

3. Public-Private Partnerships: ULB’s and city planners should work with private trash and recycling companies to design impactful programs.

4. New ideas: innovations on the lines similar to the city of Songdo in South Korea where, all household waste is sucked directly from individual kitchens through a vast underground network of tunnels, to waste processing centers, where it’s automatically sorted, deodorized and treated.

5. Smart Waste Corporation or SWC: a set of three ‘smart’ garbage cans provided for free to every home. Green can is for organic waste. The blue can take in recyclables, like paper, plastics and metals. A third, orange can is reserved for any non-recyclables like leather, thermocol or synthetic rubber products. These are SIM embedded cans that give SWC credits or cash for each kilo of garbage deposit. (From ‘Invertonomics’ by Goonmeet Singh Chauhan).

According to ‘What a Waste 2.0’ report, waste management can be the single highest budget item for several local administrations. In low-income countries like India, it comprises 20% of municipal budgets, on average. Therefore, a focus on data, planning, financing and integrated waste management is desired. Use of the 4 Rs principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recovery or Reclaim shall be promoted. In an era of rapid urbanization and population growth, solid waste management is critical for sustainable, healthy, egalitarian, and inclusive cities and communities.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

4 thoughts on “Solid Waste Management in India: An Overview, Policy Frameworks, Government Initiatives and Opportunities”

  1. I like the topic coverage. It gives us the in depth knowledge and importance of solid waste management.
    Also I would like to know about unemployment in India. It is very crucial topic nowadays.
    Thank you.

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