Solid waste management in India – 9 Basic things you ought to know

Segregation of garbage - A component of solid waste management in India

Tips for sound solid waste management in India

The stench on the roadside and sight of animals feeding on waste is becoming a common phenomenon in the country. Rapid urbanisation, rising population and lack of ownership are key problems facing solid waste management in India. While I say lack of ownership, quality of waste disposed from homes and a litter-free lifestyle are key qualities that citizens are yet to display. Taking ownership of the waste disposed out of our houses, automatically leads to source segregation and recycling.

My heart goes out to our PM, who wields the broom to send out the message of Swaccha Bharat Sreshtha Bharat while we negligently throw that coffee cup or a toffee wrapper out of the car on the main road. The feeling of oneness, one family, and one home is yet to find space amongst the Indian society when it comes to managing waste.

With growing population, it is increasingly difficult for the government to monitor and manage activities of every citizen. Its key to understand that it’s we who make or break the system and finally complain about it.

I have attempted to throw light on some basic things we ought to know about solid waste management in our cities. Understanding the system better would help us blend and improve alongside it.

1. An Introduction: What is waste management?

Solid waste management (SWM) refers to the organized process of collection, transportation, processing and final disposal of solid wastes. The definition of waste management also includes reuse, material recovery and recycling in an environmentally acceptable manner. The local governments are always under pressure to perform and ensure cleaner living places for the citizens. However, it has been a major cause of concern for policy makers ever since people started to dwell in groups or residential areas.

According to the CPREEC, MOEF&CC, solid waste management is defined as the “the discipline associated with the control of generation, collection, storage, transfer and transport, processing and disposal of solid wastes in a manner that is in accord with the best principles of public health, economics, engineering, conservation, aesthetics and other environmental considerations”.

Although the terminology (“SWM”) looks so complicated, it is something that you and I have to incorporate from the levels of our house on a daily basis.

Two questions majorly define the way solid waste management systems function in your area:

  • Do you segregate waste into 3 different containers – Green (Biodegradable), White (Recyclable) and Black (Hazardous waste like batteries) ?
  • Does the safai Karamchari collecting waste from your house collect and transport it in the segregated manner?

2. Municipal Solid waste management in India: Who is responsible for this function?

Legislatively, the function of solid waste management in India essentially belongs to the municipalities and the rules in India mandates the authorities to provide this service to the citizens. Local municipalities are to ensure towns are clean and waste is being collected, processed and disposed considering environmental conditions. Although this is how the definition looks on paper it becomes the responsibility of every citizen to do their bit of source segregation and ensure smooth functioning of the waste management system.

You may find a list of municipal corporations in India here.

3. How can I contribute to the improvement of solid waste management in India?

  • Start composting your kitchen waste – The most ancient, efficient and cost effective in turning green kitchen waste into manure for your plants. You could follow simple methods provided in this video

  • Partner with waste management companies such as Waste Ventures or Pom Pom to sell your recyclables at a cost.

  4. Importance of solid waste management in points

  • According to a PIB press release, 75-80% of the municipal waste generated in India gets collected while 22-28% is processed. The release further mentions that if the cities continue to dump waste at the same rate, without treatment, it will need 1240 hectares of land for disposal per year. This in a way paints the overall picture of solid waste management in India.
  • The report submitted by the committee setup by Supreme Court in India in 1999, suggested twenty two types of diseases were associated with improper SWM practices. The report further goes on to clarify that it is important to ensure proper management of processing and disposal sites with special attention to cleaning up of slums and prevention of open defecation to ensure a healthy environment.
  • Solid waste management ensures clearance, processing and disposal of day to day waste. This helps avoid accumulation of waste heaps leading to degradation in health and environment standards. Efficient house to house collection is important to ensure good standards of solid waste management.
  • Planned solid waste management would ensure segregation of waste at source thereby encouraging reuse and recycle of disposables like plastic and metals
  • Solid waste management ensures safe and scientific disposal of inert waste into landfills.
  • Innovative efforts like the material recycling facilities would ensure efficient recycling of materials and help in non-disposal into the landfills.
  • Solid waste management ensures efficient collection of waste from primary collection points, households and other major sources.
  • The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by the government is trying to address most of these issues. Innovative schemes such as swachh vidyalaya swachh Bharat addressing sanitation and hygiene in schools have brought about light at the end of the tunnel. The awareness created by this scheme has elevated literacy levels relating to solid waste management in India.
  • Important inclusions such as “Introduction of material recycling centres” in the MSW 2016 rules have kept hopes of improvement alive. This apart, it also becomes the duty of the citizen to make his contribution. Teaching healthy habits of recycle and reuse to Kids can help secure future of the younger generation and the country.

5. What is the different classification of solid waste?

A general observation for any expert in India is that source segregation is missing. This leads to mixed waste being sent for processing and thereby lower qualities of compost and RDF being generated. Solid waste management in India has to improve from the grass root – ie. the citizen.

The solid waste ambit includes municipal, commercial, industrial, hazardous, biomedical, domestic and construction and demolition waste, garbage, rubbish, ash and sewage.

  • Municipal –Waste that are generated as a part of municipal activity for instance, sweeping waste, waste from markets, dead animal waste in broadly may include institutional and domestic waste depending on contexts of discussion.
  • Construction and Demolition waste – According to government figures 530 million of tonnes of C&D waste is generated in India. The number is only expected to increase exponentially with almost two thirds of buildings in India yet to be built. C&D waste although, inert in nature is found largely mixed with municipal solid waste. Recycling of this waste offers the best substitute for virgin materials used during construction.
  • Commercial waste – Waste generated from commercial establishments like hotels, restaurants and offices.
  • Domestic waste – Wastes that get generated from the households and residential areas is referred to as the domestic waste. Typically wastes from household activities include old newspapers, cooking food, empty bottles etc.
  • Biomedical waste – The CPREEC defines BMW as “any solid and/or liquid waste including its container and any intermediate product, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals
  • Ashes – Residual waste from burning of wood, charcoal, furnaces or heating systems in institutions.
  • Garbage – Mainly consist of animal and vegetable waste generated due to cooking food, large gathering etc.
  • Rubbish – Those waste produced from household apart from garbage and ash is termed as rubbish.

6. What are the different Sources of solid waste?

Waste generation can be largely divided into the following sources, the urban local body may track wastes from these sources to estimate the amount of waste being generated:

  • Households- This source refers to the waste being generated on a daily basis by individual houses. It’s measured in per capita/ per day. It is observed that household waste increasingly contain biodegradable content. However, houses with increased income may notice a rise in the levels of recyclable waste like packaging, metal etc.
  • Bulk waste generators – Very key for an urban local body to be monitoring waste generation figures from this source as they involve the commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants, offices and vegetable markets.
  • Industrial – Industries and their operations generate large quantities of waste. Management of Industrial waste generated is very important.
  • Institutional – Waste generated from schools, colleges, prisons and other government organisations/ buildings will be tracked as a part of institutional waste.
  • Construction Sites – developmental activities/ construction can lead to generation of a lot of C&D waste. These are recyclable in nature and include wood, plastics, rubber, concrete and wires.
  • Hospitals – Waste arising from nursing homes, hospitals within the ULB would majorly comprise of biomedical waste. These types of waste mainly consist of syringes, used cotton rolls, gloves, drugs to name a few.
  • Agricultural waste – This is another type of waste that could be generated from farm sites, yards, and cultivation sites. The waste majorly consists of plant residue, bottles of pesticides/ fertilisers used for cultivation purposes.

7. Impact of waste accumulation

municipal waste - An integral part of solid waste management in india

Waste Accumulation

Waste accumulated in the environmental media leads to degradation by lowering of the natural quality and interfering in the geo-cycles and food chains. Some possible ways of environmental degradation:

  1. Air pollution: Air quality around accumulated waste is a point of major concern for policy makers. Waste heaps produce unacceptable odour and landfill gas that need to be controlled. Other gases that get emitted from waste heaps include methane, ammonia, sulphides and carbon di oxide.
  2. Odour, Flies and rodents: Waste accumulation can make it a breeding ground for flies, rodents, insects that may be carriers of various diseases. Better management techniques help negate these effects.
  3. Leachate – When rain water percolates through accumulated waste, leachate, a concentrated fluid containing elevated levels of undesirable constituents drains out of it. This leads to pollution of ground water of the area and surrounding water bodies. This is the reason a scientifically designed landfill have leachate collection lines and plastic lining (HDPE) at the bottom to help tackle this issue.
  4. Health concerns associated with methane and carbon-di-oxide – These are colourless and odour less gases and have the capability of displacing oxygen in closed chambers. Exposure to these gases can cause adverse health impacts. Lack of adequate oxygen can cause breathlessness and faster heartbeat.
  5. Spoils the landscape- Accumulated waste tends to hamper the natural surrounding landscape of an area.
  6. Accumulated waste tends to disturb the food cycle and health of surrounding animals. For instance, cows feeding on garbage dumps unknowingly consume plastic covers that hampers their health.

8. Solid waste management in India: Types of waste processing techniques relevant to the country

One of the key parts of solid waste management in waste processing. Wastes generated from various sources as described above can be treated using various techniques. Some well know techniques are:

  1. Composting
  2. Waste to Energy
  3. Biomethanation
  4. Vermicomposting

But the selection of techniques for processing waste depends heavily on the charecteristics of waste being generated by the local population. It is observed that Indian waste is rich in biodegradable waste. Composting and Biomethanation are key techniques that could be used to process green waste. But again for a good yield of products it is key that input waste is segregated, which is seldom followed in India. Thus, it is critical to address the root problems such as source segregation for finding a solution to solid waste management in India. Unfortunately, trying to find a shortcut has burnt a hole in the pockets of the exchequer.

9. Barriers facing solid waste management in India

a. Lack of Source Segregation

b. Lack of effective awareness to bridge the cultural gap behind handling waste

c. Lack of standards defined for products such as RDF

d. Lack of cheap access to laborotaries for testing of waste products.

e. Lack of a win – win business model in the waste sector where every involved entity is on a revenue surplus.

f. Government support behind decentralized waste management (home composting units &  initiatives could improve.

10. Selective List of companies working in the domain of Solid waste management in India

These are a list of companies that operate in the waste management domain in India. The list provides only a select few and is not exhaustive in nature:

VermiGold - Experts in Vermicomposting and solid waste management in India





waste verntures - Waste management company in India





PomPom - Company involved in Solid Waste management in India






Attero - E-Waste Management company in India


Ramky - premiere solid waste management companies in India







IL&FS - Waste management company in India






The names mentioned above are highly selective. If you feel, I have missed out on any more names of companies who have been working as a part of solid waste management in India, please write in to me with your comments below.

Solid waste management in India - 9 Basic things you ought to know
Article Name
Solid waste management in India - 9 Basic things you ought to know
Rapid urbanization, rising population & lack of ownership are key problems facing solid waste management in India. Behavioral change is beginning to happen
Publisher Name
Waste and Environment
Publisher Logo

Leave a Comment