Waste Management in India: Status, Challenges and Solutions – Explained, pointwise

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India is set to undergo rapid urbanization in the coming decade. One major challenge accompanying the urbanization is rapid rise in waste generation. Waste Management Processes and Systems in India will need to be upgraded to meet this challenge.

What is the status of Solid Waste Generation in India?

Overall Solid Waste Management Status

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the total quantity of Solid waste generated in the country is ~160,000 metric tonnes per day (TPD). ~153,000 TPD of waste is collected at a collection efficiency of ~96%. 80,000 TPD (50 %) of waste is treated and ~30,000 (18.4%) TPD is landfilled. ~50,000 TPD (31.2 %) of the total waste generated remains un-accounted.

Per-capita Solid Waste Generation has increased marginally from 118.7 gm/day in 2015-16 to 119.1 gm/day in 2020-21.

Maximum quantity of per capita solid waste is generated in Delhi.

Processing of solid waste has improved significantly from 19% in 2015-16 to ~50% in 2020-21. In the corresponding period, proportion of solid waste landfilled has fallen from 54% to 18.4%.

100% of solid waste is treated in Chhattisgarh, followed by 89% in Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli (DDDNH) and 87% in Goa.

According to a World Bank Report, globally 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated annually, of which at least ~33% is not managed in an environmentally safe manner. Global per capita waste generation is 740 gm/day (average) but varies from 110 gm/day to 4.54 kg/day across countries. High Income countries contribute 34% to global waste generation despite having only 16% of the population.

What are the challenges in Solid Waste Management in India?

Rising Waste Generation: Economic growth leads to increase in waste generation consequent to rise in consumption. Expansion of digital economy will lead to multifold increase in e-waste generation. In addition, rapidly expanding population will add to waste. A Planning Commission Report (2014) had estimated that India will generate 165 million tonnes by 2030 (~60 million tonnes annual in 2020).

Improper Waste Management: (a) Poor Processing: Only 50% of the waste is processed. ~30% is not accounted and ~20% ends up in landfills which is very poor method of disposal (b) Incorrect and Inadequate Segregation Techniques: There is poor segregation at source, Hazardous waste is not sealed and labeled which leads to their improper disposal. In addition e-waste is not disposed properly; (c) Reuse/recycling of waste occurs through scavengers in the informal sector and there is no Government collection of recyclables; (d) Often garbage is not placed in designated containers, leading to dirty streets.

Littering and Illegal Dumping: In terms of disposal, almost half of waste is placed in uncontrolled dumps; sanitary landfills with leachate collection and gas recovery are not available. This has detrimental environmental impacts

Lack of Financial Resources: Lack of financial resources with local bodies lead to understaffed and underpaid cleaning and sanitation departments. Collection infrastructure (like vehicles) is poorly maintained. Lack of funds prevents purchase of new equipment and vehicles.

Inconsistent Collection: Understaffing and under-compensation leads to inconsistent collection of waste. Sanitation workers do not serve all areas.

Inappropriate Infrastructure: Vehicles used to waste collection are not designed for this purpose. This often leads to overloading which results in spillage during transportation. Vehicles do not have lifting mechanisms, so loading is done manually which is unhygienic and hazardous.

Lack of Civic Responsibility: Limited environmental awareness combined with low motivation has inhibited innovation and the adoption of new technologies that could transform waste management in India. Public attitudes to waste are also a major barrier to improving SWM in India.

What are the harmful impacts of poor Waste Management?

Health Issues: (a) Improper and unscientific collection and handling leads to several diseases in sanitation workers; (b) Municipal waste is often mixed with hazardous and medical wastes, which exacerbates health threats; (c) Open burning of waste leads to formation of harmful particles which can cause lung diseases; (d) Poor collection leads to garbage dumps which act as breeding ground for rats and mosquitoes etc. Mosquitoes act as carriers of diseases like malaria and dengue.

Environmental Issues: (a) Unscientific dumping in landfill leads to formation of harmful chemicals which permeate into soil and groundwater. This renders groundwater unfit for drinking and cause multiple diseases; (b) Waste in landfills leads to formation of harmful gases leading to air pollution. Composition of gases depends upon type of waste but typically methane and carbon dioxide make up 90 to 98% of landfill gases. The remaining 2 to 10% includes nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, hydrogen and various other gases. They contribute to global warming as well; (c) A lot of land-based waste eventually ends up in sea leading to marine pollution.

Economic Impacts: (a) Expanding landfills occupy useful land and lead to wasteful utlization of an economic resource; (b) Recycling of waste can lead to cost economies and generate revenue as well. Poor waste management misses this useful opportunity; (c) Poor waste collection leads to clogging of drains, which has become a factor in urban flooding leading to economic losses; (d) Poor waste management leads to general filth in cities which impacts tourism potential.

What steps have been taken by the Government regarding Waste Management?

Institutional Arrangement: In India, waste management is governed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and the ULBs (12th Schedule of the Constitution).

Policy and Legal Framework for Waste Management in India: The Government of India (GOI) has formulated various Rules and Regulations regarding solid waste management (SWM). These include Solid Waste Management Rules, e-Waste Management Rules, Plastic Waste Management Rules etc. These rules are updated periodically and have been formulated under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Read More: Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022 – Explained, pointwise

Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 are applicable beyond municipal areas and include 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.

Government Initiatives: (a) Swachha Bharat MissionUrban (SBM-U): With the enactment of new rules, door-to-door collection, segregation at source, etc. has been initiated; (b) Swaccha Survekshan: An annual survey of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India is undertaken. It has been 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 and acts as incentives for cities to do better; (c) Swachhata Hi Sewa Campaign: It has been launched for ensuring cleanliness through the various stakeholders’ engagement in the ‘Jan Andolan‘ (National Movement); (d) Compost Banao, Compost Apnao Campaign: It is a multi-media campaign launched by MoHUA on 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; (e) Promotion of Waste to Energy: The 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.

Read More: Waste to Energy Plants: Benefits and Concerns – Explained, pointwise
What more steps can be taken to improve Waste Management?

Scientific Waste Management: The waste management planning should be based on sound scientific and engineering studies. They should consider waste composition, capital and long-term operating costs, transport distances, and the geographical location of waste processing and disposal facilities. Comprehensive waste characterization studies are needed to obtain accurate data for solid waste management planning.

Waste Collection: To improve collection practices, a number of improvements should be considered, including more regular service by sweepers, daily waste collection (rather than alternate days), use of mechanized vehicles, better coordination between timing of waste generation and collection, and increased accessibility for waste collection vehicles.

Merging the informal and formal waste collection sectors has the potential to streamline the segregation and collection process.

Improved Practices: (a) Decentralized Solid Waste Management: It is an approach in which the informal sector provides source-segregated waste collection and treatment at the local level, avoiding transport to a centralized waste facility in order to reduce costs. Decentralized approaches may also promote more citizen and local stakeholder involvement in planning and decision-making; (b) Recycling: It has great potential to expand in India. Policies and regulations to support recycling are needed; (c) Processing: For treating organic waste processes like composting, vermi-composting and bio-methanation should be considered to reduce the amount of organic waste that goes to open dumps or landfills. Initiatives like Compost Apnao need to be scaled-up; (d) Sanitary Landfills: The conversion of existing dumps to sanitary landfills is a critical need. To accomplish this, the enforcement of rules, regulations, and bylaws, along with proper funding, are required. Technical expertise and financial feasibility are key barriers which must be addressed; (e) Smart Waste Management System: In the long term, technology like (Internet of Things) can be integrated into waste management e.g., RFID-Enabled Door-to-door waste collection monitoring can enhance collection efficiency and GPS based vehicle tracking can help in real time monitoring.

Waste-to-energy: Bio-methanation (anaerobic digestion) uses micro-organisms to convert the organic waste into methane, which can be used as fuel. Bio-methanation plants should be scaled up.

Strict Implementation of Rules: Waste Management Rules have incorporated have incorporated ‘Polluter Pays Principle‘. The rules need to be stringently implemented to penalize non-compliance.

Public Awareness: Self- help groups, residents’ welfare associations, and community-based organizations should be encouraged to educate and acquaint people with beneficial waste management strategies, including separation, recycling modes, and drop off centers for recyclables, as well as composting.


As India undergoes rapid urbanization, multifold increase in waste generation will provide a new governance challenge. The Government must scale up its existing efforts to improve waste management. At the same time, public participation is vital and without their contribution, Government efforts might remain ineffective.The refore, it is desired to place more emphasis on information, planning, funding, unified waste management along with community education. The 4 R’s philosophy of Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, and Recovering Resources should be actively encouraged.

Syllabus: GS III, Conservation, Environment Pollution and Degradation.

Source: The Hindu, CPCB, WB

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