Waste Management Outlook for India

Waste management crisis in India should be approached holistically; while planning for long term solutions, focus on addressing the immediate problems should be maintained. National and local governments should work with their partners to promote source separation, achieve higher percentages of recycling and produce high quality compost from organics. While this is being achieved and recycling is increased, provisions should be made to handle the non-recyclable wastes that are being generated and will continue to be generated in the future.

Recycling, composting and waste-to-energy are all integral parts of the waste disposal solution and they are complementary to each other; none of them can solve India’s waste crisis alone. Any technology should be considered as a means to address public priorities, but not as an end goal in itself. Finally, discussion on waste management should consider what technology can be used, to what extent in solving the bigger problem and within what timeframe.

Experts believe India will have more than nine waste-to-energy projects in different cities across India in the next three years, which will help alleviate the situation to a great extent. However, since waste-to-energy projects are designed to replace landfills, they also tend to displace informal settlements on the landfills. Here, governments should welcome discussions with local communities and harbor the informal recycling community by integrating it into the overall waste management system to make sure they do not lose their rights for the rest of the city’s residents.

This is important from a utilitarian perspective too, because in case of emergency situations like those in Bengaluru, Kerala, and elsewhere, the informal recycling community might be the only existing tool to mitigate damage due to improper waste management as opposed to infrastructure projects which take more than one year for completion and public awareness programs which take decades to show significant results.

Involvement of informal recycling community is vital for the success of any SWM program in India

Indian policy makers and municipal officials should utilize this opportunity, created by improper waste management examples across India, to make adjustments to the existing MSW Rules 2000, and design a concrete national policy based on public needs and backed by science. If this chance passes without a strong national framework to improve waste management, the conditions in today’s Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Coimbatore and Srinagar will arise in many more cities as various forcing factors converge. This is what will lead to a solid waste management crisis affecting large populations of urban Indians.

The Indian Judiciary proved to be the most effective platform for the public to influence government action. The majority of local and national government activity towards improving municipal solid waste management is the result of direct public action, funneled through High Courts in each state, and the Supreme Court. In a recent case (Nov 2012), a slew of PILs led the High Court of Karnataka to threaten to supersede its state capital Bengaluru’s elected municipal council, and its dissolution, if it hinders efforts to improve waste management in the city. In another case in the state of Haryana, two senior officials in its urban development board faced prosecution in its High Court for dumping waste illegally near suburbs. India’s strong and independent judiciary is expected to play an increasing role in waste management in the future, but it cannot bring about the required change without the aid of a comprehensive national policy.

Note: Acknowledgements will be published in the full report “Observations from India’s Crisis” on wtert.org and blog.wtert.org

About Ranjith Annepu

Ranjith Annepu worked as a consultant for the World Bank and advises the Foundation for Sustainable Waste Resource on solid waste management. Annepu is also the Coordinator of the Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council (WTERT) - India at Columbia University. His work focuses on integrated solid waste management and he recently published his research on “Sustainable Solid Waste Management in India". He holds a Master’s degree in Earth and Environmental Engineering from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. He writes regularly at blog.wtert.org and maintains swmindia.blogspot.com
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6 Responses to Waste Management Outlook for India

  1. There is no doubt India’s waste management challenges are real and bellowing. Various players have to play proactive roles in their respective areas and see to it that the menace that the waste poses is dealt with efficiently and firmly. Recyclables, organic, construction and demolition debris (a real threat to the landfills), non-recyclables, etc. are handled in meaningful ways while keeping the cardinal principle in mind – Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. Threats from thermocol, thin, multilayer and metallized plastic films, construction and demolition debris can be met evenly by converting them to useful products for burgeoning construction sector – building homes for the homeless millions! We have done some efforts and taken steps to implement light weight brick/block project on a small scale.
    Surendra Mohnot
    Spa Group

    • Hello Surendra,

      You are right about the challenges and the principle to be followed.

      it will be interesting to know more about your efforts.

      Thank you for stopping by to comment

  2. Piyush says:

    Your work on waste to energy is very informative and I liked your report on Solid Waste Management in India, which provide the details study of the total waste generated from India…. Hope to see India soon generating energy from waste.

    • Salman Zafar says:

      Piyush
      Thanks for your kind and encouraging words. Waste-to-energy is slowly, but steadily, gaining ground in India and let us look forward to witnessing successful initiatives in India in the near future.
      Best wishes
      Salman

    • Hello Piyush, the Okhla Timarpur plant in New Delhi has been generating energy from municipal wastes for the last 14 months. Yes, let us hope the rest of India follows. While hoping for more municipal solid waste to energy, we should remember that generating energy is required not for the technology sake, but for its ability to solve India’s garbage problem.

      Thank you for stopping by

  3. Removal of wastage is not only essential for the cleaning of our environment but for our own health related issues as well .

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