Rationale for Solid Waste Management

Some countries have achieved considerable success in solid waste management. But the rest of the world is grappling to deal with its wastes. In these places, improper management of solid waste continues to impact public health of entire communities and cities; pollute local water, air and land resources; contribute to climate change and ocean plastic pollution; hinder climate change adaptation; and accelerate depletion of forests and mines.

Compared to solid waste management, we can consider that the world has achieved significant success in providing other basic necessities like food, drinking water, energy and economic opportunities. Managing solid wastes properly can help improve the above services further. Composting organic waste can help nurture crops and result in a better agricultural yield. Reducing landfilling and building sanitary landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can help provide cleaner drinking water. Energy recovery from non-recyclable wastes can satiate significant portion of a city’s energy requirement.

Inclusive waste management where informal waste recyclers are involved can provide an enormous economic opportunity to the marginalized urban poor. Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payers money for other issues. In the case of India, sustainable solid waste management in 2011 would have provided

  • 9.6 million tons of compost that could have resulted in a better agricultural yield
  • energy equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil from non-recyclable wastes
  • 6.7 million tons of secondary raw materials to industries in the form of recyclable materials and livelihood to the urban poor

Solid waste management until now has only been a social responsibility of the corporate world or one of the services to be provided by the municipality and a non-priority for national governments. However, in Mumbai, the improperly managed wastes generate 22,000 tons of toxic pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous and sulfur oxides in addition to 10,000 grams of carcinogenic dioxins and furans every year. These numbers are only for the city of Mumbai. This is the case in cities all across the developing world. There are numerous examples where groundwater is polluted by heavy metals and organic contaminants due to solid waste landfills.

Solid waste management expenditure of above $ 1 billion per year competes with education, poverty, security and other sustainable initiatives in New York City. Fossil fuels for above 500,000 truck trips covering hundreds of miles are required to transport NYC’s waste to landfills outside the city and state. Similarly, New Delhi spends more than half of its entire municipal budget on solid waste management, while it is desperate for investments and maintenance of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Solid waste management is not just a corporate social responsibility or a non-priority service anymore. Improper waste management is a public health and environmental crisis, economic loss, operational inefficiency and political and public awareness failure. Integrated solid waste management can be a nation building exercise for healthier and wealthier communities. Therefore, it needs global attention to arrive at solutions which span across such a wide range of issues.

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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9 Responses to Rationale for Solid Waste Management

  1. Integrated Solid Waste Management is a responsibility of each and every individual, as it benefits all as a part of the society and the environment. Also, it is practically not possible to do it without the community participation, along with government and corporates. We need to focus on a strategy for managing this issue by developing industry wise models, as industries differ in the type, situation and resources for the waste and its management. Like, my focus is on hospitality sector which is a major contributor of organic waste in the landfill besides the household. As a Fulbright scholar from India, I am working on the hotel waste management at Penn State University, Pennsylvania. I have found that though there are many similarities, but waste management in hotels need different strategies for India and USA. The type of waste generated differs a lot, plus the regulations and laws are so different, In US hotels need to pay to throw (haul) their waste, but in India hotels are paid to throw (haul) their waste. Thus, industry wise models may be developed to control this menace. Second thing which may bring quick change and adoption is education. People are not much aware about the issues and drastic consequences of climate change and waste management in India. There is not much effort in this direction. A quick solution is to make solid waste management as compulsory part of education at various levels, starting from schools to college. Also, It should be taught to practice in schools, which can bring sudden improvement in the overall thinking and practice as it happens in US. Waste segregation is a kind of addiction (for good cause), once kids learn to segregate trash before throwing it in the dustbin, it is much more likely that they follow it forever. People who do it, agree that it becomes almost like a second nature to them.

    • Dr. Nirpendra, yes you are right. I agree with everything you said. Community participation – public awareness (of not just climate change, but also public health impacts and environmental degradation – read “Solid Waste Management – India’s Burning Issue” on this website) – education – policy and regulations are all important.


  2. shanel says:

    this matter is amazing…………… it provided me great help to complete my assignment…….
    all thanks to Ranjith sir………….

  3. Nikita khatate says:

    Garbage are not properly disposal. can be spread of disease. It if is not proper waste disposal leads to pollution. Effect of ground water get contaminated to landfills. It is effect of environment and health

  4. femi idowu-Ajibogun says:

    An Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan must be in place and implementation for developing and underdeveloped countries of the world, MSW is a resource for development and growth if it’s taken seriously and properly managed by every individuals, Local municipality and National government policy and implementation. The MSW sustainable management in developing countries is suffering from political lip service.

  5. Pingback: Waste-to-Energy in China: Perspectives

  6. Is always good when we think how to close the loop in a circular economy but we should make sure our facts are factual.

    In one of you article I just saw you talked of 0.5 kg per capita and here you talk of 3 million per year.

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