Solid Waste Management – India’s Burning Issue

For the first time in the history of India, the year 2012 saw several public protests against improper solid waste management all across India – from the northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir to the southernmost Tamil Nadu. A fight for the right to clean environment and environmental justice led the people to large scale demonstrations, including an indefinite hunger strike and blocking roads leading to local waste handling facilities. Improper waste management has also caused a Dengue Fever outbreak and threatens other epidemics.

In recent years, waste management has been the only other unifying factor leading to public demonstrations all across India, after corruption and fuel prices. Public agitation resulted in some judicial action and the government’s remedial response, but the waste management problems are still unsolved and might lead to a crisis if this continues for too long without any long term planning and policy reforms.

Hunger Strike in Kerala

The President of Vilappilsala Village Panchayat went on a hunger strike recently, against her counterpart, the Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram is the state capital of Kerala, and Vilappilsala is a village 22 km away.

Since July 2000, about 80% of the waste generated in Thiruvananthapuram is being transported to a waste composting plant and a dumpsite in Vilappilsala village. Since the same month, respiratory illnesses reported in Vilappil Primary Health Center increased by 10 times from an average of 450 to 5,000 cases per month. People who used to regularly swim in the village’s aquifer started contracting infections; swarms of flies have ever since been pervasive; and a stigma of filth affected households throughout the community. This was a source of frustration as locals who, as Indians, prize the opportunity to feed and host guests, found them unwilling to even drink a glass of water in their homes. Currently, there is not a single household which has not experienced respiratory illnesses due to the waste processing plant and the adjoining dumpsite.

On the other hand, Thiruvananthapuram’s residents had to sneak out at night with plastic bags full of trash to dispose them behind bushes, on streets or in water bodies, and had to openly burn heaps of trash every morning for months. This was because the waste generated was not being collected by the City as it could not force open the composting plant and dumpsite against large scale protests by Vilappilsala’s residents. This is why in August – 2012, about 2,500 police personnel had to accompany trucks to the waste treatment plant as they were being blocked by local residents lying down on the road, and by some, including the village’s President, by going on an indefinite hunger strike.

Municipal Commissioner Replaced in Karnataka

In response to a similar situation in Bengaluru, the state capital of Karnataka, where the streets were rotting with piles of garbage for months, the municipal commissioner of the city was replaced to specifically address the waste management situation. Against the will of local residents, a landfill which was closed following the orders issued by the state’s pollution control board in response to public agitation had to be reopened soon after its closure as the city could not find a new landfill site.


Mavallipura landfill in Bangalore

Population density and the scale of increasing urban sprawl in India make finding new landfill sites around cities nearly impossible due to the sheer lack of space for Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) like waste management.

Dengue Outbreak in West Bengal

Even if partially because of improper waste management, Kolkata, state capital of West Bengal and the third biggest city in India experienced a Dengue Fever outbreak with 550 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. This outbreak coincides with a 600% increase in dengue cases in India and 71% increase in malarial cases in Mumbai in the last five years.

Accumulation of rain water in non biodegradable waste littered around a city act as a major breeding environment for mosquitoes, thus increasing the density of mosquito population and making the transmission of mosquito related diseases like dengue, yellow fever and malaria easier.

Rabies in Srinagar

Rabies due to stray dog bites already kills more than 20,000 people in India every year. Improper waste management has caused a 1:13 stray dog to human ratio in Srinagar (compared to 1 per 31 people in Mumbai and 1 per 100 in Chennai), where 54,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in a span of 3.5 years. Municipal waste on streets and at the dumpsite is an important source of food for stray dogs.

The ultimate solution to controlling stray dogs is effective waste management. The public has been protesting about this stray dog menace for months now with no waste management solutions in sight, but only partial short term measures like dog sterilization.

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 and maintains
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18 Responses to Solid Waste Management – India’s Burning Issue

  1. Nripendra says:

    Very well, Mr. Ranjith. It has been the limit of patience and sufferings for the common man. India is way ahead than many countries in the world, but they focus on the day to day problems of common man. If India needs to compete with the developed nations first and foremost is the basic needs like hygiene and sanitation. Solid Waste Management is an important concern, let us focus on it and help India to find a sustainable solution for it.

    • RK5 says:

      Managing solid wastes start from your door. People in india are careless and ignorant, they never cooperate and expect wonders from government. Indian govt is also smart, they just show their efforts on paper than doing in reality

  2. India generates around 100,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day. Out of this approx. 15,000 tons per day is plastic waste. At overall 60% recycling, surplus waste plastic is 6,000 tons per day which includes multilayer pouches, metallized films and packs, thermocol (Styrofoam), EPS disposable cups, plates, etc. such post consumer items which litter all around choking drains, defacing water bodies and beaches. Another item in MSW is construction and demolition debris (C&D debris) which comprises from 20 to 30% of it. These are real problems causing landfill volumes, environmental problems, etc.

    We are working on a project using these wastes and fly ash from thermal power plants (another burning issue) along with binding materials and cement with some specialty chemicals to make air cured light weight bricks / blocks. Comments welcome.

    • CHANDAN S says:

      Even me also very much interested in doing this project. Kindly make me as your team member.

      Chandan S

  3. Bruno Koehne says:

    Everything said in all the published articles is absolutely true. The MSW produced in outlying villages could be collected, say once a week from furnished containers, using a mobile unit that shreds, bales and wraps the MSW into 1.5 ton bales that now can be transported safely to a large WTE plant that uses the latest in gasification technology to convert the MSW into Electric Power, after extracting all recyclable material. Unfortunately, all this costs a lot of money and poor Governments can’t help. Like it always has been, financing this by private investors is hardly ever available. We need to change our approach to coming even close to “Zero Waste”, as everybody would like to have, because we keep talking about the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

    Bruno Koehne
    VP New Technology & Development
    Cell: 321.438.8661
    Fax: 1.888.823.7411
    Orlando Office:
    1003 Park Dr.
    Casselberry, FL 32707-3501

    • Ted Johnson says:


      You are right about all. There are companies that will invest to get it running, pay off their original debt ina short tiem, take a long term interest in recylcabl ans energy sales. Of course, the main goal is to just pass ownership to the municipalities.
      Ted Johnson

  4. Hello Mr. Bruno,

    Yes, we do need more global attention to waste management to change our view towards it. Here’s an article on that –


  5. William A. Lee says:

    Good article, Ranjith. My thougts align with those expressed by Mr Koehne above. Perhaps we can find a time to discuss the important issue- how can we break thorugh the barriers to affect change in India?

    William A. Lee
    Frontline BioEnergy
    423 762-4763

  6. anil says:

    article will open eyes of authority and decision maker.
    this can help people and enivornment

  7. Ted Johnson says:

    Yes, very good article. There is a solution to bring pickers and municipalities together, that of offering the pickers a better working environment, away from the landfills, providing them a higher return for their recyclables. assist in getting the municipalities to collect all urban and agricultural wastes before ever getting to the landfill, and turning around the remainders into clean energy production, and items for other markets, all accumulating to be reinvested into the municipalities and their popuations.

    I did a three year study on how to do this and designed the systems for implementation. I am willing to share this only with the municipalities, the organizations that are looking for a solution, such as UNDP, and the people who are considered as pickers.

    This will not only reduce the landfill needs by approximately 90%, depending on each communities actual landfill waste types, it will also abate or eliminate CO2 and Methane production from same.

    You can contact me at:
    Ted Johnson

  8. Vijayanpoikail says:

    Each comment looks for a common purpose, proper and sustainable management of solid waste especially in city areas. In many cases the decision makers target high budget projects with vested interests and without the participation of the stake holders. Small sustainable and eco-friendly units at house hold level can manage the 80% house hold garbage in urban areas, provided proper extension and follow up with trained local selected promoters.

  9. Surendra Mohnot says:

    There is a correction in the quantity of MSW generated in India – it is approx. 300,000 tons per day. 100,000 tons was a typographical error in my March 2013 comment! Out of this 5% is generally taken as plastic waste so other quantity estimated are OK. Another point I want to make here is that WtE (waste to energy) may not be good answer. Apart from totally losing all the organic nutrients, which can be retained as organic fertiliser/manure from the MSW by anaerobic digestion, which can be a very good alternative to chemical fertilisers. The plastics like thermocol (styrofoam), thin and metallised films, construction & demolition debris, etc. can be used to make lightweight bricks, blocks and panels for construction. Toilet blocks, which can be assembled at site, are one if the prime products which can use this technology. There are unlimited possibilities only one has to think out-of-the-box!

  10. kowshik says:

    Mr surendra Mohnot
    can you please contact .This is of interest to me.

  11. Ted Johnson says:

    You are correct in your potential uses. However, when you consider the cellulosics remaining you can use those not only for fertilizers and compost; you can also use portions for feed supplements for livestock. You can easily convert those to a very clean fuel source for waste to energy projects and also convert that fuel to Ethanol. We have done all simultaneously. Know thy wastes and know thy markets for a sustainable project.
    Best of luck on your endeavors and I am here to help.

    Ted Johnson

  12. Surendra Mohnot says:

    All those interested in use of thermocol (styrofoam / EPS) and C&D Debris, etc. can contact me directly at:
    for further discussion in the matter.
    Surendra Mohnot

  13. Dr Bharathi Prakash says:

    The waste management is a big and difficult to manage issue . At higher levels in every organizations these solid waste management issues should be tackled very seriously.
    Unless the rules and regulations are made stringent this will not be of any use.
    it needs to be utilized in a proper way without disturbing environment and people.

  14. Ted Johnson says:

    Dr. Prakash:

    You are right. In my experience of designs for MSW abatement for developing countries, every person will go out of their way to help any project proceed, especially for small communities, when energy is eventually available to them on a sustainable basis, 24/7, and they manage the development for a project that diverts an unwanted waste into a clean necessity for them. They divert the MSW away from a landfill to a processing plant for all wastes, and produce their own energy. Thus they know the significance of waste collection and what to do with it and why they are the only ones that control their own future. All being said, they reduce their energy costs, improve the environment significantly, and improve their economic situation, all in one simple strategy.

  15. Sarwar says:

    We all like your blog information, Great work!

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