The British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has designed a perfect garbage disposal system. It is very simple, transport a nice little black hole near to Earth, throw garbage into it and harness the energy that the black hole generates in return. Until we tame such a black hole and place it in the goldilocks region around the earth we will have to devise less efficient ways to deal with garbage. Urbanisation in the ancient world devised systems of drainage but the magnitude of the problem of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a feature of modern living.

Census data shows proportion of urban population in India has grown from 17.97% in 1961 to 31.16% in 2011. The annual exponential growth of this urbanization in the last decade has been around 2.76%. With such growth of urban centres and the changing habits of consumption the generation of MSW is expected to go up exponentially. To put the size of Indian urban population in perspective, it stands at 385 million whereas the population of USA is about 320 million.

For an effective system of municipal waste proper attention has to be given to door to door waste collection, Segregation of waste at source, proper transportation of waste and ecologically responsible disposal of waste. In September 2000 Ministry of Environment and Forest made the MSW Rules, 2000. The Status report on municipal solid waste by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) paints a rather dismal picture of how urban centres of India is dealing with MSW. This report has highlighted the following issues on the subject:

  • There is no short term and long term plan with municipal authorities to handle MSW in accordance with the MSW Rules, 2000

  • Majority of the municipalities do not have preparedness to set up waste processing and disposal facilities.

  • Waste management is being looked either for making wealth or generating revenue; or is otherwise allowed to putrefy in cities/towns

  • Cities and towns, in future, will not get wastelands for further dumping of wastes. In fact, there will be a need to go for total recycling and reuse of waste and aim for negligible or zero waste landfilling

The report further goes on to explain the difficulties in identifying areas for landfills, due to public resistance. This is caused by rapid urbanisation, increasing land prices and absence of having a proper master plan. Infact in areas like Kerala there is contiguous urbanisation which adds a further dimension to the problem.

The status report estimates that only 70% of the waste generated is collected and the remaining 30% is lost in the urban environment. House to house collection and segregation is not fully covered in any city. Few of the areas have implemented segregation at source but they are mixed-up again at the time of transportation and disposal.

In 2012 a study of waste disposal in India was conducted by Mr Ranjith Kharvel Annepu. It observes that there are 53 cities in India with a population higher than a million. These cities generate about 85,000 Tons Per Day (TPD) of solid waste. It is estimated that urban Indian population generates 1,88,500 TPD solid waste. The Annepu report estimates that big cities collect 70%-90% of the waste whereas smaller cities collect less than 50% of the waste. Of this more than 90% is formally landfilled in open dumps and a substantially quantity is burnt in open.

Much of the waste is collected through informal recycling sector, by rag pickers and raddiwallas etc. This waste collected is unaccounted. The Annepu reports estimates that the recycle waste collection post informal collection of recycle is at about 17.5%.

The major inadequacy of the waste disposal system in India can be listed as follows

  • Irregular street sweeping: Primary waste collection is through sweeping of streets. There has been no technological upgrade in the sweeping and waste collection methods for ages inspite of the well-advertised Swatch Bharat Campaign will remain a propaganda. Even in the city of Mumbai the sweeping is done by age old brooms and the dirt is picked up using funny means like pieces of ply wood. The sweepers have to bend down for hours thus reducing their productivity as well as spoiling their health. Proper baskets, wheel barrows etc are not provided to the sweepers in most of the municipalities.

  • No waste storage at source: In most of the cities the local waste hubs provided at street corners are grossly inadequate. Most of them will be overflowing and spilling waste on to the streets. There won’t be any provision to keep different types of waste segregated. Even if households segregate their waste it gets mixed in the local collection hubs and transportation.

  • Improper Transportation: The transportation of waste is often done in open vehicles leaving a trail of fallen off material on the streets. The vehicles are usually manually loaded, the fleet in inadequate and its utilisation sub optimal.

  • Improper waste disposal: Most municipal authorities deposit solid waste at dump yards situated very close to the cities if not within the city itself. The dumping is very haphazard and they don’t cover the waste with inert material. Such sites become potential public health hazards, emanating foul smell. The liquid seeping through this rotting organic waste can potentially contaminate the water table and pose serious environmental damage.

The Annepu report has documented the composition of MSW at the dump yards as under



Compostables (%)

Recyclables (%)

Inerts (%)

Moisture (%)

Cal. Value (kcal/kg)








Other cities







East India







North India







South India







West India







Overall Urban India







Any sustainable solution to deal with MSW needs the following basic approach:

  • Make the Municipalities responsible by enacting proper laws under which citizens can punish urban local authorities for not meeting prescribed standards.

  • Proper identification and allocation of responsibilities

  • Encourage community participation

  • Upgrade technology for collection transportation storage and disposal of waste

  • Implement segregation of waste

  • Encourage recycling of waste and integrate the existing informal system of recycle waste collection and use it gainfully

  • Appropriate suitable mix of solution of waste disposal to be devised for each urban area. Solution can be a mix of Waste to Energy (WTE), Aerobic or Anaerobic composting depending on local conditions like availability of land, ecological conditions etc

The compost produced from the composting plants make very good fertilizer. This will be essential to rebalance the soil nutrients. Proper marketing channels should be made available for usage of such compost. With WTE the volume is reduced to 10% in the form of ash, this ash can be made into bricks and thus disposed very gainfully. Proper scrubbing of the fume of WTE plant will be essential. Proper handling of MSW is not only solving the problem of garbage in urban settlement but also proven to be environmentally very effective.

There are sufficient arguments and models provided on how to make the system of waste disposal revenue generating. It may be better to treat waste disposal as a necessary service to be provided by municipalities and be ready to incur cost for the same. As an example for a WTE plants there can be bids based on municipalities giving a guaranteed amount of combustible waste and paying the power plant for consuming such waste. The power plants can then bid for the projects on the tipping charge for such waste provided by the municipal body and sell power to the grid at competitive tariff. The power plants thus can be designed at optimal size with blending of biomass or coal to make up for the shortfall of MSW. Similarly in composting plants too, tipping charges should be paid to the plant operators and they can competitively sell the compost as a fertilizer.

The municipalities can raise funds for such tipping charges from the citizens through cess or taxes. Thus the cost of waste management will be rightfully borne by the generator of waste rather than the consumer of power

Baiju Mathew

Baiju Mathew is a Chief Operating Officer with IL&FS Urban Infrastructure Mangers Ltd ( IUIML )IL&FS Financial Services ( IFIN ), based at Mumbai

PMDO is a subsidiary of IL&FS Financial Services ( IFIN ), India



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