Solid Waste Management- An Indian perspective

Posted on March 8, 2011 by


The World Book Dictionary defines waste as “useless or worthless material”. Such materials/items that people no longer use and discard are called as waste. These items range from household rubbish, sewage, sludge, municipal waste, waste from manufacturing activity, nuclear waste, agricultural waste, etc.  These waste materials if not treated and handled properly can create a number of problems associated with soil, air and water.  With growing population and material consumption rates, Indian cities need adequate waste management practices to prevent waste from becoming a health hazard. Rapid increase in the use of plastics, paper and electronics has made the solid wastes a significant portion of waste generated from households.

Solid waste generation across the world

Rapid economic development has increased the living standard of the people across the globe. This has directly translated into more material consumption and more waste generation. Driven by consumption of resources, high income countryies produce roughly 1.1 to 5.0 kg solid waste per capita for a day; middle-income countries  generate between 0.52 and 1.0 kg solid waste per capita for a day and low-income countries have generation rates of between 0.45 and 0.89 kg per capita for a day.

Major Categories and types of waste: Solid waste material, generated particularly in the urban areas an be categorised as

(1) Organic waste

(2) Plastic waste

(3) Metal waste material

(4) Glass waste material

(5) Paper waste material, and

(6) Electronic waste

(7) Others (Ash, Sand, Grit, etc.)

Characteristic of waste generation

Source of waste Micro components –waste generators
Residential Organic/Inorganic waste from the single or multifamily houses, colonies, apartments, etc.
Industrial Construction, Manufacturing, Fabrications, Power plants, Chemical Plants
Commercial Eateries,  Restaurants, Stores, Hotels,  Offices, etc
Institutional Hospitals, Large institutions , Schools,  Jails, etc
Construction and demolition New construction sites, Roads, etc.
Municipal services Various cleaning services, Parks, Community places, waste water treatment plants, Beaches, etc.
Process Manufacturing facilities , Oil Refineries, Chemical plants, Power plants, Natural Resources like minerals etc processing
Agriculture Crops reside, Fertilizers and pesticides remaining

(All the above except agriculture come under the class of Municipal Solid Waste)

Indian Scenario

Being second most populous country in the world, India continuously keeps on adding waste material within its geographical boundaries. India has about 16% of the world population and 2.5% of world’s land area. In a already densely populated country with even more densely packed urban centers, land for proper waste treatment, disposal and overfall management is scarce. Recent and sustained economic growth increasing living standards of the people, increased manufacturing and production activities has led to increased to rapid rise in the waste generation rated. India produces around 42 Million tons of solid waste annually. There is wide difference in the waste generation rates in rural and urban areas. Even within the urban areas, the composition includes more paper and inert material and less of organic and compostable material as the city population and size increases. The per capita generation rate increases and the overall calorific value of the waste drops with increase in the size of the city. [Study by NEERI.]

Solid waste Management Practices in India

Solid waste management includes many steps like collection of the waste, its transport, processing, recycling or disposal and monitoring of the waste material and relevant processes/ activities. The system implemented for solid waste management mostly depends on quantity and complexity of the waste materials. There are three main types of waste management methods widely used across the world – Landfill, Incineration and Recycling. Various municipal corporations and waste management companies are involved in these activities.

Landfill: A landfill, also known as a dump site for the disposal of waste materials by burial under the waste management procedures.  It is most common methods of organized waste disposal.  Landfill for the waste material is associated with many severe problems such as land and groundwater contamination, engagement of land which would have been otherwise useful for the agriculture/other infrastructural activity, release of methane which is a potent green house gas.

Incineration: It involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials which further converts the waste into ash, flue gas, and heat. Flue gases involve various pollution gases like oxides of sulphur, oxides of nitrogen, etc. Some of these gases causes green house effects resulted in climate change and global warming.

Recycling: It includes collection, processing and utilization of waste material. Conversion of waste materials into new products/potentially useful materials reduces the consumption of fresh raw materials (virgin materials). It subsequently results in natural resource conservation.

Varieties of environmental legislation are available in India to treat and manage waste materials. Environmental protection acts encourage and reward organizations/companies for managing and recycling their waste to maintain the clean and hygienic environment.

 Electronic Waste

With rapid growth in the sale of electronic products such as televisions, computers and cell phones, electronic waste is emerging as a major source of pollution.The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recently from a survey estimated that 1.47 lakh MT of e-waste was generated in the country in the year 2005. This is expected to increase to about 8.0 lakh MT by 2012.  A number of steps have been initiated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to ensure environmentally sound management of e-waste. some of the steps include

  1. Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 have been notified for proper management and handling of hazardous wastes including e-waste.
  2. The rules notified mandate that the e-waste recycling can be undertaken only in facilities authorized and registered with State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees. Waste generated is required to be sent or sold only to a registered or authorized recycler or re-processor having environmentally sound facilities.
  3. Guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of e-waste published by Central Pollution Control Board provide the approach and methodology for environmentally sound management of e-waste.
  4. E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 have been notified on 12th May, 2011. These Rules come in to effect from 1st May 2012.
  5. Import of electronic waste for disposal is not permitted in the country. Import of such wastes is permitted only for reuse or recycling or reprocessing with the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).

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