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Feb 8, 2011

Informal Sector, Plastic Waste Rules, 2011

The role of informal sector has been "explicitly" recognized by Ministry of Environment and Forests in the new Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 (available here)Recognition of the informal sector has been the most important feature of the new set of rules which will replace Plastic Waste (Management and Handling Rules), 1999 (amended in 2003). One has to understand that the recognition of the informal sector is for its role in recycling all kinds of materials from municipal solid wastes and e-wastes and is not limited to only plastics recycling. Although the role of informal sector was cited in many reports published by government agencies, coordinating with the informal sector as a stakeholder is now wholly the responsibility of Municipal Corporations.
Informal sector provides a useful service to the community and environment; saves above 9.5 lakh tonnes of CO2 annually in Delhi alone
India has the largest population of waste-pickers in the world 26, up to 2% of its urban population; therefore these rules mean a chance for reform in the status of informal recycling sector world-wide. In most parts of the world, public policies towards the informal sector are largely negative. It is either because of embarrassment at the presence of waste pickers or ‘concern’ for their inhuman and unhygienic working and living conditions and has led to police harassment as in Colombia; to neglect as in parts of West Africa; to collusion, where waste pickers are tolerated in return for either bribes or support to political parties as in Mexico City 25. In case of developed economies, they have allowed their informal recycling systems to disappear and as a result are now struggling to re-establish systems to rebuild recycling percentages to former levels and meet the ever-increasing recycling targets 25. But, the Government of India has clearly held a different path with an informed perspective. Blind eye towards waste-picking until now has been largely due to the sector's unreliability and inadequacy in managing enormous quantities of urban wastes. It was justified by lack of documentation or proper research which was not available until some NGOs like Chintan,  SEWA,  Stree Mukti Sanghatana, Shristhi, etc and initiatives like The Dharavi Project  started working on this. Other organizations like Together As One have been trying to address management of organic wastes too, through waste pickers.

Informal recycling sector in Delhi alone accounts for estimated net greenhouse gas reductions of above 9.5 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (TCO2e) each year. This equates roughly to removing around 1.8 lakh passenger vehicles from the roads annually 26Recycling of solid waste is not just an environmental responsibility but materials like plastic, paper, metal and glass act as a secondary raw material for manufacturing goods and is in huge demand at major industries in countries like India and China 25.

Institutionalizing the informal sector will be a long and meticulous process. The sector can be incorporated into the planning under either the municipal corporations or corporate entities. In lieu of ongoing widespread privatisation of the municipal solid waste management sector (MSWM), it would be important to work out policies to make their employment in the corporate sector easier. Once employed, the minimum wage requirements, labour laws and operational health and safety regulations will ensure their welfare. However, solving intricacies which arise due to such regulations will be a formidable challenge to policy makers. Informal sector's impact on diverting waste from landfills and reducing need for transportation, along with waste characteristics before and after waste-picking need to be studied further to properly integrate the sector into MSWM plans.

Despite the advantages, allowing fellow humans to work on mixed municipal wastes risking reduced life expectancy and other health hazards for the sake of environmental sustainability or not acting towards improving their livelihood remains to be inhuman. An effective solution to this is separation of wastes at source, which requires awareness and commitment from the public. In an informal setup, individual waste-pickers will be replaced by other individuals as long as poverty continues and waste remains accessible. Thus, the informal sector should be assimilated into a system which has an incentive for everyone involved. Privatization or groups capable of self sustaining the trade of recyclables are examples of such systems.
Improper waste management is an everyday nuisance to urban Indians
Despite all the advantages, in its present form, informal waste recycling has its limitations of inadequacy and unreliability, making it more important to assimilate it into the formal system. A formalized waste-picking sector would work more effectively and in more locations. However, from a municipal solid waste management perspective, it should not be considered a magic wand solution to set-free Urban Indians from the everyday stench, leachate water pollution, health hazards, etc emanating from MSW. Formalizing the current system is only a fraction of the solution to the present MSWM problem in India and only a part of an Integrated Waste Management Plan.


  1. Hi,

    I have read all your posts and the table which you have embedded is quite informative. I too am doing my project in Solid Waste Management. I need some information and clarifications from you. Please send me your email and contact details to 10BM60083@iitkgp.ac.in or contact me on +918892025454

  2. When do you graduate from Colombia? I may be interested in hiring you for my start-up integrated waste management Co. in Delhi. Send me an email at sb@sanjivbhatia.com

  3. I need some information and clarifications from you. Thanks for Great Informations.

  4. Nice Post, Material for recycling may be collected separately from general waste using dedicated bins and collection vehicles, or sorted directly from mixed waste streams.

  5. @Dumpster Rental, yes, right said. Providing dedicated bins should however follow grassroots environmental/solid waste separation awareness. It is presently collected (mostly) from huge bins at the end of each street, so it mixed waste. It might continue like this until a revised MSW Rules come out!

    Sorting from mixed waste streams is indeed the most widely used treatment as part of Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) for handling wastes in India. I've been to such plants in Bengaluru, Nasik and Pimpri. Like you said, they work well. But, ofcourse, much more needs to be done, not just sorting! It's only a part of Integrated waste management. Employing waste-pickers would help in such sorting and recycling.

  6. We are facing a big dilemma on plastic wastes right now, and it is expected that in the future, these problems will turn out to be even worse. So as much as possible, let's do our part to help the surroundings by simply doing what's right. Learn the right way of disposing plastic wastes or perform recycling or reusing.

    1. Being student of banglore university am doing project on plastic waste how succesfully done in one town here,,,,,,can u guide more. emailid; poornima.envi@gmail.com

  7. is Thr any courses in India for recycling and waste management?
    m a mechanical engineer and want to work in this area.

  8. Hello Girish,
    I'm not aware of any such courses. If I might get to know about any, that will be through internet search.
    Independent of the fact whether there are any courses, there should be enough material online to learn about some specifics in considerable detail.
    Please keep us informed here if you do find about any courses eventually, because its an important issue.



CH4 Methane
Carbon Dioxide
Government of India
INR Indian Rupee
JnNURM Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
LFG Landfill Gas
Mechanical Biological Treatment
MSW Municipal Solid Waste
NEERI National Environmental Engineering Research Institute
Refuse Derived Fuel
SLF Sanitary Landfill
SWM Solid Waste Management
USD United States Dollar
WPs Waste Pickers
WTE Waste-to-Energy
WTERT Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council