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Jan 21, 2012

Composition of Indian Urban Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

1. Composition of MSW
2. Composition of Recyclables and Informal Recycling

1. Composition of MSW
A major fraction of urban MSW in India is organic matter (51%). Recyclables are 17.5 % of the MSW and the rest 31% is inert waste. The average calorific value of urban MSW is 7.3 MJ/kg (1,751 Kcal/kg) and the average moisture content is 47% (Table 6). It has to be understood that this composition is at the dump and not the composition of the waste generated. The actual percentage of recyclables discarded as waste in India is unknown due to informal picking of waste which is generally not accounted. Accounting wastes collected informally will change the composition of MSW considerably and help estimating the total waste generated by communities.

The large fraction of organic matter in the waste makes it suitable for aerobic and anaerobic digestion. Significant recyclables percentage after informal recycling suggests that efficiency of existing systems should be increased. Recycling and composting efficiency are greatly reduced due to the general absence of source separation. Absence of source separation also strikes centralized aerobic or anaerobic digestion processes off the list. Anaerobic digestion is highly sensitive to feed quality and any impurity can upset the entire plant. Aerobic digestion leads to heavy metals leaching into the final compost due to presence of impurities and makes it unfit for use on agricultural soils. In such a situation the role of waste to energy technologies and sanitary landfilling increases significantly. This is due to the flexibility of waste-to-energy technologies in handling mixed wastes. Sanitary landfilling needs to be practiced to avoid negative impacts of open dumping and open burning of wastes on public health, and on air, water and land resources. Therefore, increasing source separation rates is always the long term priority.
2. Composition of Recyclables and Informal Recycling
A significant amount of recyclables are separated from MSW prior to and after formal collection by the informal recycling sector. The amount of recyclables separated by the informal sector after formal collection is as much as 21% (Appendix 6). The amount of recyclables separated prior to collection is generally not accounted for by the formal sector and could be as much as four times the amount of recyclables separated after formal collection. Comparing the percentage of recyclables in MSW in metro cities with that in smaller cities clearly shows the increased activity of informal sector in metros and other large cities. Increased presence of informal sector in large cities explains the huge difference in recyclables composition between large and small cities, observed by Perinaz Bhada, et al. (15). In metro cities, which generally have a robust presence of informal recycling sector, the amount of recyclables at the dump is 16.28%, whereas in smaller cities where the presence of informal sector is smaller, the composition of recyclables is 19.23%. The difference of 3% in the amount of recyclables at the dump indicates the higher number of waste pickers and their activity in larger cities.


  1. Dear Ranjith Annepu,
    Congratulations on your excellent research work on the solid waste state of affairs in India. Came across the article referring to your research work in Waste Management World (Jan 17, 2012) Found it to be quite useful and insightful for anyone interested in SWM operations in India. I had worked on SWM issues in the US and have been thinking on transferring the skill set and knowledge to Indian scenarios. It would good to collaborate with you in your subsequent ventures. If you would like to refer to a couple of my publications in Waste Management Jour., pl. let me know.

    Keep up the great work!

    Naushad K

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. Please follow the link below to read my most recent work called "Observations from India's Crisis".


  3. Sir, what is your data source?
    Primary survey or some other source.

  4. 'Swachhagraha' is a campaign launched by Adani foundation, with Centre for Environment Education being the Knowledge and Implementation partner. The campaign is running in 6 cities of Gujarat namely Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot/Jasdan, Bhuj/Mundra and Anand. The campaign aims at creating a culture of cleanliness through behavior change, which is the best answer to make India litter free. The project has inspired change in 390 schools of Gujarat, with training 567 teachers. We are working with schools and in the span of 4 months, we have over 5000 children becoming leaders of change as '#Swachhagrahi'. Touching upon 500 children and cleaning staff through our first national campaign - '#SafaikeSitare', we believe in acknowledging the efforts of heroes that keep our country clean. Through our ongoing initiative '#GandagiSeAzadi', we strive to make the schools litter free by not creating waste. '#Swachhagraha' in real sense has started the revolution of zero tolerance towards littering, with the help of Navrachna University, Vidyanagar Nature Club and Surat Nature club, who are our local level implementing partners. It has become a driving force towards cleaner India. Join us in this movement by registering as #Swachhagrahi on www.swachhagraha.org. Like and Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/swachhagraha.org/.
    #Swachhagraha #Swachhagrahi #SwachhagrahaPrerak #SwachhagrahaSchool #TogetherWeCanWeWill #AdaniFoundation #CEE #CleanSchool #CleanIndia #SwachhBharat



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