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Jan 24, 2012

Recycling in India - The Informal Sector

1. Box, Informal waste management in India and elsewhere
2. Recycling in India
3. Recycling Percentage

1. Informal Waste Management in India and elsewhere (36)
The informal recycling sector in India and elsewhere
1.      supplements the formal system and subsidizes it in financial terms
2.      provides employment to a significant proportion of the population
3.      operates competitively and with high levels of efficiency
4.      operates profitably generating surplus
5.      links up with formal economy at some point in the recycling chain
6.      Offsets carbon emissions by making recycling possible and thus reducing the extraction and use of virgin raw materials

Figure 21, First Stage of Separation of Recyclables into Plastics, Metals and Glass, after Collection by Waste Pickers

2. Recycling in India
Recycling of resources from MSW in India is mostly undertaken by the informal sector. The formal recycling set-up in India in a minor fraction and is only in its initial stages, experimenting different models. Informal recycling in developing nations like India is a consequence of the increased gap in waste service provision (16) and the resultant ease of access to secondary raw materials which have immediate economic value.
The informal sector comprises of waste pickers (WPs), itinerant waste buyers, dealers and recycling units. WPs constitute the largest population in the informal sector.
Generally, recyclables are collected in two ways; paper, glass and metal are collected before they enter the MSW stream from households on an instant payment basis, by a special group of people called ‘Kabariwala’ (from here on referred to as itinerant waste buyers) and plastics are generally collected by waste-pickers from litter on streets or from heaps of waste in landfills (30). Shopkeepers sell recyclable items, such as newspaper, cardboard, glass containers, tin cans etc. to itinerant waste buyers too. Waste pickers retrieve recyclable materials like milk bags, plastic cups and containers, glass, etc from what is discarded by households, commercial establishments and industries. Larger commercial establishments and industries sell the recyclable waste (source separated or otherwise) to waste dealers in bulk, who then sell it to 
recycling units (31).
Figure 22, Second Stage of Separation of Plastics into Different Types
The recyclables collected are separated by pickers and collectors on a daily basis and transferred to small, medium and large dealers (Figure 21, Figure 22, Figure 23, Figure 24). Usually, the pickers and collectors sell to small dealers in the slums, near their residence. The small dealers sell the waste to medium or large dealers and finally the waste will be sold to the recycling units (16). There are 1,777 known plastic recycling units in India (32). Most of these known units are located in Tamil Nadu (588), Gujarat (365), Karnataka (302), Kerala (193) and Madhya Pradesh (179). The total number of plastic recycling units (will be much higher) and the capacity of each of these units is unknown.

3. Recycling Percentage
Most of the recyclable waste is collected by the informal recycling sector in India before it is collected by the formal system. The informal sector recycles some percentage of formally collected waste too from transfer stations and dumps. This report estimates that the informal sector recycles 20.7% of recyclables from the formal system (Appendix 4), which compares fairly well with the best recycling percentages achieved around the world. It has to be observed that this number excludes the amount of wastes this sector recycles from MSW prior to collection, which is generally not accounted for and can be as much as four times the quantity recycled from formally collected waste (Appendix 4). This implies an estimated overall recycling percentage of 56% of recyclable wastes generated. This is a very high percentage, considering that the recycling percentages achieved by many infrastructure-intensive centralized waste management systems in Europe and US are only about 30%.
Figure 23, Plastic Bottles after Second Stage of Separation


  1. Many environmental protection agency works for the recycling organic waste in India,This process make difficult by the plastic bottles.

  2. Waste Management can be part of the solution in two ways: one is through waste reduction and two is through recycling.
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  4. Hi.. i want to start my own glass or plastic recycle unit... Any advise and inputs to where yo start frim

  5. The information which you have provided is very good. It is very useful who is looking for Pet Bottle Manufacturers.

  6. Thanks for your correct information,you are providing some good helpful information. Thanks a lot.
    scrap recycling industries in tamilnadu



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