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Apr 19, 2012

Need for Global Attention to Solid Waste Management

This is my post on the Global WTERT Council (GWC) Blog.

Some countries have achieved considerable success in solid waste management. But the rest of the world is grappling to deal with its wastes. In these places, improper management of solid waste continues to impact public health of entire communities and cities; pollute local water, air and land resources; contribute to climate change and ocean plastic pollution; hinder climate change adaptation; and accelerate depletion of forests and mines.

Compared to solid waste management, we can consider that the world has achieved significant success in providing other basic necessities like food, drinking water, energy and economic opportunities. Managing solid wastes properly can help improve the above services further. Composting organic waste can help nurture crops and result in a better agricultural yield. Reducing landfilling and building sanitary landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can help provide cleaner drinking water. Energy recovery from non-recyclable wastes can satiate significant portion of a city's energy requirement. Inclusive waste management where informal waste recylcers are involved can provide an enormous economic opportunity to the marginalized urban poor. Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payers money for other issues.

Solid waste management until now has only been a social responsibility of the corporate world or one of the services to be provided by the municipality and a non-priority for national governments. However, in Mumbai, the improperly managed wastes generate 22,000 tons of toxic pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous and sulfur oxides in addition to 10,000 grams of carcinogenic dioxins and furans every year. These numbers are only for the city of Mumbai. This is the case in cities all across the developing world. There are numerous examples where groundwater is polluted by heavy metals and organic contaminants due to solid waste landfills. Solid waste management expenditure of above $ 1 billion per year competes with education, poverty, security and other sustainable initiatives in New York City. Fossil fuels for above 500,000 truck trips covering hundreds of miles are required to transport NYC's waste to landfills outside the city and state. Similarly, New Delhi spends more than half of its entire municipal budget on solid waste management, while it is desperate for investments and maintenance of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Solid waste management is not just a corporate social responsibility or a non-priority service anymore. Improper waste management is a public health and environmental crisis, economic loss, operational inefficiency and political and public awareness failure. Integrated solid waste management can be a nation building exercise for healthier and wealthier communities. Therefore, it needs global attention to arrive at solutions which span across such a wide range of issues.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. One of the biggest problems associated with the management of Solid waste is lukewarm attitude and halfheartedly efforts by Local Bodies for which they are responsible by virtue of their collecting huge money from the tax payers in the forms of various taxes,charges etc . Be it a metro City Like Kolkata or Chennai or other Corporations and Municipalities the approach towards this important problem is very very lackadaisical and indifferent. The public representatives along with Administrators have much more responsibilities in this aspect apart form the attitudinal change among general public where they can act in eco-friendly and responsible manner by following small steps at their doorsteps like segregating and properly disposing the waste.

    M C Pargaien

    1. Yes sir, waste management is the responsibility of urban local bodies (ULBs) and they are responsible almost entirely for improper waste management. Citizens' can be targeted when ULBs can build required infrastructure and systems. Here, lack of awareness about these issues among decision makers is a reason.

      I'm very glad to see your work and writing on such a wide variety of issues India is facing. Please keep up the good work.

  3. I agree partially with you. Of course, conventionally speaking the provision of this service is the responsibility of our municipal bodies but the habit of segregation of waste has to be built in, in the community. Citizens like you and me need to take up the responsibility of taking this basic minimum step (yet crucial).
    MSW Rules, 2000 mentions segregation and collection of organic waste for composting. KPCB has a mandate that all apartments built after 2007 have to set up their own waste management units. The municipal corporations will collect only dry waste. I am doing my thesis on the topic- decentralised waste management.
    I started composting at home a week back and now I have taken up the task of making urban residents adopt this practice. http://rozitasingh.blogspot.in/2012/05/when-dreams-come-true.html

    1. Rozita, there's no doubt that public awareness about segregation is the most important changes that need to be made in India and many other parts of the world. But, the responsibility of waste management from today's households (remember houses were bigger and had space earlier, but most housing is small) lies predominantly with the ULBs. There is a difference here. Public awareness and action in segregation is a change that's required, but the responsibility of waste management was always that of ULB's and will be their's.

      Imagine a situation where a community is separating wastes but the municipality is not collecting the rest of the waste. In this case, the interest will vane. Similarly if a municipality is collecting waste but if the waste is mixed, it will not be able to treat it properly. What I am trying to say is, this issue requires mutual involvement of tax payers and collectors. Awareness is required at all stages, at the ground level (where you seem to be interested in working in future), at the municipal level, national policy level and global awareness. Solid waste management now is majorly a social issue and not an engineering problem. The technology exists and is in the economically affordable range. Its a social awareness and action issue.

      Pls share your email so that we can discuss this more elaborately if required and maybe we at WTERT-India can help you with the required data and knowledge for your thesis.

      All the Best

    2. Thanks for your reply. Of course, I don't deny that the responsibility will always remain with ULBs. So I agree, they must go hand in hand. But I still feel they are overcoming the bottlenecks and now we need some citizen support to the solid waste management problem!
      I am trying to speak to stakeholders at each level. Sadly, the waste management manual that came out in 2000 was compiled by CPHEEO and the MCD is filled with Engineers who look into all these urban issues. Its really sad, we are still caught up in that frame of mind where scientists means engineers! and social scientists are not given responsibilities and powers. Because, I see it from a different school of thought where governance and urbanisation challenges could be solved with a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach. Thankfully, there are a new breed of sustainability practitioners emerging, we just need to encourage and accept them :)
      My email id is: rozitasingh@yahoo.co.in
      Yes, I may indeed require your help for my research and would love to discuss anything related to SWM!


  4. Thanks to this best information, you know in our city we truly strictly manage our waste. Why? I think because we have one point of views in take caring of our place. I'm believe the fact with you.
    Waste Management Market



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