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Oct 3, 2012

Impacts of Improper Solid Waste Management and the Case of India

This post is an edited/updated version of Section 4 from Sustainable Solid Waste Management in India


1. Impacts of Improper Waste Management

2. The Case of India

1. Impacts of Improper Waste Management

Improper solid waste management deteriorates public health, degrades quality of life, and pollutes local air, water and land resources. It also causes global warming and climate change and impacts the entire planet. Improper waste management is also identified as a cause of 22 human diseases  and results in numerous premature deaths every year. 

Indiscriminate dumping of wastes and leachate from landfills contaminates surface and groundwater supplies and the surrounding land resources. It also clogs sewers and drains and leads to floods. Mumbai experienced a flood in 2006 which was partly due to clogged sewers. Insect and rodent vectors are attracted to MSW and can spread diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and plague. Using water polluted by solid waste for bathing, food irrigation, and as drinking water can also expose individuals to disease organisms and other contaminants . 

Surat City experienced a Bubonic Plague epidemic in 1994 due to improper SWM.  Improper SWM is also a reason for the recent (August - September, 2012) Dengue epidemic in Kolkata, which affected thousands and killed 25 people (as of September 12, 2012). Improper waste management was also the reason for the large scale public protests in Vilappilsala (near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala) and Mavallipura (in Bengaluru, Karnataka). These protests were the result of long term health effects experienced by residents living around overflowing landfills.

Open burning of MSW on streets and at landfills, along with landfill fires emit 22,000 tons of pollutants into the lower atmosphere of Mumbai city, every year. The pollutants identified in Mumbai due to uncontrolled burning of wastes are carbon monoxide (CO), carcinogenic hydro carbons (HC) (includes dioxins and furans), particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) . (Keep looking out for the next post for more figures and some charts on air pollution due to waste management).

MSW dumped in landfills also generates green house gases like...
methane, which has 21 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Improper SWM contributes to 6% of India’s methane emissions and is the third largest emitter of methane in India. This is much higher than the global average of 3% methane emissions from solid waste. It currently produces 16 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year and this number is expected to rise to 20 million tons of CO2 equivalents by 2020. 

The world is moving towards calling wastes as “resources”. Due to the inability to manage these resources in the next decade, India will landfill 6.7 million tons of recyclables (or secondary raw materials); 9.6 million tons of compost (or organic fertilizer); and resources equivalent to 57.2 million barrels of oil.

The Case of India

ULBs spend about $10 – 30 (INR 500 – 1,500) per ton on SWM. About 60-70% of this amount is spent on collection, 20-30% on transportation. No financial resources are allotted for scientific disposal of waste. Despite the fairly high expenditure, the present level of service in many urban areas is so low as to be a potential threat to the public health and environmental quality.

A guidance note titled “ Municipal Solid Waste Management on a Regional Basis”, by the Ministry of Urban Development (MOUD), Government of India (GOI) observes that “Compliance with the MSW Rules 2000 requires that appropriate systems and infrastructure facilities be put in place to undertake scientific collection, management, processing and disposal of MSW. However, authorities are unable to implement and sustain separate and independent projects to enable scientific collection, management, processing and disposal of MSW. This is mainly due to lack of financial and technical expertise and scarcity of resources, such as land and manpower.”

Efforts towards proper SWM were made by urban local bodies (ULBs) equipped with financial and managerial capacity to improve waste management practices in response to MSW Rules 2000. Despite these efforts to manage wastes, more than 91% of MSW collected is still landfilled or dumped on open lands and dumps , impacting public health, deteriorating quality of life and causing environmental pollution. It is estimated that about 2% of the uncollected wastes are burnt openly on the streets; and about 10% of the collected MSW is openly burnt in landfills or is caught in landfill fires  (See Section 4.2). The MSW collection efficiency in major metro cities still ranges between 70 - 90% of waste generated, whereas smaller cities and towns collect less than 50% of waste generated.


  1. Hello,

    Thank you so much for providing this information! I am a graduate City and Regional Planning student at the Pratt Institute participating in a Waste Management Studio to take place in Agonda, Goa. I was wondering if you had any information about the price of recyclables in India? Your report cites small, medium, and large dealers as buyers of recyclables, do you have any info on how much they pay per kilo, ton, etc?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks!!


  2. Hi,
    I wish, i had read this post earlier,it's very informative. Never mind, i have been to Kolkata last year in august. I had to steer through the streets filled with dirty water due to clogged drains. I got infected on my both legs, eruption and itching it was horrible experience. Some how eruption was cured, it took around 20 days i took medication for. The list containing impacts of improper solid waste management on environment and health is impressive, people should be made aware of this.

    1. Dear Samuel,

      I'm very sorry to read about the unfortunate infection. If you are aware, Kolkata also had a Dengue Fever outbreak this September, 2012. It killed people. Your infection and this outbreak, even if partially are related to improper waste management! I hope you will not have to go through similar conditions again, but you can imagine the situation of people who have to live there and those who have to walk through the water every time it floods. It is not just a public health issue, but also a quality of life issue.

      I am again, very sorry to hear about the infection. Thank you for sharing it here.

      Please keep in touch
      Ranjith Annepu

  3. Appendix 15 of the report 'Sustainable Solid Waste Management in India' give data on "Material & Energy resources wastage in the next decade due to current land filling practices in India". In this statement under column 2, the total waste generation add up to 47,493,125 Tons only. Elsewhere in the same report, the current waste generation is estimated as 68.8 million Tons per year. Can the author clarify the anomaly, please?

    1. Hello Mr. Pillai,

      Good question. For a moment I had to go back to check all my tables.

      TO calculate the overall waste generation by Urban India, data from 366 cities was collected. These 366 cities represent 70% of India's urban population. They were therefore assumed to be a good representative sample of the per capita waste generation by the rest of urban India too.

      Calculations go like this:
      Population of 366 cities = 70% of urban India
      Waste generated by 366 cities = 47 million tons per year
      Therefore, total waste generated by urban India = 47 million divided by 0.7, which is nearly 69 million tons per year.

      Now, the Appendix 15 for waste generation from Indian states was prepared by using only the quantities of waste from the 366 cities belonging to respective states. If we tried to divide this amount by 0.7 to account for urban population in each state, the discrepancy (error) in the final values for each state will be very high. So, I did not do that.

      Thank you again for the good question. Let me know if you need any other help.

      All the best
      Ranjith Annepu

    2. I am grateful for the clarification. I would also like to know whether any study has been conducted to assess the quantum of each pollutants that are released in to the air, water and earth yearly due to the current practice of open dumping of SMW in India. Is there any estimate available on this, please?

    3. Mr. Pillai,

      As you might have seen, we do not clearly know the exact waste generation quantities, or waste collection quantities for Indian cities. The waste generation quantities in my report are mere estimates! You can only imagine how difficult it will be to calculate total amount of air/water/soil emissions. I did however try to do some of that in my report.

      In Mumbai alone, air emissions (PM, CO, HCs, SOx, NOx) due to open burning and landfill fires is estimated to be 22,000 tons every year. This also consists of 10,000 gTEQ of dioxins/furans. With my colleague at Columbia University and World Bank, Ms. Perinaz Bhada, I am currently working on calculating the overall air emissions from open burning and landfill fires in India using the numbers from the 366 cities. I hope to share those results here on the blog early next year!

      There were some water pollution studies conducted near Dhapa landfill in Kolkata, Kodungaiyur and Perungundi landfills in Chennai. There was also a recent study on landfills near Bangalore. But, there is no single study or estimate for water pollution across India.

      For soil pollution due to plastics, I am not sure if there is a specific method/metric to quantify it (I am not aware of any!)! Maybe water permeability in soil can be used as a metric, but that's only a guess!

      Again, I tried estimating the overall heavy metal contamination that would happen if all waste generated in India was treated in Mechanical Biological Treatment facilities in a MIXED form. Such MIXED waste composting would result in 76,000 tons of heavy metals entering into India's agricultural soils.

      You can find this data and mechanisms used to calculate within the report. Hope you find the report more useful.


    4. Thanks. I understand the difficulty in assessing the total contaminants. I hope you don't mind my using the information contained in your study report and those shared by you in this blog for educating the general public on the importance of good practices in waste management

    5. Please go ahead and use the data and I'll be honored. Thank you and all the best.

  4. Thanks for sharing this data. Its really helpful.

    I wanted to understand the process of entering this waste management industry. If i am an International company how can i do that???

    It would be really great if you can help me on this.

  5. Thanks for sharing the data
    Landfills generate leachates which contaminate surface as well as ground water and are toxic as well
    What is the status of leachate management and treatment in India, any report if there is

  6. Very informative blog! Plz do keep giving in updated posts, new technologies 2 tackle waste & success stories 2 inspire all! Let's make d world & importantly, our beautiful India, a mch cleaner, healthier place 2 live in! :)

  7. Dear Dr. Ranjith Annepu. Can you please tell, besides all these, what are the effects of Solid waste on the Marine environment and how much waste enters to the Marine environment due to unscientific practice or through negligence. I would be grateful, if I get data on recent Solid wastes from Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

    1. Hello Pratysh, I'll definitely not be able to help with Andaman & Nicobar due to the paucity of data. But, when it comes to global figures, UN has published some.
      You can also look at this report from WTERT: http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/sesini_thesis.pdf

      You can probably adopt the methodologies used by UN or Maria (from the above report) and substitute values with existing data like population and/or waste collection percentage of A&N islands. Please look into it.

      All the best,



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