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Jan 24, 2012

Recycling, Composting, and the Hierarchy of Sustainable Waste Management

1 The Hierarchy
2. Material Recovery: Recycling
3. Material Recovery: Aerobic Composting

1. The Hierarchy
The Hierarchy of Sustainable Waste Management (Figure 10) developed by the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University is widely used as a reference to sustainable solid waste management and disposal. This report is presented in reference to this hierarchy. For the specific purpose of this study, “Unsanitary Landfilling and Open Burning” has been added to the original hierarchy of waste management which ends with sanitary landfills (SLFs). Unsanitary landfilling and open burning will represent the indiscriminate dumping and burning of MSW and represents the general situation of SWM in India and other developing countries.
Figure 10, The Hierarchy of Sustainable Waste Management for India and Other Developing Nations
The hierarchy of waste management recognizes that reducing the use of materials and reusing them to be the most environmental friendly. Source reduction begins with reducing the amount of waste generated and reusing materials to prevent them from entering the waste stream (15). Thus, waste is not generated until the end of “reuse” phase.

Recognition and Integration of the Informal Sector in India

1. Organizing the Informal Sector
2. Public Policy
3. Integrating the Informal Sector into Formal SWM Systems
4. Change in Perception

1. Organizing the Informal Sector
The informal recycling sector in India is in fact well-structured and has a huge presence, especially in mega cities. This sector is responsible for the recycling of around 70% of plastic waste (37) and up to 56% of all recyclable waste generated in India. On the basis of all information collected during this visit, the author estimates that the informal sector recycles about 10 million tons of recyclable waste per year.

A women waste-picker employed at a composting facility to separate recyclables from the MSW

The high percentage of recycling the informal sector is able to achieve is the cumulative effort of large numbers of WPs on the streets, at the bins and dumpsites. For example, the informal sector in Delhi employs about 150,000 people who are 0.9 % of the population of Delhi (16.75 million) (3) (33) (39).

Informal Recycling Sector - Inadequacy, Unpredictability and Health

1. Inadequacy and Unpredictability
2. Hurdles in Organizing Waste Pickers
3. Health Risk Assessment of Waste-Pickers

1. Inadequacy and Unpredictability
The existence of the informal recycling sector in Indian cities is useful to municipal corporations and beneficial to the community and environment. However, at the same time waste pickers are known to burn wastes at landfills (38) in order to recover metals or to keep warm at night. Open burning of wastes by waste-pickers and other people in addition to intentionally or accidentally set landfill fires are a major source of air pollution in Indian cities, emitting particulates, carbon monoxide and organic compounds including toxic dioxins (5). Waste-pickers are constantly exposed to emissions, have unhealthy living conditions and are prone to injuries and diseases, all of which decrease their overall life expectancy. The ill-health of waste pickers is a public health problem and even though they are generally not in contact with the public, it poses a threat to the overall health of the community.
Informal recycling is only a part of the solution to the SWM crisis in India.

Informal Recycling - Benefits to Community and the Environment

1. Community Gain and Cheap Service
2. Environmental Gain and Carbon Offsets

1. Community Gain and Cheap Service

Waste-pickers and scrap-dealers provide a low-cost service to the community. In Delhi, the informal sector collects and transports about 1,088 TPD of recyclables (33) which would otherwise be the responsibility of the municipality. In doing so, they save $ 17.8 million (INR 795 million) per year in collection and transportation costs to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) (33) (34) (35). Similarly, a study named “Recycling Livelihoods”, made by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, earlier GTZ), SNDT Women’s University and Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group (Chintan) has found that, the informal sector effectively subsidizes the formal waste sector to the extent of USD 4.08 million (INR 200.6 million) per year in waste handling costs in Pune city (36).
Figure 25, Secondary Separation of Waste Paper at a Bulk Waste Paper Dealer Shop
In addition to subsidizing the formal sector and in turn the tax payer’s money, the informal sector also provides an essential service to the community by clearing the streets off waste and augments the collection efficiency of formal systems. The informal recycling sector in Pune is known to handle up to one-thirds of the MSW handled by the formal system (36).

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.

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.

Need for a Research BLOG

Information about all aspects of waste management should be laid out for the Citizens of India to make informed decisions. Public knowledge sphere holds enormous quantities of misinformation, which is easily available. It is due to such information or a lack of any information that some environmental initiatives are opposed or are not welcome. Academic research helps clear some of that fog. However, it is necessary that academic research finds easier ways to create awareness, because awareness inspires action. Most environmental movements in the world happen at the grassroots level fuelled by general observations and research findings. Environmental regulations in United States and the MSW rules 2000 in India are some examples of the results of public awareness.

Figure 39, Internet Search for "Solid Waste Management", Source: Google Trends

Jan 10, 2012

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Generation in India

1. Per Capita Waste Generation
2. Quantity of Waste Generated

1. Per Capita Waste Generation
Waste generation rate in Indian cities ranges between 200 - 870 grams/day, depending upon the region’s lifestyle and the size of the city. The per capita waste generation is increasing by about 1.3% per year in India (7).

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

1. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
2. Solid Waste Management (SWM)

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
Waste is defined as any material that is not useful and does not represent any economic value to its owner, the owner being the waste generator (10). Depending on the physical state of waste, wastes are categorized into solid, liquid and gaseous. Solid Wastes are categorized into municipal wastes, hazardous wastes, medical wastes and radioactive wastes. Managing solid waste generally involves planning, financing, construction and operation of facilities for the collection, transportation, recycling and final disposition of the waste (10). This study focuses only on the disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW), as an element of overall municipal solid waste management or just solid waste management (SWM).


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