Popular Posts


India is the second largest nation in the world, with a population of 1.21 billion, accounting for nearly 18% of world’s human population, but it does not have enough resources or adequate systems in place to treat its solid wastes. Its urban population grew at a rate of 31.8% during the last decade to 377 million, which is greater than the entire population of US, the third largest country in the world according to population (3). India is facing a sharp contrast between its increasing urban population and available services and resources. Solid waste management (SWM) is one such service where India has an enormous gap to fill. Proper municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal systems to address the burgeoning amount of wastes are absent. The current SWM services are inefficient, incur heavy expenditure and are so low as to be a potential threat to the public health and environmental quality (4). Improper solid waste management deteriorates public health, causes environmental pollution, accelerates natural resources degradation, causes climate change and greatly impacts the quality of life of citizens (See Section 4).
Figure 3, Impact of Improper SWM on Pristine Ecosystems, Landfill Fires in Visakhapatnam Landfill, which is Located in a Valley
Public Health and Quality of Life
The present citizens of India are living during times of unprecedented economic growth, rising aspirations, and rapidly changing lifestyles, which will raise the expectations on public health and quality of life. Remediation and recovery of misused resources will also be expected. These expectations when not met might result in a low quality of life for the citizens (See Section 4.6). Pollution of whether air, water or land results in long-term reduction of productivity leading to a deterioration of economic condition of a country. Therefore, controlling pollution to reduce risk of poor health, to protect the natural environment and to contribute to our quality of life is a key component of sustainable development (5).

Waste Generation Rate & Quantity
The per capita waste generation rate in India has increased from 0.44 kg/day in 2001 to 0.5 kg/day in 2011, fuelled by changing lifestyles and increased purchasing power of urban Indians. Urban population growth and increase in per capita waste generation have resulted in a 50% increase in the waste generated by Indian cities within only a decade since 2001. There are 53 cities in India with a million plus population, which together generate 86,000 TPD (31.5 million tons per year) of MSW at a per capita waste generation rate of 500 grams/day. The total MSW generated in urban India is estimated to be 68.8 million tons per year (TPY) or 188,500 tons per day (TPD) of MSW. Such a steep increase in waste generation within a decade has severed the stress on all available natural, infrastructural and budgetary resources.

Improper Waste Management
Big cities collect about 70 - 90% of MSW generated, whereas smaller cities and towns collect less than 50% of waste generated. More than 91% of the MSW collected formally is landfilled on open lands and dumps (6). It is estimated that about 2% of the uncollected wastes are burnt openly on the streets. About 10% of the collected MSW is openly burnt or is caught in landfill fires (5). Such open burning of MSW and landfill fires together releases 22,000 tons of pollutants into the lower atmosphere of Mumbai city every year (Figure 15). The pollutants include carbon monoxide (CO), carcinogenic hydro carbons (HC) (includes dioxins and furans), particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) (5).

Figure 4, Impact of Improper SWM on Public health: Direct Exposure of Children to Emissions from Open Burning, Hyderabad
Informal Recycling Sector
Most of the recyclable waste is collected by the informal recycling sector in India prior to and after formal collection by Urban Local Bodies (ULB). Amount of recyclables collected by informal sector prior to formal collection are generally not accounted. This report estimates that 21% of recyclables collected formally are separated by the formal sector at transfer stations and dumps. Even though this number does not include amount of recycling prior to formal collection, it compares fairly well with the best recycling percentages achieved around the world (See Section 5.1.1). Informal recycling system is lately receiving its due recognition world-wide for its role in waste management in developing nations. In India, government policy and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are expected to organize the sector present in different regions, and to help integrating it into the overall formal system. ‘Plastic Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2011’ by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) is a step ahead in this direction. These rules mandate ULBs to coordinate with all stake holders in solid waste management, which includes waste pickers.
Material and Energy Recovery from Solid Waste in India
All attempts to recover materials and energy from MSW have encountered initial failures. Ten aerobic composting (MBT) projects in 1970s, a WTE project in 1980s, a large scale biomethanation project, and two RDF projects in 2003 have failed. Anaerobic digestion of MSW on a large scale does not work in India due to the absence of source separated organic waste stream. The large scale biomethanation plant built in Lucknow to generate 6 MW of electricity, failed to run because of this. Anaerobic digestion has however been successful at smaller scales, for vegetable and meat markets, restaurants or hotels and at the household level. Twenty thousand household biogas units installed by Biotech, a bio gas technology company from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala divert about 2.5% of organic waste from landfill. By doing so, they save up to USD 4.5 million (INR 225 million) to Thiruvananthapuram, and Kochi ULBs every year in transportation costs. These biogas units also avoid around 7,000 tons of CO2 equivalent (TCO2) emissions every year (See Section 5.3).

Aerobic Composting (Mechanical Biological Treatment)
Aerobic composting is the most widely employed SWM technology in India. It is estimated that up to 6% of MSW collected is composted in various MBT facilities (7). There are more than 80 MBT plants in India treating mixed MSW, most of them located in the states of Maharashtra (19), Himachal Pradesh (11), Chhattisgarh (9) and Orissa (7) (Appendix 8). More than 26 new MBT plants are proposed in different cities and towns across India (Appendix 8). Even though composting of mixed wastes is a better solution compared to landfilling or openly burning those wastes, it is not the best (8). Compost from MBT facilities was found to be of low quality and to contain toxic heavy metals which could enter human food chain if used for agriculture (See Section 5.2.3).

Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) & Waste-to-Energy (WTE)
India has a total of five RDF processing plants, located near Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Jaipur, Chandigarh and Rajkot. The first two plants burn the RDF produced in WTE boilers, whereas the next two burn the RDF in cement kilns. Details about the Rajkot facility are not available. All these facilities have encountered severe problems during operation. Problems were majorly due to lack of proper financial and logistical planning and not due to the technology.
Only two WTE combustion plants were built in India, both in New Delhi. The latest one among them has finished construction in Okhla landfill site and is about to begin operations. It is designed to generate 16 MW of electricity by combusting 1350 TPD of MSW.

Initial Project Failures
All technological solutions attempted in India have encountered initial failures in India. These include the ten MBT (composting) facilities built in 1975-1976, the WTE facility built in 1985 in Delhi, the two RDF plants built in 2003 near Hyderabad and Vijayawada. None of these plants are currently in operation. The ten MBT and the 1985 WTE plant are now completely closed. Major reasons for these failures are, the plants were designed for handling more waste than could be acquired; allocation of funds for plant maintenance was ignored; and local conditions were not considered while importing the technology. The success of MBT in India is partly due to the lessons learned from such failures. The failure of WTE however raised enormous public opposition and has hindered any efforts in that direction. Failure of biomethanation plants was also attributed to WTE combustion due to the confusion in the terminology. Failure of RDF plants has attracted attention and opposition too; however, numerous attempts at installing this technology are continuously made.

MSW Rules 2000, Government of India
MSW rules 2000 made by the Government of India to regulate the management and handling of municipal solid wastes (MSW) provide a framework for treatment and disposal of MSW. These rules were the result of a ‘Public Interest Litigation (PIL)’ in the Supreme Court of India (SC). The MSW rules 2002 and other documents published by the Government of India (GOI) recommend adoption of different technologies, which include biomethanation, gasification, pyrolysis, plasma gasification, refuse derived fuel (RDF), waste-to-energy combustion (WTE), sanitary landfills (SLF). However, the suitability of technologies to Indian conditions has not been sufficiently studied, especially with regard to the sustainable management of the entire MSW stream and reducing its environmental and health impacts.

Lack of Data
Due to lack of data and infrastructural, financial and human resources, the Supreme Court mandate of complete compliance to the rules by 2003 could not be achieved by urban local bodies (ULBs) and that goal still remains to be a distant dream (7). As a result, even after a decade since the issuance of the MSW Rules 2000, the state of MSW management systems in the country continues to raise serious public health concerns (9). Although some cities have achieved some progress in SWM, many cities and towns have not even initiated measures (7). Initiatives in Mumbai were the result of heavy rains and consequent flooding in 2006 due to drains clogged by solid waste. The flood in Mumbai in 2006 paved the way for enacting State level legislation pertaining to the collection, transport and disposal of urban solid waste in the state of Maharashtra (7).  Bubonic plague epidemic in Surat in 1994 increased awareness on the need for proper SWM systems all over India and kick started measures to properly manage wastes in Surat.

 Lack of Resources & JnNURM
Scarcity of suitable landfill sites is a major constraint, increasingly being faced by ULBs. Such difficulties are paving the way to building regional landfills and WTE and mechanical biological treatment (MBT) solutions. The tremendous pressure on the budgetary resources of States/ULBs due to increasing quantities of MSW and lack of infrastructure has helped them involve private sector in urban development (7). GOI has also invested significantly in SWM projects under the 12th Finance Commission and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). The financial assistance provided by GOI to states and ULBs amounted to USD 510 million (INR 2,500 crores) (7).


  1. Dear Ranjith,

    Congratulations and thank you for your great work. It is very useful to aspiring entrepreneurs in this space.

    Just one comment - anaerobic digestion of municipal waste (non source separated) is, in fact, possible. Two-stage batch high solids digesters are capable of handling very high contamination rates (no pumping is required). Of course, the methane yield is lower for dirtier waste, but it is still workable for large volumes of the kind you see in typical cities.

    Also - would love to chat about composting. It is unfortunate that contaminants are not removed from compost that is currently produced and shocking that the products still fetch such high prices. Can you resolve this mystery?


    Arjun P. Gupta

  2. Hello Arjun,

    Thank you.

    Could you please provide more information about the above large scale Anaerobic Digestion technology you mentioned? If possible, any reports or examples of operating plants anywhere, that will be really helpful to me and my colleagues. Many in this field are on the look out for such a technology.

    Regarding high prices for compost: There was a time when naturally biodegraded waste at landfills was voluntarily collected by small and large farmers near a city for a nominal price. Then the amount of wastes grew and so did the necessity to accelerate composting, which introduced large scale mechanical composting at some landfills. The compost from these plants got a higher price because they had lesser/no glass or plastic in it, which reduced the effort that was needed to put in by farmers. Some farmers bought this new compost but some others still continued with the old one. There was a clear difference btw good and bad compost and the market moved towards this "good" compost. So bad compost meant presence of glass, plastic or metal.

    In the current situation, bad compost means presence of heavy metals. Such compost (from mixed wastes) also has a lower nutritional value. There is no visible difference between good and bad compost. Even if there was, it still does not effect the prices because
    1) farmers/citizens are not aware of the possibility of heavy metals in compost (its considered natural and therefore good)
    2) there is no proper grading system in place for compost, which says, sample A or company A has good quality compost and company B has bad quality compost.

    If you have any other questions, please provide your email and I will reply to you directly.


  3. Can anyone suggest me the best & most cost effective w2E technological MSW management system existing in India

    1. If you are looking for a WTE technology specifically, biogas is sustainable and cost effective at a small scale if you use the biogas for cooking. However, if you want to know about larger capacities, waste-to-energy combustion is the most risk-free technology.
      In case if you are looking for solutions to waste management and not just a WTE technology, then the best solution or the most cost effective solution will depend upon the city/region's local conditions and markets for resultant byproducts of the processes.


  4. Heating occurs at temperatures ranging from 500 degrees Celsius and above. Synthetic fuels contain oxygen in high amounts. It can be grouped as one of them.

    Continuous Feed Pyrolysis Plants

  5. Had to do a project on Waste Management for my Environmental Science, this was a big help. Thank you :)

    1. Wonderful to know. Let me know if you need more help.

      All the best

  6. Hi,
    Its a really good article. Can you pls guide considering the present indian scenario what is the scope and success rate for one to enter into this as an entrepreneur.


    1. Hello Darshan,

      There is a huge gap in providing the service of waste management, be it collection, transportation or treatment and disposal. So, there are opportunities. However, the risk in business in waste management depends upon what services you would want to provide and on what scale you want to operate at.


    2. Hello Sir,

      I very concern about waste management & want to something for that. I do not have any experience and knowledge about waste mangement. Please tell what shoul I do at initial stage to go ahead. Is there any trainig or study programe going on in Inida ? Is there govt scheme for individua enterprisure ?

  7. Hi Ranjith,

    This was a good read.

    Just wanted to know from you, what steps as an individual, can one take to help solve this ever amassing problem.

    Best Regards,
    Rakes & Brooms

  8. EnvironmentCare.in(http://www.environmentcare.in/) is India's 1st environmental B2B portal.It is an online one stop go Green source to provide end to end solutions for environment protection,pollution control management, energy conservation, renewable energy, e-waste management and safety management.
    EnvironmentCare.in also provide Green News, live discussion, Blogs, Environment friendly calculator, Games with Learn and much more interesting and educational section.
    You can follow us on
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/environmentcare and

  9. can u provide me with the importance of solid waste management in mumbai



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