Solid Waste Management: Some Thoughts

‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ (SBM) was launched on 2nd October 2014 by the Government of India and it is being implemented by Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs(MOHUA) all over the country. One of the important components of SBM is Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM). It is well known that the problem of Solid Waste in Municipal areas, especially in Metropolitan cities, has reached alarming proportions.

The sheer quantity of Solid Waste generated in municipal areas in the country is gigantic and the question facing us is how to manage the waste. This has implication for the environment of our cities and towns and also aesthetic concerns as well. Central Pollution Control Board has compiled figures of Solid Waste generated every day. In 2013-14, it is estimated that 1,44,165 Tonnes of waste was generated every day in the country. Out of this only 80% (1,15,742) was collected and only 22.8% (32,871) was actually treated. These figures indicate the magnitude of the problem that urban India is facing and it is the need of the hour to take steps to urgently tackle this problem. Not only the waste is required to be collected, it is also required to be treated. We have to look at the solutions, which may not require the collection of entire waste by Urban Local Bodies(ULBs). One report about the generation of garbage in seven major cities in India suggests that there has been a phenomenal increase in garbage generation from the year 2000 to 2015.In Delhi, the increase has been a staggering 2075%.

The model of Solid Waste Management envisaged collection and disposal of entire waste by ULBs. However, this model has failed, as can be seen by the state of dumping grounds in all the cities and towns in the country. One way to reduce the magnitude of the problem is to segregate the waste at the point of generation. Municipal Administrators including Presidents, Vice Presidents, Municipal Councilors, Environmental Engineers, Health Officers, and Sanitary Inspectors etc. are required to work in that direction. Apart from the role envisaged for the Administrators, people’s participation is equally important, as the aim is to segregate the waste at the point it is generated i.e., at the level of the household. This requires a basic change in the behavior of the people and needs inculcation of a sense of responsibility that it is the duty of every citizen to help in keeping the city clean and it is not the duty only of the ULBs. So far, the solid waste disposal has been by dumping the same at some dumping ground. In big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune etc., mountains of wastes have been created, which are a big health hazard. As most of those dumping grounds are full and there is little likelihood of any new dumping ground being found, the waste disposal has to be decentralized urgently. Involvement of housing societies and even individual households in this effort is necessary; otherwise, our cities/towns will become worse, so far as living conditions are concerned. The waste can be segregated into biodegradable, recyclable and domestic hazardous waste at the household level. This does not require any great effort. However, unless there are attitudinal changes, nothing is going to be achieved. I would like to recall some personal experience.

Personal Experience

I was living in a housing complex in Mumbai where very senior IAS/IPS officers and sometimes Ministers are allotted accommodation. In our house and I am sure in most of the other houses also, waste was being segregated. The waste is collected every morning from each household. The person collecting the waste puts everything in the same bin and the purpose of segregating waste at the household level is defeated. To cite another instance, at one point in my career, I was working as Managing Director of Maharashtra Agra Industries Development Corporation, Mumbai. This Corporation had established a waste treating plant at Deodar in Mumbai in collaboration with Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Idea was to dry the bio-gradable waste and after pulverizing it, convert the same into manure. I can’t recall at this stage, the details of the technology which was being used. However, the machinery was repeatedly breaking down mainly as glass and metal pieces were mixed in the waste. The whole investment made by MAIDC was required to be written off and no dent could be made in disposal of solid waste. Various other projects have been established to generate electricity from organic waste. Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation proposes to do so in near future. However, unless there is effective segregation of wet and dry waste at the point of generation, no such project can succeed with the present technology. Segregation at the point of generation of waste is quite simple and inexpensive. However, if there is mixing, it becomes difficult to segregate the organic waste from inorganic waste. There lies the importance of people’s participation in this task of solid waste management. We in AIILSG have undertaken a Research study to identify markets for recycled solid waste.  I am sure, if there is economic incentive, the people’s participation in segregation may be much more serious and willing. Various technologies are now available for composting of organic waste. As mentioned earlier, this waste can be converted into energy: biogas and electricity. The technology to be used for this purpose will depend on various factors. For a household, best option may be to compost the kitchen waste either at household level itself or by the Housing Society Complex. Other dry waste can be handed over to NGOs etc. for recycling. The same may be the case for housing societies. For bigger housing societies, the biogas plant may be a viable solution. Even sewage treatment plants can be installed in bigger societies and recycled water used for gardening. It appears that solution to this problem is within reach. If the people’s participation can be ensured, 70% of the waste (kitchen or wet waste) can be disposed at household or housing society level. The question is, how to achieve that objective. You might have read that Nobel Prize in Economics was given this year to Mr. Richard Thaler. He is most famous as a pioneer of “nudging” theory, the use of behavioral economics as a public policy tool. The idea of nudging is not new and firms have long employed behavioral science to shape their customers’ behavior. British Government created a Behavioral Insight Team, which has been quite successful.  Nudging can be by providing default mechanism or by trying to change the behavior of the people in a particular matter.

We in AIILSG have undertaken a research study to identify markets for recycled solid waste. I am sure if there is an economic incentive, the people’s participation in segregation may be much more serious and willing.

The Nudging Theory

I was going through an article in a magazine published by Civil Service College of Singapore. It appears that the Singapore Government has been using this practice of nudging as a public policy tool for quite some time. One example is the temperature kept in air-conditioned buildings. Raising the temperature by 1 or 2 degrees can help save on electricity bills and also conserve electricity. The difference may not be felt by the people working there. In another experiment in Singapore, students were nudged to register the boarding and alighting from public buses. Public transport for reaching educational institutions is provided at concessional rates (Monthly Concession Pass) in Singapore to the students. MCP holders pay a flat fee for unlimited travel, so they do not see the need to register when alighting from the bus. Buses are run by private operators and they are paid subsidy on the basis of actual usage. Failure to register exit may mean payment on the basis of maximum usage i.e. till the end of the route. Emails were sent to the MCP holders to register exit from the bus (tap out) by sending simple messages like:

“It is important that you tap out when alighting from buses even if, as a monthly concession pass holder you might feel it makes no difference to you. This is because by tapping out, you give the government more accurate information about your bus journeys and how crowded buses truly are. With this information, the government can do a better job of improving bus services across Singapore”. Needless to say, this “nudging” had a positive impact on the behavior of MCP holders.


In the context of the subject at hand, we may also consider introducing some steps which may induce the general public to help segregate waste and also do composting of wet waste in a decentralized manner reducing a burden on the Municipal Bodies. Cost of Waste Management at household/society level is very low, around Rs.180-200 p.m., which is reasonable. In case, the waste is collected and managed by municipal bodies, the cost is much higher and the burden is ultimately upon the citizens, by way of increased taxes. Some concession in property tax may also be thought of, as the society is taking the burden, which was being done by ULBs since then.


Our emphasis should be on low-cost solutions. I find that in Nagpur city, Nagpur Solid Waste Processing and Management Private Limited, has proposed to establish a Power Project with a capacity of 11.5 MW, where the cost is coming to Rs.218.80 crore and tariff is coming to Rs.7.80 per unit. This cost appears to be too high, and the ultimate burden will be borne by the citizens. This cost appears to be 3-4 times the cost of energy generated from other sources, including solar energy. It is, therefore, necessary that low-cost solutions are given priority. It may be noted that some common disposal would, in any case, be required, as it may not be possible to dispose of 100% wet waste locally. However, our endeavor should be to dispose of the maximum amount of wet waste locally, which will reduce the burden on municipal bodies considerably.

Segregating and disposing the wet wastes at decentralized level is possible. It can be done by the Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) themselves, as the cost is not very high and management is also not difficult. Various options and technologies are available. It is possible that the whole work can be given to service providers, who can do it at a reasonable cost. This cost can be recovered by a reduction in manpower required by the Housing Societies for waste collection and also by reduction of chess for garbage collection by the ULBs. Such a chess is usually part of property tax.

In conclusion, it is eminently possible to collect, segregate and dispose of the solid waste in a decentralized manner. However, it can be done only if the general public is fully involved in this effort.


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