Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Segregation of waste: There is a disturbing pushback against this effort

Waste should not be mixed at the source of generation and the handling of waste should be in unmixed streams.
By IASToppers
September 28, 2019


  • Introduction
  • Challenge of Waste management in India
  • What is Waste-to-energy (WtE) plants?
  • Why discouragement is given to the segregation of waste?
  • Suggestions
  • Way Forward

Segregation of waste: There is a disturbing pushback against this effort

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  • Waste management rules in India mandate municipalities and commercial establishments to act in an environmentally accountable and responsible manner.
  • The increase in waste generation as a by-product of economic development has led to various legislations under the umbrella law of Environment Protection Act, 1986 (EPA).

Challenge of Waste management in India

  • With rapid urbanisation, India is facing massive waste management challenge.
  • Out of generation of 62 million tonnes (MT) of municipal solid waste per annum, only 43 MT of the waste is collected, 12 MT is treated and 31 MT is dumped in landfill sites.
  • Despite of Solid Waste Management (SWM) services provided by municipal authorities, almost all municipal authorities deposit solid waste at a dumpyard within or outside the city haphazardly.
  • However, Tamil Nadu has achieved 100 per cent waster segregation in 20 of its 50 smaller municipalities.


What is Waste-to-energy (WtE) plants?

  • Waste-to-energy (WtE) is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the primary treatment of waste, or the processing of waste into a fuel source.


  • There are five municipal WtE plants operational in India with a total capacity to produce 66 MW electricity per day. Out of 66 MW, 52 MW per day is generated in Delhi by its three existing plants.

Disadvantages of Waste-to-energy Plants

  • Waste-to-energy plants, due to chlorinated hydrocarbons like PVC, generated carcinogenic gases such s dioxins and furans when the waste is burnt at less than 850 C. Hence, appropriate filtering mechanisms need to be installed to control such dangerous emissions.
  • Even when incineration takes place under optimal conditions, large amounts of mercury vapour and lead compounds are released.
  • There is always about 30 per cent residue from incineration in the form of slag (bottom ash) and fly ash (particulate matter), which are known to be serious pollutants.
  • Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 require that PVC be phased out in incinerators by April 2018. However, it is impossible to identify and remove PVC labels from mixed waste.
  • WtE plants in India are inefficient in generating energy as municipal waste in India has a very wet waste content (low calorific value) compared with 30 per cent in the Western countries. This gives our waste a high moisture content and.


Why discouragement is given to the segregation of waste?

Promotion of Waste to energy plants

  • Waste-to-energy plants rely on the incineration of mixed waste, which does not insist on segregation of wet and dry waste.
  • Despite such plants in India have been either non-starters or highly polluting failures, several cities are promoting incineration of mixed waste.

Higher profit

  • Private parties, which transport waste, are given paid on the basis of weight (of waste) they carry. This provides an incentive to maximise the weight of waste by adding wet waste.

Rapidly growing use of compactors

  • Compactors are expensive machines that squeeze and compress the volume of waste. They enable more waste to be carried per trip and, thus, reduce transportation costs.
  • Hence, to reduce the volume and transportation cost, wet and dry wasters are being mixed.
  • However, compacted waste is unfit for safe disposal. Also, use of compactors on mixed waste makes it almost impossible to extract the recyclable dry waste such as plastics, metal, paper etc.
  • The compression of wet waste in the mixture releases leachate (a black foul-smelling liquid) which percolates into the soil and contaminates groundwater.
  • Moreover, after the compacted waste is dumped, the lack of aeration at the site results in the decomposing wet waste generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas that causes global warming.
  • As waste pickers routinely light fires at landfill sites to extract scrap metal, the presence of methane gas stokes the fire further.


  • Efficient waste management requires ensuring proper segregation of waste at source and ensuring that the waste goes through different streams of recycling and resource recovery.
  • Waste collection should be organised daily for wet waste and once a week for dry waste as the unmixed transportation and processing of wet and dry waste encourages citizens to keep their waste unmixed too.
  • Reduced final residue should be deposited scientifically in sanitary landfills. Sanitary landfills are used for disposal for unutilised municipal solid waste from waste processing facilities that cannot be reused or recycled.
  • The potential of recovering at waste generated could also provide employment opportunities to about 500,000 rag-pickers. However, despite immense potential in big cities in this area, participation from non-profits or community is limited.
  • Installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants would reduce the load of landfill sites.
  • The concept of ‘common waste treatment facility’ is being widely promoted and accepted as it uses waste as a resource by either using it as a co-fuel or co-raw material in manufacturing processes. This has led to rise of Public Private Partnership (PPP) models in waste management which has open doors for doing business in waste management.
  • Bio-medical waste (management and handling) rules, 1998 prescribe that there should be a Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF) at every 150 kms in the country. CBWTFs have been set up in cities and towns. However, establishment of ‘functional’ CBWTF throughout the country must be ensured.
  • Compost pits should be constructed in every locality to process organic waste.
  • Municipalities should promote decentralised composting of wet waste, tie-up with local kabadiwalas or NGOs for recyclable dry waste, and work on safe disposal of the rest.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs should either stop financing compactors or at least offer municipalities similar levels of support for more sustainable methods.
  • Municipal authorities should be made aware that WtE technologies are being phased out in the West. They should not be allowed unless the waste offered meets the criterion specified by the SWM Rules 2016.

Way Forward

  • WtE plants using municipal solid waste from Indian cities as feedstock pose a serious threat to our health and environment.
  • Hence, government must seriously explore low cost options such as composting and bio-Methanation.
Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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