Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Solid Waste Management in India: Challenges & Solutions

India generates about 275 million tonnes of waste per year and the majority of which is untreated.
By IASToppers
August 29, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Legacy waste in India
  • Solid waste Management Rules 2016
  • Challenges
  • Way Forward
  • Conclusion

Solid Waste Management in India: Challenges & Solutions

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The complete absence of urban planning has left India with mountains of waste-landfills, waste-choked drains, water bodies and rivers. This is called legacy waste, a cumulative consequence of decades of neglect and lack of foresight.

Legacy waste in India:

  • India generates about 275 million tonnes of waste per year.
  • With current waste treatment rates of about 20-25%, the majority of waste is untreated, piled in a heap or landfills, and an equal amount in drains and river bodies.
  • There are about 48 recognised landfills across India, together covering nearly 5,000 acres of land, with a total land value of about Rs 100,000 crore.
  • There are only 92 large WTE (Waste to Energy) plants in India.
  • Only a small fraction of these are operational, and the operational plants, run at suboptimal capacity.
  • India generates the most waste globally, and if moving at the same pace, by 2050 our waste generation will double.

Solid Waste Management Rules 2016:

  • SWMR, 2016 replace the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
  • The rules are now applicable beyond municipal areas and include urban agglomerations, census towns, notified industrial townships etc.
  • It focusses on segregation of waste at source, the responsibility of the manufacturer to dispose of sanitary and packaging wastes.
  • It has the provision of collecting user fees for collection, disposal and processing from the bulk generator.
  • The bio-degradable waste should be treated through composting or bio-methanation within the premises and residual waste shall be given to the waste collectors or agency as directed by the local authority.
  • It promotes the use of compost, conversion of waste into energy, revision of parameters for landfills location and capacity.
  • The Rules for the Safe Treatment of Legacy Waste prescribe bio-remediation and bio-mining in all open dumpsites and existing operational dumpsites in India.


  • These are major problems unique to India and require both community and technological solutions.
  • Entry to drains in India is choked with pan masala, shampoo sachets, chips packets etc.
  • Drains and water bodies, emptying into Indian rivers carry with them an unimaginable amount of waste.
  • The Ganga is among the top 10 polluted rivers in the world, together accounting for 90% of the total ocean plastic pollution.
  • State governments are hit due to lack of technology and a rigid procurement system.
  • Most of the technology/equipment needed for waste management is imported, expensive and often not suited in our varied local situations.
  • India faces the insurmountable challenge of treating legacy waste, with a continuous accumulation of fresh waste every day.

Way Forward:

1. Customised technological solutions:

  • Municipalities need to have access to affordable technology which has been piloted and validated under Indian conditions.
  • India needs affordable, decentralised, customised solutions for its land-constrained complex city matrix.
  • Example: Amphibian equipment to clean water bodies is imported and can work well for large water bodies. Indigenisation of design and manufacturing of such equipment for smaller drains and water bodies is essential.
  • Robotic long-hand scavenging machines to unclog drains, booms which filter and prevent waste in our drains entering a larger water body.

2. Ease of procurement:

  • India needs focused action is the ease of procurement.
  • Evolving a less cumbersome process for the procurement of technology and equipment is imperative.
  • For India’s large fraction of organic waste, biological treatment like bio-methanation should be considered.

3. Key Policy changes:

  • The speedy changes are needed in policy which can accelerate the removal of waste exponentially.
  • One way is to unlock the land value under landfills. By allowing agencies, companies or industry that clear waste, to own the land (fully or partially as per mutually agreed terms) can fund the clean-up.
  • A land payback can be a major incentive to recover the estimated 5,000 acres of prime land taken up by landfills.

4. Trained personnel:

  • India needs to develop skilled and trained professional personnel to operate and maintain the waste management chain.
  • It starts from right from collection, operation and maintenance of waste-handling plants, with full use of mechanisation.

5. Move towards zero-waste society:

  • The final focus area is to move to a zero-waste society.
  • India was traditionally a society where little was wasted and everything could be reused and recycled.

6. Education, Awareness and laws:

  • The amount of waste, waste collection and recycling rates must be increased.
  • Education and participation of the public and other stakeholders should be encouraged.
  • The solid waste management legal framework should be strong enough to penalize noncompliance under bylaws, rules, and regulations.


  • Design of waste management (collection and treatment) should be the bedrock of a well-planned smart city, town or village. A well-designed waste-management strategy, cognizant of Indian constraints, will be the hallmark of Swachh Bharat, Swasth Bharat and Unnat Bharat.
  • Science and technology must provide solutions to the urgent waste menace faced by the country.
Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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