Solid Waste Management, Municipalities, Urban Local Bodies (ULB’s), Regulatory framework, India.


Waste is an issue that affects all human beings. Waste generation has a huge impact on the environment and emission of green house gases that contribute to change in climate and loss of significant materials. Not only is the amount of waste produced by humans increasing but its nature is also changing. There has been a shift from biodegradable to non-biodegradable waste, which is a complex combination of materials that are difficult to decompose. With improving technologies and development of new materials like plastic, the quantities of recyclable material is decreasing by the day[1].

According to Environmental Protection Act (EPA)[2] 1990, waste can be defined as any material – scrap, effluent, undesired or excess that requires removal because it is damaged, old, adulterated or spoiled[3]. It is not just any unwanted or discarded material but a resource.

India is a diverse developing society, which provides enormous challenges in the political, social, economic, cultural and environmental sector. The present scenario reflects on these foundational aspirations and to maintain harmony and balance it is essential to develop a sustainable philosophy[4]. Increased population, rapid urbanization, migration to urban sectors and changing lifestyles are some of the factors that are shifting India from a largely rural country to anurban nation but at a cost. On the one hand, there is rural India, which is agricultural in nature,while on the other; it is urban India that is becoming increasingly unmanageable[5]. The growth story over the last few decades indicates an enormous increase in the volume of industrial as well as domestic waste (Figure1)[6][7].

Figure 1 Classification of waste

According to the report prepared by European Business and Technology Centre5in 2011, India generates over 160,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of municipal waste every day, which is expected to increase to 260 MT/day by 2047. The per capita generation of solid waste in citiesranges from 0.2 kg to 0.8kg, which is expected toincrease at a rate of 1.33% annually. Failing to develop a sustainable system for waste management will cost India more than it can handle.

On an average, 32,000 people are added to our country every day and this will continue till 2021. These numbers are alarming considering the status of waste management infrastructure in India. Around the world, the rate of urbanization is ahead of rate of increase in sanitation infrastructure by 33%, but in India, this gap is very broad as a result of impromptu response of government to handle waste management issues,indicating a missing plan of action to improve waste management in the country[8].

Functional elements of waste

According to UNEP[9], management of waste includes two components – prevention and disposal. While Waste prevention aims at dropping the overall quantities of waste to reduce the harm done to environment, Waste Disposalinvolves collection, segregation, handling, transportation and the final disposal of waste. The priority of waste prevention and waste disposal is to attempt maximum extraction of components and minimum overall waste generated which can be achieved through 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle[10].

For effective management of waste and to help reduce adverse impacts on the environment and human health; a number of processes are involved like monitoring, collection, transport, processing, recycling and disposal[11]. The activities associated with the management of municipal solid wastes from the point of generation to final disposal can be grouped into six functional elements(Figure2)

Figure 2 Functional Elements of Solid waste management in India

New Approaches to Solid Waste Management in India

In an attempt to improve industrial and economic growth of the country, Indian has fallen behind in paying attention to management of solid waste, which is leading to unfavorable impact on the ecology, and health and safety of people. More the harm done to the environment, greater will be the effort required to restore nature to its original form[9].

In India, various rules and policies have been designed and implemented concentrating on management of waste[12]. In an attempt to fulfill its duty towards environment, the Government of India undertook various projects, set committees and designed several polities to regulate the management of waste in the country. Following is the list of attempts made by the Indian Government at the Central Level.

Policies on Solid Waste Management

The National Environment Policy (2006)

The National Environmental Policy formulated in May 2006 is the outcome of broad consultation with experts from various disciplines. Attempting to expand the coverage and fill the spaces existing in the previous regulations, The National Environment policy aims to conserve critical environmental resources and convert them into policies, programs and projects for social and economic development of the country. It also concentrates on efficient use of environmental resources to reduce the impact on ecology and application of environmental governance for effective management[4].

The National Action Plan for Climate Change (2009)

The Plan designed to deal with challenges of climate change was implemented through eight missions. One of the missions of the plan – National Mission in Sustainable Habitat highlighted the importance of improving building energy efficiency, improving public transportation and management of solid waste in the country.Development of technology for energy generation, sewage utilization and optimum recycling were other components of the action plan[13].

Judicial Interventionson Swm

Committee on Urban Waste (1972)

One of the earliest known committees to study solid waste management was set by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). The committee aimed atobtaining in-depth information from Southeast Asian countries and multiple urban local bodies to identify the best practices in SWM. Submitted in 1975, the report presented various recommendations on different aspects of SWM – collection, segregation, transportation and disposal. It also presented a comparative assessment of performance by Municipal authorities in some states and highlighted the need to develop an enacting model of legislation[14].

Bajaj Committee (1994)

The increasing problem of waste in cities and the slow rate of development of effective SWM strategies demanded the Central Government to set up a ‘High Power committee on urban solid waste management in India’, which was popularly known as the Bajaj Committee. The report made large number of practical recommendations related to segregation of waste at source, setting up primacy collection units, composting and recycling and providing appropriate equipment and vehicles for transportation of waste[15].

Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India (1996)

Apublic interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court against the Government of India and municipal authorities in1996 for their failure in managing MSW. It was submitted as a special Civil Application (Application No. 888 of 1996) where the Supreme Court appointed an expert committee of 8 members that consulted around 300 municipal authorities, various stakeholders and submitted their final report titled ‘Solid Waste Management in Class I Cities’to the Supreme Court in March 1999. The 100 page report consisted of technical aspects of managing different types of waste, administrative requirements, capacity building, institutional management of information system, public awareness, and legal actions obligations to be taken by Central government, state authorities and Class I cities to address the problem of Municipal solid waste management effectively[16].

AsimBurman Committee (1999)

WhenPIL failed to bring a change, the Supreme Court of India formed a committee to review the condition of SWM practices in Class I cities in July, 1998. The commission was constituted under the chairmanship of Mr. AsimBurman, tabled the report in March 1999 giving a wide range of suggestions for improving the system of waste management which included support measures that should be extended from Central and state governments for effective strategy planning[17].

The CAG Audit on Municipal Solid Waste in India (December2008)

The Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) performed an audit on ‘Management of Waste in India’ in 2008, which included 24 states to identify loopholes and weaknesses in the policies related to management of waste. Municipalities of many cities were found guilty of poor monitoring of waste, degraded quality of data and lack of accountability that was leading to ineffective waste management in the country[18].

Apart from the listed regulations, action committees and rulings given by the government of India, some other laws were also introduced at the national level to help curb generation of waste and assist in efficient handling of waste(Table 1)[19][24]- Law of torts, The Indian Penal court (1860), Code of Civil procedure (1908), Constitution of India (1950)- to name a few. The Water (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1974, highlighted the importance of cleaning water bodies and prohibited the use of streams for disposal of polluting matter. The Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1974, restricted certain industrial plants in the city limits and issued the directive for the right fuels and appliances that could be used. The Environment Protection Act of 1986, Hazardous waste (management and handling) Rule (1989), Bio-medical wastes (management & handling) Rule (1988) and Recycled Plastics (manufacture and usage) Rule (1989) were other laws introduced to help curb generation of waste and save environment[25].

Table 1 New Approaches to Solid Waste Management in India

In addition, to the regulations laid and policies introduced by the government, some states have introduced guidelines for promoting healthy waste collection, handling and disposal practices. Some of the Municipal Corporation Acts launched include Delhi Municipal Corporation Act (1959), The Delhi Plastic Bag (Manufacture, Sales and Usage) and non-biodegradable garbage (Control) Act (2000), UP Municipal Corporation Act (1959) and Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act (1976)[26][28]

Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rule, 2000

In the midst of various policies and committees, the Government of India with Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) notified the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rule on September 25, 2000. The main objective of the rule was to devise scientific procedures to dispose municipal solid waste effectively. It also made every municipal authority responsible for implementation of all provisions in their territory to develop an effective system for collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of waste[29].

The Rule also sets different responsibilities to be fulfilled by every stakeholder.

Municipal Authorities

Accountable for active implementation of the rule and infrastructural development in their territory. Besides this, municipal authorities must take permission from the state board/ committee before setting up any processing or disposal facility to comply with healthy implementation of the program.

State Government and Union Territory Administration

It is the responsibility of the in-charge of the Department of Urban Development of every state and union territory to ensure complete enforcement of the provisions of the rules in their cities and within the provisional limits of their jurisdiction.

State Board/ Central Pollution Control Board

The board monitors the compliance standards set by the rule concerning ground water characteristic, purification of air, leachate quality and quality of compost and is also responsible for giving grants and acceptance for setting up a processing or waste disposal facility in accordance with other agencies like Urban Development Department, Planning Department and Ground Water Board. Board gets a time frame of 45 days to accept or reject the request to stipulate the customary standards and criteria.


The Citizens of the country are expected to understand and act responsible for making an attempt to segregate waste at the source, avoid littering on the streets and participate actively in sustainable waste management practices.

Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rule, Draft Notification (2013)

In a significant ruling, a Division Bench of Honorable High Court of Karnataka directed the MoEF to consider various objections filed against the controversial amendments and propose a comprehensive Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rule 2013. The direction was issued in response to PIL filed by Bengaluru based non-profit Environment support group against Bruhat Bengaluru MahanagaraPalika (BBMP) and MoEF. The submission questioned MoEF’s notification regarding invitation for comments and suggestions for Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rule, 2013 and felt the proposed modifications were highly retrograde and promoted unjustified, unscientific and unnecessary techniques for management of solid waste. The court also identified that the proposed amendments had omittedSchedule II of the existing ruling, which laid down the details for handling of waste segregation[30].

Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rule, Draft Notification, (2015)

Even after listing the MSW (Management & Handling) Rule, 2013 in the gazette of India, not much action was taken over it. In a recent development, draft notification of MSW (M&H) Rule 2015 will soon be listed by MoEF under public domain for objections and suggestions on the proposal. The new rule focuses on waste generators and suggests source segregation in three different streams – bio-degradable / wet waste, non-biodegradable waste/ dry waste and domestic hazardous waste in different bins/bags to be handed over to waste collectors at the time of collection[31].

Implementation Agencies

MoEF is the nodal agency responsible for implementing and streamlining the system of municipal solid waste management in India. Apart from this, Municipal Solid Waste Manual was published in 2000 by CPHEEO (Central Public Health Environmental Engineering Organization) under MoUD (Ministry of Urban development) to aid execution of these rules[32]. The rules related to municipal, plastic and bio-medical are applied at the State level and it is the responsibility of Municipalities & ULB’s (Urban Local Bodies) to implement and monitor the laws related to collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of solid waste[19]. Ministry of Law has also been assigned the task of preparing legal framework in connection with state governments and effective implementation of policies.

Status Compliance with Solid Waste Management in India

More than a decade after the implementation of various rules and policies initiated by the Government of India; state municipalities, ULB’s and private companies of many states failed to initiate the measures of solid waste management[5]. Paucity of resources, inability to outsource activities, lack of in-house capabilities, insufficient funds & staff and low level of implementation are some reasons for failure of implementation of legislative policies in many cities and states(Figure 3)[33][34]. Amidst the lack of efficiency, it is also important to mention the respectable work initiated by cities likeNamakkal (Tamil Nadu) and Suryapet (Telangana) which have managed to become no-dustbin, zero-waste cities.

Successful initiatives by state governments and local authorities to handle solid waste

Local Authorities and RWA’s (Resident Welfare Associations) are also making their efforts to improvise and use different techniques and technologies for handling waste. Following are some of the success stories from across India

Surat, Gujarat

Within a time period of 18 months, the city shifted from stinking, dirty, garbage strewn to one of the cleanest city in the world. The RWA’ of SaritaViharWith the efforts of local authorities and citizens, the city was able to spread awareness and educate people, introduce grievance redressal cards and imposed fines to become a role model for other municipalities[35].

SaritaVihar, Delhi

One of the very first colonies to take up this initiative of becoming a zero waste colonyin Delhi was SaritaVihar. The RWA’s of SaritaVihar had waste management as top priority and organized awareness generation camps, capacity building workshops and cleanliness drive for the inmates to promote the concept..They also indulged insßource segregation and on-site composting of waste in the neighborhood community park[36].


There are various examples from the state of Kerela. Chanukkara Village in Alappuzha districtis a very good example of community, Panchayat and NGO partnership. With the help of Social Economic Unit Foundation (SEUF), a Local NGO entered into a partnership with the community to decentralize household waste through community education and awareness building. More than 90% of the community participates in the practice and sets a great example for the entire country.

Kovalamstarted a Zero waste campaign in association with the transport department and established a biogas plant for biodegradable waste, a resource recovery center for non-biodegradable discards, material substitution for products out of waste. Other things included poison free farming, water conservation and community capacity building formanaging waste in the area[37].

Nashik, Maharashtra

The cityhas establised a compost factory for converting waste into valuable compost and manure. The garbage from city centres is mechanically seperated before sending it was composting. With the support of the locals Nasik has been able to treat 230 MT of waste/ day and help farmers with organic maure in and around the city[38].


The state government of Rajasthan issued a policy document in 2001 for management of solid waste. The document highlights the criteria for selection of private stakeholders for setting up waste to energy plants, the types of facilities exptended to citizens and the responsibility of various stakeholders.

There are many stories of the effortsmade by people across the county. Various organizations and NGO’s aresupporting and educating people to promote and develop a habit of environment conservation.


In order to meet the challenges of municipal solid waste management, there is a need for technological advancements, community awareness and implementation of good waste management practices. Increasing public awareness about degrading health and environment is becoming a cause of concern for society. It is putting more and more pressure on Central and state level governing bodies to find sustainable solutions to the problem of municipal solid waste management. There is a ‘need’ to address the problem at the grass root level to find lasting solutions.

It can be seen that the current laws and regulations are unable to make an impact for obtaining sound environment. Either the laws are not well understood or unable to implement successfully. Loopholes can be identified in the legal regime and there is a need for strictness in application of the laws to see a change in the future. Providing municipal services and clean environment is the primary responsibility of State municipalities and ULB’s.Previous attempts made by the government at the central and state levels have been noteworthy but insufficient. The efforts made by local bodies, citizens and government together are visible and worth replicating, yet there is a need to stop tolerating cheap and dirty practices of waste disposal and pay attention to environment and health. Hence, there is an urgent need for better policies and legislative changes that promote waste minimization by collectively promoting responsibility towards environment and match with the changing conditions of lifestyle patterns of the Indian Society.