Waste Segregation in India: A wake up call!


Author – Abhinav Tyagi

All of us are familiar with the dustbin and household waste management. However, have we ever given a thought, what happens to the household waste that is thrown out of our houses every day?  If we think of garbage disposal, we will realize it gets loaded on municipal trucks and is dumped on landfills in city outskirts regularly. Beyond this, most of us would rarely bother about it, like what is going to happen to it after the dumping? Is it going to be treated? What would be the condition of villages in such dump zones? Does it have any effect on the people living nearby?

Waste segregation
Clean & Green volunteers in Bangalore

Today, solid waste segregation is the biggest challenge faced by urban areas and metropolitan cities across the world. Especially, in a country like India which has weak environmental regulations, the situation is becoming worse. Satyamev Jayate, the popular TV talk show hosted by Aamir Khan highlighted the seriousness of this issue recently. According to a report from Delhi Development Authority, the city of Delhi alone produces 25,000 tons of waste every day.  This waste is dumped in the various locations around the city like Ghazipur, Okhla and Balsawa.

Waste Management
Rag picker kids in garbage dump

I came across this problem of solid waste management while doing internship with the environmental cell of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). There, we did frequent visits to such dumping grounds. One of the sites is Deonar, barely outside the city, also shown in Oscar wining movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. There was a mountain of garbage handled by several bulldozers and other bulky backhoe loaders and track excavators. Amidst this pile of waste, numerous rag pickers were waiting for new trucks of garbage, while some of them were engaged in segregation. Most of them were young kids aged 13-18 years. This is the place where poorest of the poor face the challenges of toxicity, health hazards and total quality of life because of the waste generated by us. Is there any solution to this grave problem?

Before we identify a potential solution, we have to pinpoint the major sources of garbage. Studies suggest that household waste contribute to 70-80% of the total waste generated in the city. Treatment of household waste can offer a potential solution to the problem. The simplest and the most fundamental solution to this problem is segregation of the waste at the household level.

Waste segregation bins with label
Waste segregation bins with label

Waste Segregation in India

Why segregation is so important? Segregation is the most important step for the waste treatment. Diverse waste materials require different ways of treatment; mixed waste cannot be treated. As waste is segregated as biodegradable wet waste and inorganic dry waste, two different categories of waste can be treated accordingly. Biodegradable waste can be deposited in vacant land for composting or can be sent to dumping ground. Non-biodegradable waste can be further recycled or can be treated separately.

The table below shows us easy ways of recognizing the different categories of household garbage into ‘wet waste’ consisting of organic & biodegradable waste and ‘dry waste’ inorganic and recyclable waste. Dry waste can be further divided into hazardous waste and e-waste before recycling.

Household waste

Wet wasteDry waste
Kitchen wastePlastic bags, polythene covers, wrappers
Rotten fruits and vegetablesMetal items, tin cans, foils, sheets, scraps, etc
Paper bags & NewspapersTetra pack
Cotton clothes and ragsGlass bottles, bulbs, window panes, etc.
Thin sheets or pieces of woodSynthetic cloth fabric
CardboardE-waste such as batteries, CDs, toys, etc

Segregation makes the recycling of the waste easier. This practice of waste segregation can be done by keeping two dustbins at home. These dustbins can be labeled in different colors or marked in writing.  Across the country, numerous initiatives are being taken to tackle this humongous waste problem:

  • Stree Mukti Sangathan, a voluntary organization in Mumbai has shown the viability of decentralized waste management in the most populous city in India.
  • The SWaCH initiative by Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat in collaboration with the Pune Municipal Corporation is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers, which provides front-end waste management services to the citizens of Pune.
  • Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the Municipal Corporation of Bangalore, recently issued a circular to bulk waste generators for solid waste management stipulating that, “Wet waste and garden waste generated shall be composted at source or processed using bio-methanation techniques (anaerobic degradation).”
  • Central Urban Development Secretary, Sudhir Krishna has invited architects and structural engineers to prepare a comprehensive plan for zero waste and zero landfill cities.
  • ITC, the leading FMCG company, joined hands with a few NGOs and resident welfare associations to create the Wealth out of Waste (WoW) Initiative in Hyderabad. Monetary benefits act as an incentive for residents to participate actively in the WoW initiative.

These are the various examples that demonstrate that waste management can be successfully achieved by segregation and decentralization of the waste.

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  1. You have classified waste into two categories – wet waste and dry waste. There is third and important category, that is hazardous waste. This includes sanitary napkins, medical waste at domestic level including sharps(needles), glass bulbs.this group need to be tackled separately as any unguarded human skin contact may cause harm. These are mostly incinerated. The fourth category is e waste which is amenable for recycling. In Bengaluru, some NGOs are promoting – two bins one bag concept which appears to be sound.

  2. Hi Shankar,
    thank you very much for pointing this out. yes, we need to carefuly deal with hazardous waste, but as you know, here in India, we are pretty careless about these issues. i dont think we can persuade people to create a third bin for that at home.

  3. Hie sir, you have given two category wet waste and dry waste but I want to know which category is good and why? And what is the different ways of treatment of segregation?