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Solid Waste Management – Types, Methods, Challenges & Solutions for Solid Waste Management

Solid Waste Management – Types, Methods, Challenges & Solutions for Solid Waste Management


  • GS 3 || Environment || Environment & Ecology || Pollution

Why in the news?

Increasing solid waste is one of the major matter of concern in present time, local government and municipalities’ needs to take some more active steps to manage the solid waste

What is solid waste?

  • The useless and unwanted products in the solid state derived from the activities of and discarded by society. It is produced either by – product of production processes or arise from the domestic or commercial sector when objects or materials are discarded after use. In an average person; solid waste is usually being said as the following terms
    • Garbage: the term given principally to food waste, but may include other degradable organic wastes
    • Rubbish: consists of combustible and non-combustible solid waste, excluding food wastes.
    • Refuse: the collective term for solid wastes, includes both garbage and rubbish.
    • Litter: odds and ends, bits of paper, discarded wrappings, bottles etc. Left lying around in public places.

Types of solid waste:

Some of the major types of solid waste management are as follows: a. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), b. Hazardous Wastes, c. Industrial Wastes, d. Agricultural Wastes, e. Bio-medical Wastes, f. Waste Minimization.

  • Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): The term municipal solid waste (MSW) is generally used to describe most of the non-hazardous solid waste from a city, town or village that requires routine collection and transport to a processing or disposal site, Sources of MSW include private homes, commercial establishments and institutions, as well as industrial facilities.
  • Hazardous Wastes: Hazardous wastes are those that can cause harm to human and the environment. They are as such:
    • Toxic wastes, Reactive wastes, Corrosive wastes, Infectious wastes
  • Industrial Wastes: Food processing industries, metallurgical chemical and pharmaceutical unit’s breweries, sugar mills, paper and pulp industries, fertilizer and pesticide industries are major ones which discharge toxic wastes. During processing, scrap materials, tailings, acids etc.
  • Agricultural Wastes: The waste generated by agriculture includes waste from crops and livestock.
  • Bio-Medical Wastes: Bio-medical waste means any waste, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunisation of human beings or animals or in research activities pertaining thereto or in the production or testing of biological.

What is solid waste management?

Solid waste management is a term that is used to refer to the process of collecting and treating solid wastes. It also offers solutions for recycling items that do not belong to garbage or trash. As long as people have been living in settlements and residential areas, garbage or solid waste has been an issue. Waste management is all about how solid waste can be changed and used as a valuable resource. Total amount of municipal solid waste generated by India is given below in image;

Future of solid waste generation all across the globe can be very major matter of concern for environment and human existence:

Methods of Solid Waste Management:

  • Sanitary Landfill: This is the most popular solid waste disposal method used today. Garbage is basically spread out in thin layers, compressed and covered with soil or plastic foam.
  • Incineration: This method involves the burning of solid wastes at high temperatures until the wastes are turned into ashes. Incinerators are made in such a way that they do not give off extreme amounts of heat when burning solid wastes
  • Recovery and Recycling: Recycling or recovery of resources is the process of taking useful but discarded items for the next use. Plastic bags, tins, glass and containers are often recycled automatically since, in many situations, they are likely to be scarce commodities.
  • Composting: Due to a lack of adequate space for landfills, biodegradable yard waste is allowed to decompose in a medium designed for the purpose. Only biodegradable waste materials are used in composting.
  • Pyrolysis: This is a method of solid waste management whereby solid wastes are chemically decomposed by heat without the presence of oxygen. It usually occurs under pressure and at temperatures of up to 430 degrees Celsius. The solid wastes are changed into gasses, solid residue of carbon and ash and small quantities of liquid.

Effects of Poor Solid Waste Management:

  • Litter Surroundings: Due to improper waste disposal systems, particularly by municipal waste management teams, wastes heap up and become a menace. While people clean their homes and places of work, they litter their surroundings, which affect the environment and the community.
  • Impact on Human Health: Improper waste disposal can affect the health of the population living nearby the polluted area or landfills. The health of waste disposal workers and other employees involved with these landfill facilities are also at a greater risk.
  • Disease-causing Pests: This type of dumping of waste materials forces biodegradable materials to rot and decompose under improper, unhygienic and uncontrolled conditions. After a few days of decomposition, a foul smell is produced, and it becomes a breeding ground for different types of disease-causing insects as well as infectious organisms. On top of that, it also spoils the aesthetic value of the area.
  • Environmental Problems: Solid wastes from industries are a source of toxic metals, hazardous wastes, and chemicals. When released to the environment, the solid wastes can cause biological and physicochemical problems to the environment that may affect or alter the productivity of the soils in that particular area.
  • Soil and Groundwater Pollution: Toxic materials and chemicals may seep into the soil and pollute the groundwater. During the process of collecting solid waste, hazardous wastes usually mix with ordinary garbage and other flammable wastes making the disposal process even harder and risky.
  • Emission of Toxic Gases: When hazardous wastes like pesticides, batteries containing lead, mercury or zinc, cleaning solvents, radioactive materials, e-waste and plastics mixed up with paper and other non-toxic scraps are burned they produce dioxins, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other gases.
  • Impact on Land and Aquatic Animals: Our carelessness with our waste and garbage also affects animals, and they suffer the effects of pollution caused by improperly disposed of wastes and rubbish.

Issues and Challenges in India’s waste Management system:

  • Urbanization: With rapid urbanization, the development of solid waste has increased dramatically, which has stressed the Solid Waste Management System.
  • Most Indian urban local authorities fail to provide effective waste management services due to financial difficulties, lack of facilities and technology.
  • Issues with segregation: While solid waste management regulations require the segregation of waste from the source, it has not been largely enforced. Most of the recyclability of waste is lost due to insufficient waste segregation.
  • Disposal of waste: Most local authorities deposit solid waste without any leachate treatment at open dump sites. Such places emit foul odour and are breeding grounds for disease-causing rodents and insects. Liquid infiltration from waste pollutes groundwater and poses a significant health and environmental threat. In addition, these landfill sites are responsible for air pollution as well.
  • Waste processing/recovery: Most of the solid waste management funds are reserved for collection and transport, with very little remaining for processing and resource recovery and disposal. Many waste-to-energy installations are still non-operational.
  • Workforce: The waste management sector in India is made up mainly of informal workers coming from the urban poor. Due to poor working conditions, rag pickers, who are instrumental in waste recycling, are highly susceptible to health harm.
  • Management apathy and also low community engagement is a major constraint of solid waste management in India.

What can be done?

  • The secret to effective waste management is to ensure proper waste segregation at the source and to ensure that waste passes into various recycling and resource recovery streams.
  • A main component of SWM is wasting energy. Waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plant installation would reduce the load of landfill sites
  • Research and development must be promoted in order to reinvent the method of waste management in India. Recycling and recovery from waste and not landfilling should be the priority. In addition, it is important to promote e-waste recycling so that the e-waste issue is resolved.
  • Public-Private waste management collaboration models should be promoted.

Government Rules and Policies for SWM

  • Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016: The MoEFCC revised and notified the SWM Rules in April 2016, which replaces the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The new rules have extended beyond the municipal jurisdiction.
    • It provides for waste generators to segregate waste at source and allocate dry waste such as paper, plastic, glass and metal for recycling and reuse, as well as utilise wet waste from the kitchen for composting or biomethanation. Schedule 1 of the Rules provides the engineering specifications and criteria for setting up and operating landfill sites
  • In addition, Article 51 A(g) of the Indian Constitution gives every citizen of India a fundamental duty to protect and enhance the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures

Best practices in India in SWM:

  • The Kochi module reflects the best practices on source segregation of waste as exemplified by the Kochi Municipal Corporation.
  • The Panaji module explains how the vision of a city for attaining zero landfilling has been successfully translated into reality by the Corporation of the City of Panaji.
  • The Gorai module details out the need for scientific closure of a dumpsite by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. It captures briefly the technical process involved with a special focus on the communities perspective.
  • The Vijayawada Municipal Corporation has showcased the simple and effective management of organic waste through decentralised vermicomposting facilities. The module details out the step by step guide to vermicomposting technique – its operation, maintenance, pre and post care. It also highlights the positive outcomes of vermicomposting for replication by other urban local bodies.

International Best Practice:

  • South Korea is one of the few countries to have food waste isolated and recycled. Landfill recovery initiatives such as the Nanjido recovery project have also been initiated, which have successfully turned hazardous waste sites into sustainable ecological attractions.
  • It also concentrated on the use of power from WTE (Waste to Energy) In South Korea, the world’s first landfill-powered hydrogen plant was installed in 2011, and over 60% of new and renewable energy is currently generated from waste.


Population growth and particularly the development of megacities is making SWM in India a major problem. The current situation is that India relies on inadequate waste infrastructure, the informal sector and waste dumping. There are major issues associated with public participation in waste management and there is generally a lack of responsibility towards waste in the community. There is a need to cultivate community awareness and change the attitude of people towards waste, as this is fundamental to developing proper and sustainable waste management systems.

Mains oriented question:

Why solid waste management is bigger challenge in metropolitan cities. Explain. (200 words)