Doing their Bit: Growing role of communities and the private sector in waste management

Growing role of communities and the private sector in waste management

The quest to manage municipal solid waste in India’s urban centres has gained significant momentum in the past few years. Government organisations and urban local bodies (ULBs) have provided a much-needed thrust, owing mostly to the centre’s Swachh Bharat Mission. At the same time, the private sector and residential communities have also taken up the baton and are contributing towards a cleaner India.

The spotlight on waste segregation, collection and treatment due to the Swachh Bharat Mission has highlighted the work done by several non-profit organisations, start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprises in this sector. These organisations are tying up with ULBs or directly with waste producers to undertake waste management services. Several innovative projects for segregation, collection and transportation of municipal waste have been launched under such collaborations. In addition, some organisations are encouraging waste processing at source by introducing household-level waste composters.

Innovative waste segregation, collection and transportation initiatives

Today, a number of cities such as Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are engaging private players and non-profit organisations for undertaking waste collection and transportation. These organisations such as Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH), Citizengage Solutions Private Limited and Waste Ventures India are revolutionising the way waste is segregated and collected in the country. They are deploying innovative techniques and ideas to influence citizens towards better waste management.

For instance, in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad, the municipal corporations have collaborated with SWaCH, a wholly owned cooperative of self-employed waste collectors. The organisation provides door-to-door waste collection services and helps in setting up decentralised wet waste compost pits in residential areas and institutional campuses. Besides providing these services, SWaCH has also deployed measures aimed at encouraging citizens to segregate their waste. It has undertaken extensive awareness campaigns on segregation of sanitary waste. In 2009, the organisation introduced special paper bags for the proper disposal of sanitary waste. The use of this product by the cities’ residents went a long way in ensuring that waste pickers could identify and thus avoid encountering degrading and hazardous waste. Further, SWaCH has recently launched the Red Dot campaign, under which it is urging all citizens to clearly segregate their sanitary waste by marking it with a visible red dot. This makes the identification of such waste relatively easier for the workers. Thus, such initiatives are slowly changing the way the citizens of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad dispose of their household waste.

Bengaluru is also fostering change in waste segregation through community participation. Citizen groups in the city have come together under a “2bin1bag” campaign which encourages waste segregation into dry, wet and sanitary waste. The campaign urges residents to use a threefold approach for waste segregation. Under this, wet waste is disposed of in green bins, dry waste is recommended to be collected in recyclable bags and sanitary waste is disposed of in red bins. The campaign also facilitates the provision of waste collection bins and bags through its website.

Besides encouraging segregation at source to facilitate solid waste management (SWM), ULBs have also involved the private sector in waste collection and transportation. For instance, in Bengaluru, Citizengage is working to connect waste producers to processors. The company is involved in waste segregation and collection from the city’s residential and business establishments. It then conveys this waste to collectors and processors who reuse it by converting it into compost and energy. Moreover, to ensure efficiency in its operations, Citizengage utilises real-time data to manage its operations and analyse the quantum of waste generated and collected from different areas of the city.

Similarly, in Hyderabad, private agencies such as Waste Ventures have been engaged to encourage citizens to adopt waste management practices. The company has launched an online platform, Toter, which is a household-level pickup service for recyclable waste. The service works along the lines of the conventional kabadiwalla system, which involves scrap dealers picking up and paying for household recyclable waste products. Toter allows the city’s residents to book time slots for pickups. During the pickup, the Toter workers use digital scales to weigh the recyclable waste and accordingly compensate the residents. The company prices different types of segregated waste differently and is also willing to take unsorted recyclables. The waste thus collected is conveyed by the company to waste processors for recycling and processing.

Encouraging decentralised waste treatment

ULBs are also engaging with private players to adopt innovative methods and practices for waste treatment. For instance, private ventures such as Daily Dump and non-profit organisations such as SWaCH are encouraging decentralised treatment and composting of waste in Indian cities.

The focus of these organisations has largely been on encouraging urban residential households to turn their waste into compost by investing in easy-to-use, cost-effective composters, which rely on organic and biological waste treatment processes.

For instance, Daily Dump has launched a pan-Indian service for providing composting equipment and composters of different sizes. They not only provide composters suitable for various household sizes, but also provide larger equipment for community-level and industrial composting. In addition, the organisation also extends services for buying the compost generated through the process from its clients. In Pune, SWaCH provides terracotta composters which can be used for waste composting at the individual household level.

Such measures have helped in reducing the quantum of waste that is transported from urban centres to landfill sites. Given the lack of adequate centralised treatment capacities in the country, household-level composting can augment the share of processed waste in the total quantum of urban waste generated.

Role of CSR

Private initiatives in the SWM sector are also being undertaken by multinational corporations and businesses as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. However, while private interest in the sector is picking up, it is largely restricted to augmenting waste collection and transportation capacities.

For instance, several corporations have implemented waste management projects under the Swachh Bharat Mission as part of their CSR activities. As of May 11, 2017, of the 42 live projects listed on the mission’s CSR portal available for funding, only four projects have been dedicated towards waste processing. The rest of the projects are focused mainly on the provision of garbage bins, the procurement of waste transportation vehicles such as compactors and e-rickshaws, and the construction of toilets. Private companies may be more inclined to invest in such projects because they only require a one-time capital investment and do not entail any maintenance responsibilities.

However, the escalating problem that still needs to be tackled is the lack of facilities to treat the waste that is collected. Therefore, innovative measures and increased investments by the private sector are required in developing treatment and disposal facilities. Encouraging private companies to set up solid waste treatment plants as part of their CSR activities could not only enhance treatment capacity in the country, but also increase treatment efficiency. The government will need to initiate relevant measures for incentivising companies to do so.

Use of IT

ULBs are increasingly collaborating with private organisations for the deployment of IT solutions for executing SWM projects. For instance, crowdsourcing tools such as web- and mobile-application-based registration and redressal of civic grievances are increasingly being adopted. These aid policymakers in understanding the logistical requirement of waste management projects. Private organisations are teaming up with ULBs to collate and analyse the data thus collected. As in the case of some government agencies, private organisations providing waste collection and transportation services are also deploying global positioning system-based devices to monitor their fleet. This enables them to optimise the load and the number of trips made by their SWM vehicles.


Private organisations in India, especially start-ups and non-profit organisations, are helping foster mass consciousness about SWM. They are doing so by contributing significantly to provide improved segregation, collection and recycling services for waste management. The use of IT solutions has been a common practice for these organisations to enhance operational efficiencies and improve their cost economics. In the process, they are also integrating informal waste collectors into the system and are thus capitalising on the existing garbage collection and transportation networks in urban centres. Moreover, they are working to bridge the gap between waste producers and processors in several cities by transporting waste directly to processing units. Several organisations have also shown interest in providing household and industrial compost units, thus laying stress on waste processing at the source itself. Several corporates have also started undertaking such initiatives under their CSR mandate.

This increase in private interest in the sector has been fuelled mainly by the central government’s Swachh Bharat Mission which has changed the perception of SWM in the country. Going forward, greater private sector participation is expected in this domain. ULBs and civic agencies are expected to collaborate with such organisations to better the SWM practices adopted in their cities.