Smaller is Better: Small cities take the lead in smart waste management

Small cities take the lead in smart waste management

The management of municipal solid waste (MSW) in a scientific manner is one of the biggest challenges faced by urban India today. The rapid pace of population growth, urbanisation and steady economic growth has brought changes in lifestyle and disposable incomes. With this, there have been significant changes in both the quantity and quality of waste generated.

At present, Indian cities generate a total of 145,128 million tonnes per day (tpd) of MSW. Waste management infrastructure in most cities is characterised by the absence of door-to-door collection, inadequate transportation infrastructure, dumping of waste at unapproved sites, unscientific waste disposal, and inadequate treatment capacity. Moreover, only 35 per cent of the total waste generated is processed.

In recent years, the government has brought about rapid changes in the existing solid waste management practices. Door-to-door garbage collection, segregation at source, decentralised models for waste management, GPS-based vehicle tracking, asset mapping, waste-to-energy conversion and smart landfill solutions are some of the new practices being followed. In October 2014, the government’s most ambitious programme for the waste sector to date, the Swachh Bharat Mission, was launched. For the first time, the government conducted three Swachhta surveys (in 2016, 2017 and 2018) to assess the performance of cities with respect to waste management. Further, several non-profit organisations have started working with the central and state governments as well as local communities with the long-term objective of eliminating open defecation and improving waste management practices in the country. One such initiative was taken by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) for efficient management and segregation of waste by Indian cities. The organisation launched the “Forum of Cities that Segregate” on December 12, 2017 with 26 cities as its members.

In June 2018, CSE released the 2017-18 assessment report of the performance of 20 cities. The cities were assessed based on their performance during 2017-18. The parameters included source segregation, collection efficiency, transportation efficiency, wet waste processing, dry waste processing, disposal in landfills, decentralised processing, enactment of solid waste management bylaws and enforcement of plastic waste management rules, inclusion of the informal sector, common biomedical waste treatment facility, construction and demolition (C&D) waste processing, and electronic waste collection and innovation. Different weights (on a scale of 1 to 5) were assigned to these parameters to score cities on their performance. Based on the findings of the assessment report, the best performers were selected and awards conferred on them.

City-wise performance: Leaders, followers and laggards

For the purpose of analysis, the cities selected by CSE were divided into three categories on the basis of their population. Cities with a population of more than 1 million are considered as big cities, while those with a population between 0.1 million and 1 million and less than 0.1 million are considered as mid-size and small cities respectively.

The most important parameter, segregation of waste at source, is almost non-existent in most Indian cities. Only basic segregation of newspapers/magazines, glass bottles, etc., is undertaken because of the market value of such waste. This waste, however, does not enter the waste stream. A number of smaller cities such as Vengurla and Panchgani in Maharashtra have taken initiatives to ensure segregation of waste at source. Currently, the two cities segregate at least 90 per cent of the total waste generated by them.

Vengurla follows a comprehensive procedure of segregating the waste into wet, dry and domestic hazardous categories. Dry waste is further segregated into 20 different categories such as paper, plastic, glass, electronic waste, dry leaves, etc. The city administration has issued bylaws for monitoring the waste management process and penalising defaulters. Panchgani segregates waste at source in all its 17 wards including commercial establishments and bulk waste generators.

In terms of efficiency in waste collection and transportation too, smaller cities such as Panchgani, Vengurla and Bobbili (Andhra Pradesh) have taken the lead. More than 90 per cent of the waste generated in these cities is collected and transported with the help of the informal sector. Waste transportation vehicles have been fitted with GPS for tracking their movement on a real-time basis. Another small city, Balaghat (Madhya Pradesh) has also achieved 75-90 per cent collection and transportation efficiency.

Further, scientific processing of wet and dry waste is almost non-existent in most of the cities in the country. Panchgani and Vengurla are among the two exceptions with processing rates of over 90 per cent for both wet waste and dry waste. In Panchgani, non-recyclable plastic waste is shredded and utilised for the construction of roads. Balaghat too has a wet waste processing rate of 90 per cent.

Vengurla and Panchgani have also outperformed big cities in terms of adopting scientific waste disposal practices. Both the cities have adopted zero waste disposal models. While Vengurla does not have a landfill site, Panchgani has transformed its garbage disposal site into a public park. Besides, all the inert waste materials generated in Vengurla are mixed with organic waste and used for mulching.

Collection and treatment of biomedical waste, C&D waste and e-waste is another key waste management segment where most of the small cities have taken initiatives. Panchgani, Vengurla and Vaijapur have all set up a common biomedical waste treatment facility, while Balaghat has set up an e-waste treatment facility.

A number of mid-size cities such as Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and Muzaffarpur in Bihar have also performed better than the large cities. Alappuzha Municipality is one of the earliest to practise source segregation. Currently, all 52 wards of the city are practising segregation of waste at the household, commercial and bulk generator levels. Further, Muzaffarpur in Bihar, which had launched its segregation programme in 2017, has reached a segregation level of 75-90 per cent within a year.

Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram have also taken several steps to improve their waste collection and transportation efficiency. In both the cities, the coverage of waste collection and transportation is more than 90 per cent. This has been possible through efficient door-to-door collection and the deployment of smart waste transportation systems.

To ensure efficient waste processing, Alappuzha provides subsidies for the installation of compost plants at the household level. Other conventional aerobic technologies such as pit and pipe composting and potable biogas plants are also promoted in the city. Indore treats almost 90 per cent of the wet waste generated with composters for treatment installed in marketplaces. In terms of dry waste, Indore and Alappuzha are the only mid-size cities to have 90 per cent or higher processing levels.

With regard to decentralised waste management, Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha have taken the lead. In Thiruvananthapuram, approximately 0.12 million households (50 per cent of the total households) practise waste composting at source. Also, about 350 bulk waste generators undertake composting of wet waste generated by them. Also, close to 4,000 households and 100 bulk waste generators have set up biogas plants for in-situ treatment of wet waste.

In contrast to the small- and mid-sized cities, bigger corporations such as East Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Patna Municipal Corporation and the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram have segregation levels below 33 per cent. Indore is the only exception where over 90 per cent of the households practice source segregation of waste.

Bengaluru, Greater Hyderabad, Muzaffarpur, Patna and Gurugram also showed dismal performance in processing dry waste with all of them recording less than 33 per cent efficiency levels. In terms of wet waste, only Bengaluru and Greater Hyderabad have 75-90 per cent processing levels.

Further, in most of the large cities, waste collected from different areas is dumped in landfill sites. For instance, Patna and Gurugram dispose of more than 75 per cent of the waste generated in landfills. Bengaluru and Bhopal disposed of about 50-75 per cent waste at dump sites causing environmental degradation.

These bigger cities also lack comprehensive policies or guidelines enforcing proper collection and treatment of e-waste. Cities such as Bhopal, Bengaluru, Mysuru and Gurugram only have collection facilities but the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016, are yet to be implemented.


While a number of small Indian cities have implemented smart and sustainable waste management solutions, there is still a huge gap. To bridge this gap, there is a need to create effective collaboration between municipal corporations and local communities. Most importantly, consumer attitude and behaviour towards source segregation need to be changed.

Besides, there is a common perception that solid waste management in general, and segregation in particular, is difficult for large cities given the volume of waste generated by them. But Indore’s performance in terms of source segregation sets a precedent for other large cities.

That said, more measures and initiatives are needed for achieving the long-term goal of making India open defecation free. Moreover, the adoption of smart waste management practices with new technologies and standards,

attracting private participation, and increasing IT penetration and the availability of skilled manpower are other areas that need attention.