Management of municipal solid waste (MSW) in cities and towns has gained significance over the past two decades and with the launch of the MSW Rules in 2000, urban local bodies (ULBs) are under pressure to ensure sustainable management of MSW within their respective jurisdictions. The MSW segment itself has a large base of private players who have the skill and expertise to carry out various activities that form part of the MSW management chain. Whereas activities such as collection and transportation of MSW are generally managed by ULBs, non-government organisations, resident welfare associations and self-help groups, the treatment and disposal of municipal waste has witnessed active participation from private players. In bigger cities, private players have also forayed into waste collection and transportation.
The challenge of delivering MSW services is growing rapidly with the ongoing expansion of city limits and migration from rural/semi-rural areas. As per the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ latest estimates (2019), urban areas in the country generate about 52.97 million tonnes of solid waste per annum. A little over 50 per cent of the total waste generated is scientifically processed. Despite some promising initiatives, current waste management practices are far from satisfactory. Barring a few large urban areas such as Ahmedabad, Surat, Pune, Hyderabad and Mumbai, waste management practices in most cities are characterised by the absence of door-to-door collection and segregation of waste, inadequate transportation infrastructure, dumping of waste at unapproved sites, unscientific disposal of waste, and inadequate treatment capacity.
The situation is slowly changing now with increased interest from the government and the private sector in efficient and smart waste management. The entry of the private sector in waste management is not just limited to metropolitan cities, but is also being seen in smaller towns and cities such as Kanpur, Ranchi and Mathura. Greater private participation has strengthened the capabilities of ULBs in segregating, recycling and reusing waste. Steps to promote biodegradable and recyclable substitutes for non-biodegradable materials have been taken. ULBs are also recognising and practising reduce-reuse-recycle (3R) or reduce-reuse-recycle-replace (4R). Emphasis on scientific disposal has also increased.
The government too is making concerted efforts towards improving waste management practices through various flagship initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Reju-
venation and Urban Transformation. In the past two-three years, these initiatives have had some success in bringing about visible improvements in MSW management at the city level. The improvements have been in terms of the number of projects undertaken, capacity addition, and technologies and best practices adoption.
The use of information technology (IT) for various aspects of waste management including collection, transportation, treatment, disposal, asset mapping, network management and customer service has also increased over the years. This has primarily been driven by the need for efficiencies in operations, loss reduction and improvement in customer satisfaction. Some of the popular IT systems/solutions being deployed by ULBs include radio frequency identification-based smart bins, GPS-based tracking systems and management information systems for control and monitoring. Utilities are also deploying advanced systems such as smart landfill solutions, mobile applications and internet of things-based waste management systems. ULBs in Amritsar, Surat, Pune, Chennai, Navi Mumbai and Chennai have been particularly active in deploying these IT solutions and technologies.
Further, waste-to-energy (WtE) initiatives are gaining traction across the country. At present, there are about 33 WtE plants with a cumulative installed capacity of over 275 MW. Although certain technologies for processing and treating solid waste and generating energy are established, the revenue models are not sustainable. A well-established market for sale of power generated from WtE plants could provide an impetus to the development of these projects and pave the way for greater private sector participation.
That said, there are still a large number of utilities that continue to practise outdated management and service delivery processes. Thus, the investment requirement is huge and the sector presents sizeable opportunities. Given the resource constraints faced by ULBs, the private sector is expected to play a larger role in the creation of waste management infrastructure. As business imperatives change, newer technologies and applications will be required to cater to future demand. Also, inherent challenges such as the absence of data, inefficiencies in user charges and poor financial health of ULBs will need immediate attention.