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Vol. 21 No. 4 - October 2015

Garbage to gold: An untapped approach towards sustainability

By: Garima Dixita, Amit Pal Singha, Amit Kumarb, Atul Upadhyaya

What is waste?  Is it really  discardable or unused from any point of view? Let’s give it a thought “A waste is not waste until it is wasted”. The problem of solid waste is worldwide; some countries have managed it while others are trying to cope up with the problem.

Problem around the world

Problem of solid waste is very prominent in urban areas. The world is hurtling towards its urban future. The amount of municipal solid waste (MSW), one of the most important by-products of an urban lifestyle, is growing even faster than the rate of urbanization. World cities generate up to 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year. This volume is going to increase approximately 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025. Globally, solid waste management cost is $205.4 annually and  it is going to increase up to $375.5 billion in 2025. This increase in cost will affect more severely to the low income countries (more than 5-fold increases) and lower-middle income countries (more than 4-fold increases).

Solid waste problem in India

Urban India generates 188,500 tonnes of solid waste per day and 68.8 million tonnes per year. About 20% of this waste is recovered by informal entities (local people) in large cities and this percentage is less in small cities. Remaining 80% of waste reaches to open dump sites and causes damage to public health and deteriorating the environment, and change the climate. These dumpsites are already handling more waste than they can hold in nearly every city and it is hard to find land fill space around urban areas.


Table 1: Chronologically increasing waste per capita and urban waste


 Per capita
waste generated

Total urban municipal
waste generated

















Source: NPTEL


Table 2: Typical composition of municipal solid wastes in India


Mass % range

Moisture % typical

Density % range

Food wastes




























Garden Trimmings








Misc. Org. Sub.








Tin cans




Non ferrous metals




Ferrous metals




Dirt ash bricks




Source: Ramachandra, 2003

The amount of waste generation is so huge that municipalities struggle to collect the waste and give less importance to disposal. Municipalities do not have sufficient funds for the salaries of the staff. These municipal corporations are ineffective in managing the waste due to various reasons including the lack of political will and limited fund for solid waste management.

Solid waste problem in Lucknow

Lucknow, a metropolitan city, nestled on the banks of the Gomti River, is flanked by Barabanki District on the east, Unnao on the west, Raebareli on the south and Sitapur and Hardoi districts on the north, respectively. Lucknow is a major city and capital of Uttar Pradesh State. Its population is 2.186 million which generates 1365 tonnes of solid waste per day. It has been observed that city disposes the waste within few kilometer distances from the city in open dumping places without following scientific techniques of land filling and without caring about its impact on human health. MSWM is a major problem being faced by municipalities. The problem of waste is not only technical but also occurs due to lack of awareness, political, legal, socio-cultural and environmental factors and paucity of available resources for solid waste management . The municipalities and NGO’s related with municipalities are responsible for collection of segregated waste from door-to-door (DTD) according to MSW Rules, 2000. Sweepers collect the MSW from the roads/streets and carry it to the nearest collection points. Solid waste produced from individual households is taken to the collection point or deposited on the adjacent roadside from where it is collected when the roads are being swept. Despite this, solid waste is a real problem for the urban environment due to improper management at individual and institutional level.


Table 3: MSW sources in Lucknow

Sources of waste






Street sweeping




Shops and workshop








By Rahul Charles Francis, L.P.Singh, Earnest Vinay Prakash

Solution for the solid waste problem

It is all about garbage; let’s start thinking to convert this garbage in gold (money, employment, women empowerment, health and clean environment). How this garbage can be converted in gold? Garbage is a social problem; we need to solve it socially with the help of members of our own society.

Around the world:

In ancient cities, wastes were thrown onto unpaved streets and roadways, where they were left to accumulate. The organized waste collection was associated only with state-sponsored events such as parades. Disposal methods were very crude, involving open pits located just outside the city walls. As populations increased, efforts were made to transport waste farther out from the cities. Efforts have been made to cope up with the increasing waste problem around the world.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This is the most useful technique in sector of waste management. It involves reduction, reuse or recycling in order to minimize the amount that ends up in landfills. Methods of waste reduction, waste reuse and recycling are the preferred options when managing waste. There are many environmental benefits that can be derived from the use of these methods. They reduce or prevent green house gas emissions, reduce the release of pollutants, conserve resources, save energy and reduce the demand for waste treatment technology and landfill space.

Switzerland: Waste Recycling

The Swiss Environment Protection Law stipulates that the producers of waste should bear the cost of solid waste disposal. Waste management is financed through tariffs e.g., unit based pricing system, charging for each bag. This pay-per-bag scheme applies to residual waste. Waste bags for this residual waste can be purchased at large retail stores and are available in different sizes (for example, 17, 35, 60, and 110 liters). The waste bags are picked up at the curbside on a fixed weekday.

Germany: Recycling Policy

Waste separation at the household level is a prominent feature of German waste management systems, which are organized on a municipal level. Households separately dispose of paper and cardboard; glass; biodegradable waste; light packaging (plastics, aluminum, and tin); and the residual household waste. Residual waste, organic waste, and paper are collected in designated wheeled bins; packaging materials are collected in yellow bags or in a yellow bin. The waste is picked up at the curbside every week or every two weeks. Glass and sometimes paper have to be brought to community collection sites.

The Philippines: A New Solid Waste Management and Recycling Concept

The system contains a managed landfill, a recycling center, and a composting site for green waste at the landfill site. The recycling is done by trained and authorized waste workers (former informal waste pickers) at the well-managed landfill site. The waste workers are allowed to sort the waste before it is compacted and covered in the landfill site. The workers have a storage room for the sorted materials and can sell it in bulk either to intermediaries or directly to the recycling industry. Green waste from markets, parks, and gardens is collected separately and composted. The recycling activity reduces the waste amount in the landfill by up to 20 percent. Diverting the green waste from the landfill site saves another 10 percent of the total waste to be disposed of in the landfill site. Littering of juice wrappers was a major problem in the town. A women’s cooperative started to collect these wrappers (mainly at ceremonial places); clean them; and produce bags, hats, covers, and other handy equipment for the national and international market.

Bangladesh: Composting in Dhaka

An organization called Waste Concern promote the concept of the 4 Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover waste—in urban areas. It is based on the idea that the organic content of Dhaka’s household waste, which accounts for more than 70 percent of total waste, can be efficiently converted into valuable compost. This practice reduces disposal costs and prolongs the lifetime of landfill sites. It also reduces the harmful environmental impact of landfill sites, because organic waste is responsible for groundwater contamination and methane gas emissions. When organic waste is turned into compost, the soil in urban areas is improved.

Argentina:  Improvement of livelihoods of recuperates

Various initiatives exist to improve the livelihoods of the waste recuperates. For instance, the White Train I is a child care center that hosts children of waste collectors during the typical working hours (4:00–11:00 p.m. The center also supports the enrollment of children in school. Though the center was a neighborhood initiative, the municipality now provides the financial support. Another program, project recuperar, is a microcredit system that aims to help migrant waste collector families’ access credit and start small businesses or regularize their migratory situation.

Europe: Recycling System for Refrigerators and Cooling Devices

As refrigerators and other cooling devices pose a serious threat to the environment and the global climate, Switzerland and the European Union introduced a directive that regulates the safe recycling and disposal of cooling devices. Households are obliged to bring old devices back to the shops. All shops selling these devices are ordered to take back old refrigerators for free and must organize their safe recycling and disposal. The cost of such a system is covered by a prepaid recycling fee that is added to the price of the products. This levy must be paid by the purchaser of the device. In 2005, more than 82,500 tons of electronic waste was collected in Switzerland, 75 percent of which could be recycled.

Solid waste management tax in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, waste management is financed through the council tax, which is raised by local authorities to pay for local services, such as providing police and security, providing support to the elderly and vulnerable, maintaining parks and open spaces, cleaning streets, and collecting and disposing of waste. The tax is based on the property value and is set in an amount to cover the budgeted expenses for the year. Waste management authorities also receive money from a central grant. Waste collection authorities do not receive any financial compensation from the Packaging Waste Recovery Notes system. Accordingly, it is becoming common to charge for the waste amount that exceeds the volume of the storage receptacle and lies next to the bin.

These are some solid waste management practices followed around the world. Now let us consider what practices are followed in India for the waste management.

Solid waste management in India

Solid waste management is one among the basic essential services provided by municipal authorities in the country to keep urban centers clean. However, it is among the most poorly rendered services in the basket. The systems applied are unscientific, outdated and inefficient; population coverage is low; and the poor are marginalized.  Yet several approaches are being practiced in India for waste disposal.

Integrated Solid Waste Management Approach

Integrated solid waste management refers to the strategic approach to sustainable management of solid wastes covering all sources and all aspects, such as generation, segregation, transfer, sorting, treatment, recovery and disposal in an integrated manner, with an emphasis on maximizing resource use efficiency.

On daily basis we throw a full of dustbin outside our home and also litter here and there on public places. In our buildings or society we have a gardener, a gate keeper; do we have a waste manager? This waste manager can separate the waste, can sell non- bio-degradable waste to the manufacturer (for recycle) and convert biodegradable waste to compost, or we can plan for a biogas plant. The increase in community size necessitated a more organised form of waste management to minimize the environmental impacts as the quantity of pollutants exceeded the system’s threshold.

Waste-to-Energy Approach

Waste-to-energy technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, gasification, incineration, pyrolysis, and pelletization, are often pushed by vendors of waste treatment technologies. However, they have yet to be proven under Indian conditions. Two waste-to-energy plants based on refuse-derived fuel were set up in Andhra Pradesh in 2003. Each of those plants produces 6.5 megawatts of power. Some small biomethanation (anaerobic digestion) plants are working successfully in Andhra Pradesh and in Maharashtra, where methane energy is produced from kitchen waste and green waste.

Best Practices of waste management in India

Suryapet in Andhra Pradesh, North Dumdum and New Barrackpore in West Bengal, and Vejalpur in Gujarat are good examples of storage of waste at its source. Through an effective public awareness campaign, including public meetings and student rallies, citizens have been motivated to store the waste at its source in two separate bins for bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable waste. The system is working well.

Solid waste management in Lucknow

The entire operation of solid waste management (SWM) system is performed under these major categories: collection, segregation & storage, transportation, compost Plant and other. Lucknow Nagar Nigam has provided several depots for the temporary storage of solid waste, which are scattered throughout the city. These depots are in good condition but waste is scattered toward the road and animals also founded there in search of food.  The solid waste is directly collected from the collection points by the collection vehicle to the disposal site. Since the solid waste is collected again from the collection points to the disposal site, it is termed secondary collection. The hauled container, stationary container, manually loaded dumper and mechanically loaded dumper systems are used during secondary collection, transportation and disposal of solid waste.

Major Drawbacks of the SWM Transport System

  • Trucks and tractors have open beds. During transport, waste spills from the truck, thereby causing nuisance.

  • Practiced manual loading of waste without use of protective gears is dangerous to the health of waste workers.

  • The transport system is not synchronized with the secondary storage system. Problems arise when a transport fleet is modernized, because waste at the secondary storage system is still dumped on the ground. If the secondary storage system is modernized without an adequate fleet of modern vehicles, similar problems arise

Processing of solid waste 

Solid waste is being processed in several ways in Lucknow Municipal Corporation area. 


Composting is nature's process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. Anything that was once living will decompose. Basically, backyard composting is an acceleration of the same process that occurs in nature. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue. Finished compost looks like soil–dark brown, crumbly and smells like a forest floor.

Currently, solid waste management system has no facility of composting. In the cattle colony near River Gomti where cattle produce dung has not been collected by the Lucknow Nagar Nigam workers. So, the people are living in unhygienic condition. The populations of mosquito, rodents and flies increase to cause several diseases in these areas. Gobar (Dung) also reaches to the river stream on flooding in the rainy season. 


According to the EPA, 90% of medical waste is incinerated. Incineration is the controlled burning of the medical waste in a dedicated medical waste incinerator. Among industry folks, these units are often referred to as hospital/medical/infectious waste incinerators (HMIWIs). The waste generally passes through the incinerator on a belt, and because most medical waste can be incinerated, the waste is not sorted or separated prior to treatment. Incineration has the benefit of reducing the volume of the waste, sterilizing the waste, and eliminating the need for pre-processing the waste before treatment. The resulting incinerated waste can be disposed of in traditional methods, such as by bringing it to a landfill. The downside of incineration is potential pollution from emissions generated during incineration. The EPA has stringent requirements on emissions from medical incinerators. The incineration process can be applied to almost all medical waste types, including pathological waste, and the process reduces the volume of the waste by up to 90%.

The largest concern associated with incineration is air pollution from emissions. The EPA says that at least 20% of medical waste is plastic. The biggest concern is that the incinerator may create toxic compounds. Dioxins and furans can be produced when these plastics burn. Older medical waste incinerators included no pollution control equipment. As new federal and state emission regulations are instituted that have more stringent requirements, medical incinerators are often not being replaced at the end of their service life. Over time, the amount of waste being incinerated will be reduced as other technologies replace on-site incinerators.

This equipment is only used for hospital waste. About 500 Kg waste is incinerated per day in the hospital. Clinic dumps their waste in open dump which is collected by Lucknow Nagar Nigam.


Recyclable waste paper, card board, plastics, polythene, glass, metals, rubber, leather and textiles etc are collected and segregated by waste pickers and collectors. This collected wastes are daily transferred to dealers who are living in slums near the residence of waste pickers. The waste collector and waste pickers are generally illiterate and work without safety equipment such as boots and gloves although they contribute to the improvement of environment. 

Energy Generation

Energy-from-Waste (EfW or waste-to-energy) facilities offer a safe, technologically advanced means of waste disposal while also generating clean, renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting recycling through the recovery of metals. On Sitapur Road an electricity generation plant has been established. But it started without any proper management plan in place. So it stopped before electricity generation and without giving any output. At present there is no electricity generation from solid waste.


Solid waste is a curse to modern society. It is a global problem but developing countries are facing this problem more seriously as they do not have any integrated approach towards solid waste management. In this scenario we can learn from the countries haveing proper system for solid waste management. The most effective passage goes through three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Solid waste may prove a source of livelihood if we could apply few of the above mentioned proposals such as energy generation.


aPlant Ecology and Environment Science Division, CSIR-NBRI, Rana Pratap Marg, Lucknow-, India

bDepartment of Botany, University of Lucknow, Lucknow, India. <[email protected]>

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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