Does India Really Process 73% of its Waste as Union Minister Claims?
While Union Minister of State Kaushal Kishore claimed that 73% of waste is processed in India, CPCB data showed that 27% waste ends up in landfills and 26% is unaccounted for
Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Kaushal Kishore recently claimed that seven Indian states process more than 90% of their solid waste and the entire country processes 73% of the solid waste it generates. But data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reveal that almost 26% of solid waste generated in India is unaccounted and 27% ends up in landfills. In fact, experts say that many wards don't even segregate the collected waste, let alone process it.
In response to a question in Lok Sabha on Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban), Kishore presented a state-wise list of achievements under the scheme. This list showed that Chhattisgarh processes 100% of its solid waste, followed by Madhya Pradesh (97%), Maharashtra (96%) and Chandigarh (96%). Whereas, Meghalaya and Puducherry do not process solid waste at all.
If over 80%-90% of waste is processed in these states, then why is so much waste dumped in landfills? The reasons for these data gaps stem from systemic challenges, inefficient treatment processes and the complexity of treating solid waste, say experts.
What is Solid Waste?
In 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) replaced Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 with the new Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM), 2016 after 16 years.
Under SWM Rules, 2016, solid waste includes solid or semi-solid domestic waste, sanitary waste, commercial waste, institutional waste, catering and market waste and other non-residential wastes, street sweepings, silt removed or collected from the surface drains, horticulture waste, agriculture and dairy waste, treated bio-medical waste. This excludes industrial waste, bio-medical waste, e-waste, battery waste, and radio-active waste. These are covered under separate rules framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Kishore told Parliament that India currently generates 1.48 lakh metric tonnes of solid waste per day (MT/D) and 73% of it is processed. But CPCB's report on 'Implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016', released in June 2022, Annual Report 2020-21 shows that of 1.5 MT/D waste collected per day, only 47% of 70,973 MT/D is treated. In fact, the report also showed that 27% or 40,863 MT/D waste ends up in landfills and 25.8% or 39,010 MT/D is completely unaccounted for.
Even in the response, the MoS said that of the 90,617 wards covered by the government, 2,636 wards do not have the facility of door-to-door waste collection. He added that more than 8,000 wards do not even segregate their waste.
While Kishore told Lok Sabha that Maharashtra processes 96% of its solid waste, the CPCB report pegs it at 67%. The report highlights that 83% of the 7,500 tonnes of waste that ends up in landfills is unscientifically disposed of.
In Karnataka, the CPCB report states that 61.4% of waste is processed or treated, while the Lok Sabha response says that the southern state treats 81% of its solid waste.
How is Delhi Dealing with Waste?
According to the CPCB report, the maximum quantity of per capita solid waste is generated in Delhi. So, let's take the Capital as an example.
While the Lok Sabha response states that the Capital processes 90% of its solid waste, the CPCB data show that of the 10,990 tonnes of solid waste generated and collected in Delhi, less than half is being treated and 50.3% ends up in landfills.
Further, this was admitted by Delhi's civic officials. Over 45% of the city's daily municipal solid waste is still being dumped at three landfills, according to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. "The city generates around 11,120 tonnes of municipal waste per day, of which 5,800 tonnes are used by waste-to-energy power plants and a small portion goes to composting plants. The rest of the unprocessed municipal solid waste, around 5,000 tonnes, lands up at the Ghazipur, Okhla and Bawana landfills," civic officials were quoted as saying by The Times of India the same day Kishore made the claim in Parliament.
In fact, the legacy waste dumped at Ghazipur landfill is 14 million tonnes and around 2,300 tonnes per day of fresh municipal solid waste is dumped daily at the site, according to an interim progress report on fires at Ghazipur landfill filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), July 31, 2022. Only 7% of the legacy waste there has been processed since July 2019, added the report.
No Reliable Record of Waste Collected
Another aspect missing from the claim is that there is no proper record of waste collected as there are two waste collection systems running in Delhi (formal and informal) and how the Centre has no record of the informal sector. Under the formal system, waste collection is done by the municipal staff or by an authorised party or private concessionaire, Swati Singh Sambyal, an independent waste and circular economy expert, told FactChecker.
She explained that under the informal sector, door-to-door collection of garbage is done from certain areas that the municipal staff doesn't cover and this waste is further transported to dhalaos/receptacles/huge dustbins after the waste picker takes a recyclable fraction.
The informal sector is integrated into the collection system by a contractor, who sends this collected waste for processing or disposal. Since there's no record of the waste collected by the informal sector, it doesn't figure in the official numbers, Sambyal explained.
"There is no official data available of waste collected by the informal sector. What's left out is several tonnes of waste that is managed by the informal work force of Delhi — about 1.4-1.5 lakh workers. They are crucial and critical in ensuring waste gets channelised for recycling and official generation/processing figures do not account for these values/numbers," said Sambyal.
Priti Mahesh, Chief Programme Coordinator at Toxics Link, a not-for-profit focussing on environmental issues, echoed Sambyal's views and said the government's claim that '90% of Delhi's waste is processed' only takes into account registered waste processing facilities. Under the SWM Rules, local bodies have to obtain authorisation for setting up waste processing, treatment or disposal facilities if the volume of waste is more than 5 metric tonnes per day, but Delhi only has two registered facilities and several unregistered ones. "There is no absolute figure as to how much total waste is generated in Delhi. There are a lot of facilities that are not registered in the bio medical waste rules and so their waste generation is not accounted for. Their waste is just disposed of or dumped in landfills," she said.
The situation is not much different in Karnataka either. Pinky Chandran, co-founder and trustee of Hasiru Dala, an organisation working with waste pickers in Karnataka, said the informal sector is completely unrecorded. "Currently, data available applies to the formal systems only. There is no linear pathway to this. In Bengaluru, we have decentralised dry waste collection centres and hence it is very easy to track the quantity of solid dry waste but not all wards have it," she said. Although informal workers intersect at different formal points, the collection efficiency is not standardised, she added.
Mahesh highlighted there is no record of how much waste comes in from other states to Delhi. "Delhi may be processing a large amount of waste as it's not only processing its own waste but that of other states as well," she said.
Inefficient Treatment of Waste
The Capital has three WTE plants – in Okhla, Gazipur and Narela- Bawana. Over 80% of Delhi's waste processing happens in waste-to-energy plants.
While the SWM Rules 2016 clearly mention that no recyclables and mixed waste is to be used in these plants and only non-recyclables are to be fed, organic waste is being fed into WTE plants, said Sambyal.
Although the Capital has also upscaled its composting infrastructure with few centralised composting plants treating a few thousand tonnes of waste and decentralised units, that hardly adds up to 10% of the processing, added Sambyal.
Moreover, inefficient treatment of solid waste after collection in the informal sector is completely missed by civic bodies. "Large quantities of waste are processed in the informal sector. But whether it is being processed in an environmentally safe manner or in a way where there is no damage to the environment or human health is what we must focus on," said Mahesh.
FactChecker tried contacting Manoj Joshi, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs via call and email for clarification and comment but had received no response by the time of publishing this article. If and when he responds, it will be updated here.