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How big is the waste problem in India & why we should care?

Should the waste problem in India concern us individuals?

By Sanjoli Arora

Every now and then newspapers or news app inform us of the growing waste mass-produced in the country. These articles often throw in big numbers, show comparative charts within different Indian states or how India’s waste problem stands against the world. As per our research, India generated 52,971,720 tonnes of solid waste in 2018. (Source: MoEFCC, GOI)

Now, 52.9 million tonnes sounds like a big number, no doubt. But what do 52.9 million tonnes of waste look like? So, let us try to decode this number in a metric we can understand and comprehend better. Bear with us as we do the math with you.

The largest landfill in the world is located in Brasilia, Brazil and spans some 136 hectares. This landfill has been active for over 50 years with an estimated 30 million metric tons of waste. So, in order to hold India’s annual waste- we would need a little under two of such landfills or approximately 231 hectares of land. The Red Fort, the largest monument in Delhi, has an area of 103.06 hectares.

To conclude, we need 2.24 Red Fort’s to house India’s annual waste.

This much land in a country as big as India does not sound like much. But, dumping waste on land causes severe damage to not just the landfill but the health of people operating and living around it.

Waste Generated in India per day

India generates approximately 133,760 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day. Out of it approximately 91,152 tonnes (68.1%) is collected and approximately 25,884 tonnes (19.3%) is treated. This means that 80% of the waste we generate remains untreated.

Urban vs Rural India

Municipal solid waste generation per capita in India varies between small towns and cities, ranging from 0.17 kg per person per day to 0.62 kg per person per day respectively. Urban India clearly has a bigger waste problem compared to villages. Population density, economic status, level of commercial activity, community, and city/region all influence waste generation rates.

Why is urban waste a serious problem in India?

Mumbai and Delhi are not only India’s two most populous cities, but they also produce the most solid waste on a daily basis. Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill stands at a height of 65 meters. This is 8 meters short of the Qutub Minar.

Urban waste is a serious problem not just because of high population density and number of households, but also because cities generate great amounts of industrial waste. Industrial waste does not take only a form of physical hazardous waste but also contributes to air and water pollution.

Air pollution from industries causes poor air quality index (AQI) in Indian cities. Water pollution and untreated sewage waste lead to serious health concerns for not just people but also aquatic animals. Thus, urban waste is not just about what we see in physical dumping grounds but also affects the environment around us.

What are the problems caused by waste?

Let us try to answer this question interns of how waste impacts us, other beings and the planet

Effect of waste on Individuals (You)

  1. Physical waste collected for long at one place attracts all sorts of insects and germs. Living in close vicinity with them can severely harm us and disrupt our lifestyle.
  2. Waste and pollution impact human health the most and has long-term effects. Air pollution can lead to severe respiratory issues, water pollution can lead to severe health complications and diseases like cancer.
  3. Untreated waste can enter our system through the foos we eat or the water we drink. This can have severe health concerns that may not be detectable immediately and compromise the workings of our immune system.

Effects of waste on Animals and other beings (Them)

  1. Animals on land, air and in water are probably the first ones to directly come in contact with untreated waste. Whether it is chemical released in water bodies, unsegregated waste piles in public dustbins or the smog released by factories- animals are at the most risk.
  2. Direct contact or consumption of waste can cause severe accidents. But waste usually harms the eco-system in which animals reside- air, forests or water bodies. Thus, it is more than just about risking lives of current species but future species as well.
  3. Finally, waste and pollution are the major contributors to animal life extinction.

Effects of waste on the Environment (Us)

  1. Hazardous waste from households and industries if left untreated or spilled can cause soil contamination. A contaminated soil means contaminated vegetables and food sources. Since soil is essentially all around us, contaminating it will have long term effects.
  2. Water pollution does not only harm water species but us too. We rely on water to drink, wash and do several other activities. Contaminating water- a resource that occupies 71% of the planet means long-term effects on our weather patterns as well.
  3. Extreme or irregular weather cycles means long-term change in our climate. Decomposing waste also releases harmful greenhouse gases. Thus, with every pile of trash, we are aggravating the climate change problem.

Problem with India’s Waste Management System

Of course before we dig deeper into the problem’s it is crucial to understand how India manages its waste, so here is what Wikipedia says. We are working on one too!

From the above-mentioned data, India’s waste management system has several shortcomings:-

  1. Solid Waste Management (SWM) is one of the most important services local governments offer in India to keep cities safe. Almost all local authorities though, haphazardly deposit solid waste at a landfill inside or outside the city. A flaw in this system means 32% of waste is never collected and left in the environment.
  2. Similarly, only 28% of the waste collected is treated. While we can put some blame on the lack of infrastructure, individuals are to blame as well. The waste we generate is dumped altogether and not segregated. Unsegregated waste takes longer to be processed and is often not in a condition to be recycled. Hence, it is essential to understand and practise waste segregation at the source.
  3. Urban cities need more than just a solid waste management plan. An integrated plan to manage air, water and other environmental damage is also essential. Local governments need to work with citizens and corporations to understand grassroots level problems and ideate solutions that are feasible to practice for each and every one.
  4. Finally, as individuals practices waste segregation at the source is essential. But, a better solution is to reduce the waste we generate. For years we have taken waste for granted and had an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach towards it. Whatever waste we produce will always remain on the planet. There is no other place to dump our waste. So let’s be mindful of how much waste we produce.

India’s waste problem is definitely complex and requires action by many. But as individuals we hold great power- our actions help motivate others and keep governments accountable. So, think of ways to reduce your waste load on planet earth and practice low or zero-waste living. We, at Conscious Charcha promise you to help you in this journey and stand with you!


Sanjoli is currently working as a Content Strategist and has a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has contributed to publications like MensXPMindless Mag and Sustain: The Mag in the past. Conscious Charcha is her way of learning more about sustainability and spreading the word about a sustainable lifestyle.

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