Recycling in India. Achievements and Challenges.

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In spite of being an environmentally conscious nation, waste management in India is fraught with challenges.

Recycling in India. Achievements and Challenges.

Indians are some of the most environmentally conscious people - we don’t like to let things go to waste. Even most high-income households reuse and recycle. Old appliances are sold or given away, clothes are donated and even newspapers and bottles are sold to fetch a modest sum of money. However, despite our thrifty nature, waste management in India is fraught with challenges.

Waste Overview

India is one of the fastest developing countries in the world and this has also increased waste generation. As per Press Information Bureau (PIB), India generates 62 million tons of waste every year. The type of waste generated can be broadly categorized into: organic, recyclable or hazardous.

Not Wasting the Waste.

Unlike Western countries, majority of India’s waste is organic - which means it can be converted into compost for farming. Our culture of ‘don’t waste’ also ensures that we recycle a good part of our waste.

Waste Stats In India.

Plastic Waste

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, Indians generated 26,000 tons of plastic waste a day in 2017-2018. While this seems a lot of rubbish, we can take solace in the fact that we managed to recycle 15,600 tons of this waste - that is three times the global average! Numbers also indicate that we consume less plastic per capita, per annum, (11 kgs in 2014-2015, compared to our international counterparts who use a staggering 45 kgs.)

Waste Management in India

In India, SLM or Solid Waste Management is split up into:

Street Cleansing. Collection. Transportation. Disposal.

While cleansing and collection are the responsibility of the Public Health Department, transportation and disposal are overseen by the municipal authorities.

How it works.

Collection of waste at generation point and dumping it at collection point. Collection from above spaces by municipal workers and transporting it to disposal sites in various vehicles.

The Waste Picker, the Recycler.

Waste Pickers are contracted by municipal authorities to collect items that have a monetary value. They pick up water bottles, shampoo bottles and anything else that can be recycled from refuse bins. They sell them to aggregators (kabadiwalas) who sell them to recyclers who convert them into toys, packaging, so on and so forth.


The sheer scale of waste collection in India and the lack of resources combine to make the entire process inefficient. The transportation from the collection point to the disposal locations is unhygienic and sloppy. The trucks are open and very often the transported waste spills over into the street creating health and hygiene isssues. The dumping grounds themselves do not have any foundation, are neither sustainable nor levelled, and even lack waste treatment facilities. Most cities dispose-off their waste in low lying areas outside the city without taking appropriate precautions.

The Silver Lining.

India has huge potential for recycling of plastics, paper, glass and metals. The plastic processing industry, employing over 4 million people, has 30,000 plus units with an annual turnover of Rs. 2.25 lakh crore as per All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA).


We are a nation of ‘jugaad’ and are fortunate to have many innovative minds working in the waste management space. Banyan Nation has addressed three key challenges – integrating “last mile” waste collectors through a digital network, cleaning and sorting of waste and building partnerships with large companies. Saahas Zero Waste is part of a growing movement called circular economy, a relatively new concept in India. It’s aim is to eliminate tough-to-recycle items like flimsy plastic bags and also pioneering new waste management methods. NAMO e-waste, collects disposed e-waste, treats it and recycles it into usable items. Anthill Creations collects and recycles scrap tyres to build playgrounds for children

What can we do?

Just as we have a very effective system for recycling newspapers and other waste in our homes, we must also learn to handle and recycle plastic waste. Inculcating good habits into children, educating them about waste disposal and recycling will go a long way in reducing plastic waste in our environment.

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