The three golden R’s of solid waste management : Reduce, Re-cycle, Re-use

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

“Refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest.”

– Bea Johnson

Anything that is used by humans in their daily lives from a pin to a plane, goes back to the system (environment) either in its raw or rotten state.

Plastic is one of the most widely used primarily as it is cost effective and easy to use material in the world today. If it’s not made from plastic, it’s wrapped in plastic. You can find it everywhere. We use around 5 trillion plastic bags a year worldwide. Since plastic is non bio-degradable, it is here to stay forever. They will not decompose or biodegrade and get absorbed by nature. It requires almost 700 years to break up and decompose. They will “photo-degrade” – which means they will turn into little toxic bits of themselves.

World produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste yearly which is set to double by 2024. 50% is single use plastic and only 9% of total plastic waste is recycled. On a global scale, we have issues such as ocean pollution, global warming, air pollution, and environmental degradation. All the issues mentioned have negative consequences on the quality of life; not just for humans, but unknowing on plants and animals both marine and terrestrial. More than 1 million seabirds and 1 lakh marine animals die from plastic pollution every year. Thus, it is a huge responsibility of every person to address concerns from land based consumption.

Waste Generation and efforts of reduction in India

Image1: Municipal Solid Waste Generation across the world Published with MATLAB

As per the World Bank Report, India is the largest producer of bulk waste; however, the per capita waste is 0.64 kg which is less than the per capita global average waste of 0.74 kg. By 2050, the projected waste is likely to increase by 70%. Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu in India have highest plastic production and consumption. However, Maharashtra is trying and keeping the efforts by banning single use plastic at the state level. On world environment day, 2018, India announced that single use plastic will be phased out by 2020, and the deadline has been revised to 2022. The biggest challenge of higher plastic waste production is the ease of its utility and the multi-layer packaging that is involved. Another challenge lies in having no clear definition of what comprises of single use plastics, which can adversely affect any effort to ban these products. A study by IIT Kharagpur, India, mentions that around one-fifth of silt that clogs Delhi’s drains during monsoon months is due to plastic- packet gutkha and masala packets.

In India, the three tiers of government are responsible for waste management. The Centre prepares the rules and guidelines that help state drafting their policies. The responsible arm is the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change etc. The State ensures implementation of rules and guidelines in the state. The responsible arms are the Urban State Departments, Pollution Control Board etc. At local level, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are responsible for implementation, collection, transportation and disposal of waste, make land available for setting up of treatment plant and regular monitoring of waste. Under the flagship programme of the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM), waste management and monitoring has been given key importance with available funding.

Image 2: Who is responsible and what have we achieved so far?

By Ms Kamna Swamy on waste management

Is it the responsibility of only the government or lack of awareness and behavioral aspects among the citizens?

Minimization, Recycling and Segregation through innovations:

The World Health Organization (WHO) mentions the key solutions for waste management: minimization, recycling and segregation. Segregation refers to essentially dividing the waste into dry and wet waste. Different types of waste like bio-degradable (wet), dry (paper) and domestic hazardous (medicine, sanitary napkins etc.) should be segregated. The Sevice Level Benchmark (SLB) by MOHUA also states in one of the key indicators for waste management is its segregation at source. Research and practices mention that 90% of the wet waste can be composted. The whole idea is to reduce the amount of waste that goes back to the system. Many efforts have been taken up by various cities across India who have adopted successful waste management models. Goa, Kerala, Chhattisgarh etc. are examples of successful solid waste management state models. Goa adopted the decentralized model which included segregation at source whereas Kerala has prepared a home composting manual which encourages composting at source.

Image 3: Colour coded bins used to segregate different types of waste

Source: Extracted from Sketch Bubble

IEC Campaigns have been designed to promote waste segregation. The Project Alag Karo in Gurugram supported by GIZ, Coca Cola segregate waste through three color coded bins at source! It emphasizes on how 90% of waste can be composted. It also provides various tools like a DIY toolkit for Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), Composting Solution Providers, Zero Waste Event Guidelines, Videos, Case Studies and Reports. Almost 4 million people from the informal sector contribute maximum to waste segregation / waste picking in India. The challenge lies in the exploitation of the informal sector as it is unregulated, unregistered, prevails unhygienic condition and lacks social and financial security. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) , a non-profit organization was formed in 2019 where around 50 companies across the plastics value chain have joined the Alliance together, they have committed to invest US $ 1.5 billion towards solutions that will prevent the leakage as well as recover and create value from plastic waste. Some efforts have also been made by the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This concept includes the producers in the plastic waste management rules where the producer of the plastic would be responsible to take back waste from the open market, recycle or process waste and Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) are set up who monitor the process of EPRs. Material Recover Facility (MRFs) are set up that generate maximum value out of waste. A lot of funding for setting up MRFs and waste processing and recovery is being done through SBM and Pollution Control Boards. New innovations like RDFs (Refused Derive Fuel) are being planned to use in cement industries. Efforts are being made by a myriad of stakeholders like RWAs, NGOs, informal sectors, private players and industries to create a market system which can come up with a profitable version in minimizing and recycling waste.

Image 4: Project Alag Karo Campaign and Toolkit


Image 5: Projects under AEPW

Source: By Ms Kamna Swamy

Contribution in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals:

Waste management from reducing to reusing contributes to many aspects of SDGs. On economic aspect, it will achieve Goal 11 of Sustainable Cities and Communities and Goal 12 of Responsible Consumption and Production by sensitizing citizens, communities and cities. Many social goals like reduction of poverty, reducing gender inequality and inequalities among people, good health and well- being can be achieved. The actions will directly target environmental aspects like Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 13: Climate action due to reduction of carbon foot prints by minimizing plastic usage, Goal 14: Life below water since marine life becomes a huge concern by reduction of overall plastic waste.

Image 6: Impact of waste reduction, recycling and reuse on SDGs

Source: By Ms Kamna Swamy

Thus, waste segregation, recycling and reuse becomes utterly important for the eco-system and can be achieved through various tools and outputs at various levels. Waste management focusses on an individual’s responsibility towards various aspects of the solid waste management chain. A lot of capacity building and workforce strengthening is required at the ULB level. Changes will be necessary in process and system re-design. Also, a lot of research and thinking needs to be activated in re-designing materials and finding a suitable alternative through appropriate technology in a manner that produces minimum hazardous and non-biodegradable waste.

Key Words: waste management, plastic, resource, reuse, recycle, reduce, segregation, SBM


To know more about Waste management as a resource management, watch the Masterclass 07 on:


About the speaker:

Ms Kamna Swami is an Urban Social Planner, with 14 years of professional experience of working on projects related to Urban Planning & Development, Business Development, Climate Change and Project Advisory in Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model with specific experience on waste management projects. Currently she is working as an Advisor and Project Coordinator with GIZ International Services for Project Äviral (अविरल)- Reducing Plastic Waste in the Ganga . She has extensive experience of working with private sector, bilateral agencies, NGO's, research institutions like National Institute of Urban Affairs.


Blog by Saubiya Sareshwala

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