Solid Waste Management Landscape Study

Aug 16, 2023


Key Questions

  1. How do philanthropies and other funding instruments support the transition from linear material production systems to a more circular and inclusive one?
  2. With the need for circular material cycles becoming more and more urgent, what does the new materials policy look like?
  3. How to build a transparent material ecosystem with accountability resting with those with the most influence in the ecosystem?
  4. The informality of the waste ecosystem contributes to a large part of the waste being recovered. How do we preserve its essence while improving industry standards on inclusion, participation and compliance?
  5. How can the inclusion of workers in production, recovery and recycling be enabled for better access to opportunities for growth?
  6. While there is sufficient innovation in the handling of post-production waste, how can we accelerate innovations in post-production waste recycling?

Research Partner: Fields of View 

Urban India generates between 1,30,000 to 1,50,000 tons of municipal solid waste every day. Current practices persisting, this could jump to 3,50,000 tons per day by 2031. The report, explores the role of the various actors (actors like civil society organisations, private enterprises and policymakers) from a systems perspective, to look for ways of bringing in accountability and sustained change without leaving the most vulnerable, or the most influential out of the conversation. 

The study was conducted over eight months, with over 50 participants working with waste in multiple ways. The objective of the study was to find ways for philanthropies and other industry movers to get a broader view of the waste landscape and potential ways of engaging further. It involved systems thinking workshops, interviews and literature reviews and multiple rounds of feedback from various groups to arrive at the various challenges and opportunities in the ecosystem. 

The study revealed that the policy landscape in waste is complex and fractured, making it difficult to bring transparency and accountability into the system. Waste being framed as a sanitation and health problem in some policies and as a material recovery issue for the industry in others, makes it near impossible for one mechanism for accountability to consider all actors and their roles. Composite products that use more than one type of material are extremely difficult to bring accountability around due to such framing. Through the course of the study, it has also emerged that Different stakeholders adopt different framings of waste depending on where in the material handling cycle they exist. Civil society organizations view waste as a social problem, influenced by capitalism, neoliberalism, and systemic markers like caste and gender. An inconsistent policy framework, lack of transparency, and the need for behaviour change and equity in waste work were identified by them as the big challenges in the ecosystem. Recyclers, Producers and waste processors frame waste as a resource to be mined, and thus identified difficulties in accessing recyclable waste, and lack of policies promoting the use of recycled materials were their top challenges. The complexity of processing post-consumer waste, and the lack of measures to close the loop on material circularity made it difficult for them to be effective in the recovery of materials. Since 2006, the private sector has invested about $620 million, mostly towards Swachh Bharat schemes and behavioural change communication. While this money is being channelled towards just causes, there is room to invest in appropriate infrastructure, inclusion and innovation programs, and policy advocacy to improve the ecosystem. With the increase in need and urgency for circular material use systems, investments are also needed in innovation on the material and material recovery technologies. Developing and advocating for a consistent policy framework, built on an ecosystem approach for material handling, that can enable mechanisms like EPR, and plastic credits, as a means of financing material recovery will also go a long way in improving accountability and transparency. Knowledge commons, like the available mechanism of recovery, climate implications of waste work, and material research in such cases, become a great way of accessing tools that can help further development without exclusionary practices, or irreversible trade-offs.

SWM landscape study: Deck

SWM landscape study: Report 

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  1. The landscape of waste is complex and highly technical and has interlinked repercussions in health, natural resources and labour. Collection and a large part of mixed recyclables are handled by the informal economy; participation and inclusion of the informal economy are critical for successfully setting up a material recovery chain.
  2. Source segregation programs are key for post-consumer waste recycling.
  3. Post-consumer waste is still extremely cost and labour-intensive to recover materials from in the current technological landscape. Bigger leaps in innovation are needed to reduce the amount of waste that contaminates natural systems.
  4. The policy landscape to close the loop on circularity is in its very early stages. The FSSAI and BIS only recently started the process of building the framework for including recycled materials (mainly plastics) in products.
  5. End-of-life processes currently for waste, while currently under the purview of the state, are not being tracked.
  6. Civil society organisations need support with more knowledge commons for advocacy around waste. Especially linking their work to the climate change and labour movement discourses will help with increasing access to (government and non-government) support programs.
  7. Support for organising workers along the product value chain will go a long way toward inclusion.