M.S. Thesis: Sustainable Solid Waste Management in India

By Ranjith Kharvel Annepu

Advisors: Nickolas J. Themelis and Stanley-Thompson Professor Emeritus

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science
Columbia University

January 10, 2012

This study examined the present status of waste management in India, its effects on public health and the environment, and the prospects of introducing improved means of disposing municipal solid waste (MSW) in India. The systems and techniques discussed are Informal and Formal Recycling, Aerobic Composting and Mechanical Biological Treatment, Small Scale Biomethanation, Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), Waste-to-Energy Combustion (WTE), and Landfill Mining (or Bioremediation).

This report is the result of over two years of research and includes data collected from the literature, communication with professionals in India, US and Europe; and extensive field investigations by the author in India and the US. Two field visits in India over a period of fifteen weeks covered 13 cities (Figure 1) representing all sizes and regions in India. The visits included travelling to informal recycling hubs, waste dealers shops, composting facilities, RDF facilities, WTE facilities, sanitary and unsanitary landfills, landfill mining sites, and numerous municipal offices. These visits provided the opportunity to closely observe the impact of waste management initiatives, or lack thereof, on the public in those cities. The author has also visited different WTE plants in the US to study the prospects of this technology in India.

The main objective of the study was to find ways in which the enormous quantity of solid wastes currently disposed off on land can be reduced by recovering materials and energy from wastes, in a cost effective and environmental friendly manner. The guiding principle of this study is that “responsible management of wastes must be based on science and best available technology and not on ideology and economics that exclude environmental costs and seem to be inexpensive now, but can be very costly in the future” (Annexure I).

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