Economics of Solid Waste in India

M Balasubramanian of Institute for Social and Economic Change has an article on the topic.

It is like the ideal/normative type of research:

The external costs of waste should be estimated in every municipality in India. As noted earlier, very few economic analyses have been conducted and hence further research around solid waste management has to be carried out. The government aims to consider environmental protection with the market activating both preventive tools to asses and reduce damage to the environment and mechanisms to enhance good market functioning. New solid waste plans acquire management features rather than following the previous logic based on final elimination of goods discarded. The polluter pay principles extends to all actors: producers, consumers and institutions. There is a need to evaluate, in advance, the impact of the targets set by the laws for recycling by taking into consideration region-specific needs, so that proper polices are developed for all actors. Recycling chains could benefit thousands of low-income and vulnerable sections of people at the national level and it will contribute to the fight against climate change.

Well, first the municipality needs to collect and dispose waste. Economic analysis comes much later. Most people are now doing this activity themselves. Garbage management has been outsourced to some private unorganised companies. Most municipalities in India are just dysfunctional.

The author also has an interesting discussion on ragpickers:

Many thousands of people in developing cities depended on the recycling of materials collected from waste for their livelihood. With the focus of the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction and of waste management strategies for improving recycling rates, one of the major challenges in developing countries is about how best to work in this informal sector to improve livelihoods, working conditions, and efficiency of recycling (Wilson, Velis and Cheeseman 2006).

Worldwide, more than 15 million people make a living in the informal collection, recycling, and handling of solid waste. Informal refuse collection could be a profitable activity. The informal refuse collectors of Cairo, popularly known as Zabbaleen, earn about three times the city’s minimum wage. A research study had found that informal refuse collectors operating in the Mexican city of the Nuevo Laredo, on the tax border, had earned five times that of the minimum wage putting them in the top 3% of income earners in that city (Medina 2008). In Brazil, for example, waste picking had been recognised as an organised sector, and workers enter into informal agreements or even formal contracts with business, industry, and with neighbourhood associations to gain access to recyclable materials or to sell materials or manufacturing items. In a survey conducted in six Latin American countries, more than 90% of waste pickers had reported that they liked the job that they did and considered it a decent job (Medina 2008). Recycling by waste pickers saved municipalities much money while reducing the volume of waste that had to be collected, transported, and disposed.

In Mumbai, more than 30,000 waste pickers had recovered reusable items that could be recycled from the stream of waste. Waste pickers had created more than 400 micro enterprises that processed waste materials and made consumer products out of them. The economic impact of these activities had been estimated at $600 million to 1 billion a year (Medina 2007). For example, Madurai has more than 500 waste pickers engaged in waste collection. I spent a month with waste pickers in the village of Vellakkal (solid waste dumping area in the Madurai District). One respondent, Periya Mariyappan, who was about 62 years old has been in collecting garbage in the area for more than three and half decades with his wife Palaniyammal who was about 51 years old. Both of them said they now earned more than Rs 500 a day. Another waste picker name Veerammal, who was about 48 years old, had been working more than two decades in waste collection. She said this work was of huge help to her family and she had been for earning Rs 250 per day, and had saved more than Rs 45,000 for her daughter’s wedding to be celebrated next year. Waste pickers were important in the waste recycling process, but they are not recognised formally and they face several problems every day in the course of their work.

Amazing stories of hope amidst despair..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: