Turning a Mountain of Trash into Cash


Generating about 62 million tons of waste every year, Indian cities are among the largest garbage generators in the world. Only about 82 percent of it is collected and only 28 percent of that is processed and treated. Most of the garbage goes into landfills, open dump sites or is just left on the ground, often clogging drains and rivers.

The city of Mysore has come out in support of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’, a national cleanliness drive initiated by the Prime Minister of India. The Populace has come to collect one of India’s biggest untapped resources: Garbage. A Union government report in 2014 projected that the country’s 377 million urban residents, nearly a third of the population, produced 62 million tonnes (mt) of solid waste annually, which is expected to rise to 165 mt by 2031. According to one’s estimation, only two-thirds of the waste is collected and less than a tenth is treated. Addressing this is the objective of one of Modi’s marquee initiatives, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in cities.

According to a survey conducted among city managers across eight states by a Bengaluru-based not-for-profit organization, 60% of the respondents felt that improving sanitation was another major challenge followed by dealing with air pollution (55%). The local government has managed to get the system to work by appealing to the public. The city, famed for its palaces of kings, runs systematic campaigns including whatsapp messages, morning radio jingles, street plays, and pamphlets. The employees go door-to-door to build awareness among residents.

For the waste-to-fertilizer plant, Mysore charges an annual fee and takes 5 percent of the finished compost as payment. It also collects a solid-waste management levy from residents along with the property tax to help subsidize the program. The UN estimates that India will add 404 million urban inhabitants between 2014 and 2050, a sixth of the global total, compared with China’s 292 million. Public support in Mysore has allowed the city to manage its garbage substantially. Residents emerge from their homes with two bins — compostable and non-compostable — for the sanitary workers. They load up 400 push carts and 170 auto-tippers to go to nine recycling centers and a compost plant. At the centers, the trash is segregated, from reusable items such as bottles, metal, footwear and plastic cups being sold to scrap dealers. The remainder is composted and sold to farmers.

Mysore’s system depends partly on the government support. The federal government last year began offering subsidies both to set up compost plants and run them. This unit is run by Mumbai-based Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. Before the central government grants, only about 70 percent of the costs of the plant were covered by the sale of fertilizer.

The incentives have helped to boost the nation’s production of compost from waste to 1.31 million tons in August from 0.15 million tons in March 2016. The Government has taken steps for investing in facilities to turn waste into compost or energy could reach $3 billion by 2027.