Creating Value from Waste

Decentralizing Mumbai’s waste management through inclusive climate solutions

Mumbai is drafting a Climate Action Plan, led by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change, Government of Maharashtra, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The MCAP will serve as a systematic framework to measure impacts and guide the city towards low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways. WRI India has been engaged as a knowledge partner for this endeavor.

The Plan will focus on six key action areas to build sector-specific strategies for mitigation and adaptation. This blog looks at the ‘Sustainable Waste Management’ action area.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) on average manages about 6,800 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day, and organic wet waste makes up over 72% of it. Refer to Figure 1 for the city’s overall municipal solid waste composition. According to WRI India estimates, the waste sector accounts for over 5% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the city. Waste management is intricately linked to public health and hygiene, and livelihoods of workers handling waste. Improper waste disposal pollutes rivers and oceans, contaminates soil and groundwater, and creates garbage dumps that are breeding grounds for diseases, fires due to uncontrolled methane emissions, and are a huge health hazard for communities living or working around disposal sites. 

Figure 1: Mumbai’s Municipal Solid Waste Composition

Mumbai’s waste disposal process

Mumbai currently has three dumpsites – one each in Deonar, Mulund and Kanjurmarg. There used to be a dumpsite at Gorai, but it was scientifically closed in 2009 and envisaged to convert 19.6 ha of land into green landscaped space. 75-80% of the city’s waste is treated at Kanjurmarg, a 5-year-old disposal site using bioreactor technology and windrow composting, and the rest is disposed of at the Deonar site, which has been in use for 88 years. The Deonar site is the oldest dumping ground in the city (and even the country) and has exhausted its capacity to receive more garbage. BMC has been planning closure of the Deonar site since 2005; however, demand for landfill space, and lack of available technology and suitable contractors, remain a roadblock. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Mulund dumpsite stopped receiving waste in 2019 and is currently under remediation. Although the Kanjurmarg site on-paper is managed scientifically, instances of leachate flowing into the mangroves have been reported. Thus, Mumbai needs to plan and account for future waste generation: how it can minimize generation and create value out of waste in the form of recycling, composting, energy recovery etc. to meet the city’s demand for sustainable waste management.  

With efforts towards implementation of the Solid Waste Management Rules mandated in 2016, waste generation has decreased over the years in Mumbai. The MCGM has also mandated all bulk generators of solid waste (i.e., having area greater than 5,000 sq. m.) to provide treatment of solid waste at source. There has been a 35% decrease over the last 5 years as is evident in Figure 2 below.  

Figure 2: Decrease in municipal solid waste over the last 5 years as mentioned in Mumbai’s Annual Environment Status Reports

The BMC is currently developing a city-level solid waste management plan under its ‘Vision 2030’ initiative, which could be a step towards enabling decentralization at the ward level. To understand the sentiments and expectations of the people, the BMC has launched an online citizen survey. The survey seeks to understand the citizens’ needs, priorities, and willingness to support in making Mumbai “cleaner and sustainable”. Centralized response strategies often tend to be resource-heavy, and the way forward is to ensure ward-level governance. The historical unscientific disposal of unsegregated waste at Deonar has created Asia’s largest dumping ground, an 18-20-floor high mountain of trash, close to the eastern suburb of Mankhurd, located in the most vulnerable M-East municipal ward. This uncontrolled dumping has led to issues of air and water contamination, pest and rodent issues, increased flooding due to blocked drainage canals or gullies, safety hazards from fires, and an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Addressing the challenges of managing waste in Mumbai

Across Mumbai, there is a need to minimize waste generation and the emissions associated with waste transportation in the city, while improving segregation and treatment at source (the city’s households) and implementing a decentralized waste management system. The former can be incentivized by increasing awareness, rewarding waste management at source, and providing financial or equipment support to societies and communities that lack the resources. At the Deonar landfill the average human life expectancy is at 39 years, where communities living in and around the dumpsite inhale polluted air and live with a perpetual cough around smoke and frequent fires, caused due to methane emissions from decomposing waste. Additional efforts and learnings from the scientific closure of Gorai & Mulund can help improve the condition of Deonar.

The Mumbai Climate Action Plan will formulate a strategy to decarbonize the solid waste management system, while addressing key resilience gaps at city, and community levels. The plan will explore interventions regarding decentralizing Mumbai’s waste management system, unit-level processing of organic waste to create valuable compost, appointing dedicated ward-level waste officers/cells, and effective coordination of relevant stakeholders with the MCGM’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). The Plan will look at strategies through the circular economy and ‘3Rs – reduce, reuse & recycle’ approach to waste, and seek to make Mumbai’s waste management system inclusive towards communities and informal waste-pickers and recyclers.

This blog is written by Avni Agarwal, Senior Associate, Climate Program, WRI India

Feature image credit: Neville Mars (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Author: Avni Agarwal

Senior Project Associate, Climate Program, WRI India

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