Making Waste as the Business


I was on a tour out of India for couple of weeks. When I returned, I was passing over the dump site of Deonar Dharavi in Mumbai. This site is on the way when you travel from Airport to Chembur where my Professor friend lives. The dump site is supposedly one of the largest in Asia –something not to feel proud about. Its also more known today because of the movie slumdog millionaire.

I was amazed to see that there was a tall wireframe barricade with checkposts rimmed at the boundary of the dump site. This was new to me. The dump site looked like a mountain.At the checkposts, there were armed forces guarding the dump site with real guns and search lights. I even noticed a combat tank with ammunition at the main entrance. Did we start a war on waste? Crazy – I mumbled to myself.

When I reached Professors home and settled on the sofa, the first question I asked “What’s going on Professor around the Deonar dump site?”

Well Professor said, all this is because of the new initiative that I have launched in India. I advised the Government that let us use market based mechanisms to tackle the problem of waste and not depend on regulations and enforcement anymore. For years, we have had the regulations, regulators, environmental NGOs and now abhiyans and despite all these, the problem of waste remains – We continue to see more and more waste. New waste streams have emerged that are difficult to handle. People litter, don’t segregate waste and merrily dump. Our land and water resources get contaminated. Biodiversity comes under threat.


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I proposed that the Government pays for the waste delivered and go on a buying spree. Treat waste as an asset essentially.

Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) generates nearly 10000 tons of mixed waste every day. All this waste is now bought by MCGM from the waste generators at an attractive price. The city has opened up 30 waste depots where waste can be brought by anybody to get paid. At each depot, the waste is weighed and payments are made based on the volume and characteristics of the waste. If you bring waste in segregated form then you get better price. Rates are also fixed for buying specific waste streams and materials like e-waste, metals, glass, plastic etc.  And if you bring waste in the form of a component (through some disassembly and re-engineering) then you get paid even better. The idea is here promote innovation.

Professor took a deep puff.

Moment such a policy and scheme was announced, people all over Mumbai have gone crazy. No waste is now “wasted”. Everyone is rushing to the depots with waste they generate, waste that is dumped and waste that they could even steal. Many have resigned their jobs and have taken waste collection and selling as their full time profession. Centres of waste to resource conversion have come about with training courses and micro-finance. Some have started offering transport services by switching from what they currently do. These waste vans run on the bio-gas that is generated from the organic waste. This has threatened distribution of essential services. Railways have introduced 9 10, 12 40, 3 30 pm and 7 05 pm special shuttles from Churchgate and VT stations that will carry only waste and not commuters. Getting into these trains is not easy.

All the waste from depots is now transported to the Deonar dump site. This is the main job the Municipality does.

The dump site now looks like a mountain. Several attempts are made by the underworld and waste mafia of Mumbai to steal this waste reserve and sell the waste in the suburbs or in the black market to make money. Hence all the security measures are taken by putting high wire fence and by planting check posts around the dump site. In fact, all dump sites in India are now heavily guarded on similar lines as the national treasure. Given the years of callousness on waste management in India, we believe that the value of the waste bank created on this basis will be as important as the Gold reserve. This bank will provide resources for India’s next three generations. Once waste is recognized as an important national commodity, we expect a sharp rise in India’s GDP as well as the Gross Ecological Product (GEP)

I was astonished with this bold and far sighted approach.

No wonder, the streets of Mumbai now look clean and litter free. No risks of flooding and dengue anymore. Long lines of vehicles and waste vans outside the waste depots show citizen commitment to the principle – waste is wealth.  The co-benefit of supporting livelihoods of thousands of people, would certainly help this Government to win the next election.

I said “But what will you do with the millions of tons of waste that will be collected in this process? And what about the finance? How will you pay and continue to pay to the waste suppliers on national scale?

The Professor probably expected this “stupid” question. We examined this challenge – he said lighting his second Cigar.

The waste bought will be auctioned and processed to make products to put back to the market. For example, used computers will be refurbished with new hard disks fixed and legal software installed and provided to the schools at low cost.  Plastic will be processed to make diesel and sold at the petrol pumps. Tetrapack cartons will be converted into furniture.

We have spoken to the private sector and held several rounds of discussion. One of the major problems of the waste processing industry in India today is the waste supply guarantee. Through our approach towards waste as commodity and centralized procurement, the waste processing industry will feel confident now to buy waste from us and invest to make recycled products. We are in addition signing product purchase agreement (PPA) with waste processing companies. No taxes levied on the recycled products.  We will now see more recycled products than virgin products.

Because waste to electricity conversion, electricity rates have crashed. In 30 kms radius, no chemical fertilizers are bought because of the abundant compost. Biggies like Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis and Vedantas have set up large waste verticals in their business.  Waste materials appear now on commodity trading exchanges. Waste bonds are also out. This is the idea of circular economy.

Besides, organizing efficient collection and recycling of waste at the national level, is going to save further contamination of our natural resources – thereby improving our resource security. Tourism will improve too. These benefits far outweigh the investments.

Funds for buying waste will be mobilized mainly through the revenue made out of selling waste to the processing industry. Trimming down the waste management cells of urban local bodies, pollution control boards, departments of environment etc. will also help reduce the costs. Due to the lead taken by the market based approach, I see that regulators will have little role to play.

“Professor, this is an amazing approach. You have really ushered the Green Economy in India.  I am sure other countries will follow the suit – do you see any challenges”

Professor got up and walked towards the window and looked outside. “Here I need your help”

Due to pricing of the waste as commodity, there is now a new transformation.

Everybody wants to generate more waste to make money. I see increase in the per capita waste generation from 0.5 kg /day to nearly 1.5 kg/day. Some folks have found innovative ways on how to generate more waste in the production operations, especially the SMEs. This has led to two fold increase on waste generation per ton basis for some products. Apparently, price they get from us on supplying waste provides more income than selling of product itself in the market! I have come across cases where SMEs are selling their products as waste at our depots. The reason being we guarantee purchase and offer good price.

The price line is very important. If I lower the rates, then people won’t supply us the waste. If I increase the rate then more waste will be generated and brought to the depots. Thats not good from sustainability perspective. It’s a tight rope walk.

I realized the gravity of the problem Professor was getting into. I did not have an easy answer.

I wish people realize that why do they consume beyond their needs and generate waste in the first place. I said.

Oh I am tired listening to this philosophy Prasad – Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

Talk something real and practical.

I returned home – this time not going over the dumpsite of Deonar Dharavi.


The report Global Waste Management Outlook  led by UNEP International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) and International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) is now out. I was one of the four principal authors and contributed to the chapter on situation analyses – challenges & opportunities. This was a yearlong grueling project. Access this report at and know more  about it at


At Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation we just concluded a video competition in Mumbai called Anvaya (means in Sanskrit – positive action) on waste to resource management. There were 14 entries. Visit to download the report and to access the YouTube channel to view the films.


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  1. Dear Prasad:

    Nice one !!!

    Do you think it would be profitable to export waste from US? We have plenty of waste here……

    How are you?


    1. Hello Sir,

      Your comment reminded me of the riata business plan competition at my university. One semifinalist had a thought of providing recyclable scrap paper from US to manufacturers in developing countries.. this guy was Indian. He never won the competition, but I still remember his idea..
      Back in 2008, I had done a lot of literature review on e-waste imports by India, the businesses associated with it, its impact on the environment, managing the hazardous wastes produced by them, health issues etc..It was part of my work..
      I don’t know the current situation, but I guess it does create jobs and people do make money.
      Dr. Modak, I can see a lot of PhD topics in this blog.

  2. Dear Sir,

    Very critical points underlined by you sir..

    Considering the significance of PRICE€, which is the center of the case than;

    We could go with a model where the WASTE BANK could offer an ATTRACTIVE PRICE€ for per kg of waste but with a kind of €œCEILING LIMIT€ (based on a realistic study of per head waste generation with some degree of + -) beyond which the person who is selling the waste will supply the waste but WONT GET THE AMOUNT FOR IT€, in-fact gradually in due course of time the authority of the waste bank could possibly DEDUCT FROM THE AMOUNT EARNED€ if the person is offering the waste beyond the ceiling limit . (It is like the case of upper limit fixed by the govt. authority for Gas Cylinder for subsidized cylinder beyond which I have to pay the market price.)

    This would have a many positive effects.

    WASTE BANK is really a good idea Sir, which even I tried to share with sec. of Swach Bharat Department of Government of India with a National Policy for Waste Recourse Management,in May(please find the attached mail), 2015 but couldn’t get any answer. I can understand the reason

    Thanks for your valuable article.


    Shailesh Singh

  3. I witnessed a similar waste exchange program in Brazil where the recyclable wastes like plastics are exchanged for fruits. This is quite innovative in the sense that it is mostly poor who take part in such porgrams and providing fruits instead of cash takes care of nutritional needs of the poor which again cut into the healthcare expenditure. We needs to run pilots to test this idea in our conditions.

  4. for any solid waste management to succeeded in India, it must take into account the following :

    waste is not segregated at source and it will take a long time for that to happen, so any MSW site will have to make an operational philosophy , that they have to manage whatever comes in on ” as is where is basis”,

    the waste will be wet, it will have mud, and technologies from the west may not have taken this into account any Indian MSW operator should know this…

    once the above is thought of, and site are designed by keeping these in mind then MSW sites will have a higher degree of success than they current have…

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