Solid Waste

What is Solid Waste?

Solid waste refers to unwanted or useless solid objects generated due to human activities. These solid objects may be found in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Solid waste is usually thrown away in landfills as garbage but there are ways to manage these waste products so that they do not impact the health and well-being of humans.

Solid waste can be categorized into three main types depending on its origin, contents, and hazard potential.

For example

  • In terms of origin, waste can be divided into domestic, industrial, commercial, construction, or institutional.

  • Similarly, depending on contents, waste can be subcategorized into organic materials, glass, metals, plastic paper, etc.

  • In terms of hazard potential, waste can be divided into toxic, non-toxic, flammable, radioactive, infectious, etc.

To minimize the impact of waste on human health and wellness, solid waste management techniques can be used. There are a host of processes involved in solid waste management methods. These processes include monitoring, collection, transport, processing, recycling, and disposal of waste via various methods. The amount of waste generated is directly related to the lifestyles of a population which is proportional to the socio-economic status of the population.

Types of Solid Waste

Solid waste is usually divided into three categories depending on its source which are the following

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

MSW refers to household waste, waste from streets, generated mainly from residential and commercial complexes, construction and demolition debris (CnD), and sanitation residue. It includes commercial and residential waste generated in municipality areas in either solid or semi-solid form. MSW is considered a waste that excludes industrial hazardous wastes but includes treated bio-medical wastes.

Industrial Solid Waste (ISW)

ISW contains wastes that are sourced from industries and that are chemical in nature. These wastes are often hazardous and may contain toxins. They may be corrosive, highly inflammable, and may react with certain gase

Biomedical Waste or Hospital Waste

Biomedical wastes are wastes found in hospitals or medical labs. These may include waste like soiled waste, sharps, disposables, anatomical waste, discarded medicines, cultures, chemical wastes, etc. These are usually found in the form of swabs, disposable syringes, body fluids, bandages, human excreta, etc. It is very important to manage biomedical waste as it may pose a great threat to human health if they are not disposed of in a scientific and safe manner.

Solid Waste Management Types

Image: Solid waste management steps with processing and disposal

Centralized Method

In this method, waste is collected from all of the municipal areas to dump in landfills outside the city or panchayat areas. The waste collection is often carried out by waste pickers by going door to door to collect the waste. The waste pickers are employees of the municipality while the collectors' team are contractors selected by the government. In this process, the waste pickers hand over the collected waste to the collectors who dump the waste in landfills.

Decentralized Method

This type of waste management is seen in only a few places like Bangalore in Karnataka and Suryapet in Andhra Pradesh. The collected waste is segregated ward-wise into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. The biodegradable waste is treated by composting methods to compost them in the composting sites. The non-biodegradable waste is segregated into paper, plastic, and metals and reused or recycled thereafter.

The 4Rs Principle to Reduce Waste

There is a 4R Principle everyone can follow to reduce the generation of waste and to contribute to a cleaner environment.

These 4Rs include the following


One can buy items with lesser packaging, more durable, and more refillable items. One can replace polyethylene bags by carrying a bag of one’s own while shopping in the market. One can avoid disposable items and use fewer plastics too. At the office, one should try to cut down paperwork by resorting to practices such as using electronic mail.


One may dominate their old clothes, books, phones, and other items so that they can be used instead of getting dumped in a landfill. Old jars and bottles can be reused as storage bins. Moreover, rechargeable items should be preferred to disposable ones.


Recycling has a very profound effect on the environment. A ton of paper produced from recycled material conserves about 17-31 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 4,000 kWh of electricity, and 60 lb of air pollutants. Composting organic waste at source is also a very good option to keep landfills less dumped. One should also buy as many recycled items as possible.

Recover or Reclaim

There are many mechanical, biological, and chemical mechanisms that can be used to convert waste into new energy or products. This may include processes that turn waste into fuels that can be used to run machines or equipment. For example, methane, a gas available in rotting materials can be used as fuel. Such recoverable processes can save a lot of energy and resources. However, this may be more applicable to larger masses than individuals.

Statistics related to Solid Waste

According to a 2008 study, a person living in a metro city in India produces 0.8 kg of solid waste per day. The total amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated per year in urban areas is estimated to be 68.8 million metric tonnes per year (TPY). This equals 0.573 million metric tonnes per day (MMT/d). However, all of this waste is not collected. The average collection efficiency of the waste collection lies between 22 to 60 percent.

MSW usually contains 17% recyclables, 51% organic, 21% inert, and 11% hazardous waste. However, 40% of all waste is not collected at all and it is littered in various places. Uncollected waste finds its way into water bodies, polluting them and choking the water paths. This causes bottlenecks in the drains that increase pollution and leads to further destruction of water bodies in the urban areas.

Unsegregated collection of waste collection and transportation often leads to dumping in open areas which is the cause of the generation of leachate and gaseous emissions. While leachate contaminates ground and surface water the gaseous emissions are responsible for global warming and climate change.


Solid waste is a real threat to the environment and human beings in general but very little is done to counter the menace. We must wake up now and take serious steps to stop the growing menace of dumping waste in landfills. If we do not take action on time we may lose valuable resources and end up destroying the environment in which we have to live.


Qns 1. What is solid waste?

Ans. Solid waste refers to unwanted or useless solid objects generated due to human activities. These solid objects may be found in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Solid waste is usually thrown away in landfills as garbage.

Qns 2. What portion of solid waste is not collected at all?

Ans. About 40 percent of solid waste is left untouched in India.

Qns 3. What is the amount of total municipal solid waste generated in urban areas per year in India?

Ans. The total amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated per year in urban areas in India is estimated to be 68.8 million metric tonnes per year (TPY).