Waste Management in Kerala - Private Sector Participation

Compiled by Perumal Koshy

On an average 6000 tons of Solid Waste is being generated in all across Kerala. Waste Management is an essential service to be provided by the municipal and local government authorities. Failure to provide it efficiently could be disastrous. Private sector participation is one of the best choices open to boost the performance of public services like solid waste management.

There has been a significant increase in waste generation in India in the last few decades, largely due to rapid population growth and economic development. This is an attempt to explore business potential for private investors, especially Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs), in Waste Management business. Waste management has come to be serious issue in Kerala as well. As per some estimates, on an average 6000 tons of Solid Waste is being generated in all across Kerala, in its 999 Panchayats, 53 Municipalities and 5 Corporations.

Garbage generated in major Indian cities per day/ton
  • Delhi : 6000
  • Mumbai: 5800
  • Bangalore: 2800
  • Chennai: 2675
  • Kolkata : 4000
  • Kochi: 420
Kerala generates 6000 tons of Solid waste per day according to some unofficial estimates

Reasons for growing waste

There are various reasons for growing municipal waste generation. Following are some of the reasons:

  • changing lifestyles
  • food habits
  • Change in living standards
  • Fast economic development
  • Urbanization
  • Growing tourism industry


Uncollected garbage- pileup and stinking waste across both sides of national highways of Kerala is a normal scene today. Piling up of garbage and litter and failure to adopt state of the art methods of waste management processes has serious consequences as follows:

  • Environmental: pollution from poorly maintained landfill sites are prone to groundwater contamination and facilitate breeding of flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats, and other pests.
  • Public health: Possibility of frequent outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as Malaria, Dengue fever, Chickungunia etc, are enhanced
  • Economic effects: can have negative impact on tourism industry
  • Labor productivity gets affected with frequent outbreaks of communicable diseases

Waste and Waste Management

Waste is an unavoidable by-product of most human activity. Economic development and rising living standards have led to increases in the quantity and complexity of generated waste. Solid waste is a mixture of organic and inorganic waste generated by domestic or commercial activities.

Waste management is the collection, transport, processing, recycling or disposal, and monitoring of waste materials. However poor solid waste management is a threat to public health.

Waste management: whose responsibility? Management of residential and institutional waste is considered to be the responsibility of local government authorities.

Sources of waste: Municipal Solid Waste is generated from households, offices, hotels, shops, schools and other institutions. The major components are food waste, paper, plastic, rags, metal and glass, although demolition and construction debris is often included in collected waste, as are small quantities of hazardous waste, such as electric light bulbs, batteries, automotive parts and discarded medicines and chemicals.

Types of wastes

There are degradable and non-degradable wastes. Degradable wastes are mainly organic substances. There are hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. As far Municipal waste is concerned, a major chunk of it emanates from households, hotels, schools, institutions, marriage parties, slaughter houses etc. Further, there are E- wastes as well.

Following tables present a picture of sources and types of solid wastes generated in Municipal localities in a developing country as well as in Kerala:

Source Typical waste generators Types of solid wastes
Residential Single and multifamily dwellings Food wastes, paper, cardboard, plastics, textiles, leather, yard wastes, wood, glass, metals, ashes, special wastes (e.g. bulky items, consumer electronics, white goods, batteries, oil, tires), and household hazardous wastes
Industrial Light and heavy manufacturing, fabrication, construction sites, power and chemical plants Housekeeping wastes, packaging, food wastes, construction and demolition materials, hazardous wastes, ashes, special wastes
Commercial Stores, hotels, restaurants, markets, office buildings, etc. Paper, cardboard, plastics, wood, food wastes, glass, metals, special wastes, hazardous wastes
Institutional Schools, hospitals, prisons, government centers Paper, cardboard, plastics, wood, food wastes, glass, metals, special wastes, hazardous wastes
Construction and demolition New construction sites, road repair, renovation sites, demolition of buildings Wood, steel, concrete, dirt, etc
Municipal services Street cleaning, landscaping, parks, beaches, other recreational areas, water and wastewater treatment plants Street sweepings, landscape and tree trimmings, general wastes from parks, beaches, and other recreational area, sludge
Process Heavy and light manufacturing, refineries, chemical plants, power plants, mineral extraction and processing Industrial process wastes, scrap materials, offspecification products, slag, tailings
Agriculture Crops, orchards, vineyards, dairies, feedlots, farms Spoiled food wastes, agricultural wastes, hazardous wastes (e.g. pesticides)
Source: What A Waste: Solid Waste Management in Asia. Hoornweg, Daniel with Laura Thomas. 1999. Working Paper Series Nr. 1. Urban Development Sector Unit. East Asia and Pacific Region. Page 5.
Source of Solid Waste in Kerala
Household Waste 49%
Hostels, Marriage halls, Institutions 17%
Shops & Markets 16%
Street sweepings 9%
Construction 6%
Slaughter house, Hospitals 3%
Source of Municipal Solid Waste: Kerala
Composition of Solid Waste: Kerala
Compsition of Solid Waste

Status of Waste Management System in Kerala

As per a Supreme Court of India had directive, all the local governments in India above a population strength of over ten lakh need to set up proper facilities for processing waste generated within their limits. And Supreme Court wanted waste management facilities to be in place in such municipalities by December 31, 2003. But a majority of the municipalities in India could not successfully implement this Supreme Court directive, even as on mid - 2010.

Whereas Kerala is one of the few States in the Country that took some measures to address this issue by launching an initiative called Clean Kerala Mission. The mission was launched in 2002.

Objective of the mission was to create a garbage free Kerala. It was given a task of capacity building within local government institutions (LGIs) and enabling and preparing them taking up the challenge of implementing solid waste management projects.

There were efforts to achieve this goal with the participation of NGOs, Community organizations such as Kudumbasrees across Kerala . The first phase of the project was implemented in five Corporations and 26 municipalities with the participation of Women Self-Help-Groups and `Kudumbasrees'. In the second phase of the `Clean Kerala Mission' another 27 cities and 25 villages were included.

Kudumbsrees are Self Help Groups by Women. Kudumbasree means prosperity of family. Currently there are more than 3.7 million members in kudumbasree projects all over Kerala. More on this is available at < http://www.kudumbashree.org/?q=home >

This pilot project focus was on clearing the litter mounds on either side of the National Highway stretch between Kalikadavu and Thalapadi in Kasaragod district.

Partial success of Clean Kerala Mission

But despite several initiatives such as Clean Kerala Mission nothing much has changed as far as Solid Waste Management is concerned.

It may also be viewed as these plans are not sufficient to address the issue of Waste Management in Kerala. While media and the general debates and experiments on Waste Management continue, Kerala still stinks from village to village and from city to Citiy. Its rivers, tiny water canals and all other natural beauty, foundation of its growing tourism industry are getting affected as lack of waste management system in the State causing havoc to normal public life.

  • Resorting to dumping the waste generated is also a serious matter since such insanitary methods of disposal of solid wastes would cause a serious health concerns.
  • Part of the waste generated remains unattended and grows in the heaps at poorly maintained collection centers.
  • The choice of a disposal site also is more a matter of what is available than what is suitable.
  • In several places locals are up in arm against prevalent practice of dumping and landfill
  • Contractors who transport garbage to dump in the interior village dumping sites or near forests or water bodies often face severe resistance from locals and environmental activists

With respect to Kerala, barring few exceptional cases such as Calicut or Thiruvananthapuram corporations and in certain municipal areas, there is a lack of proper Waste Management system in place. Following are some cases where there are some systems are already in place:

Paravur town in central Kerala: A vermicomposting unit was set up with the help of an NGO, which colour codes seven tonne of the town's daily waste each day, to segregate it to plastic and bio-degradable matter. With a mere 50% utilization of its vermicompost plant, Paravur municipality earns Rs 1.2 lakh per annum.

Kozhikode city declared India's first litter-free city in 2004. Uniformed women doubling up as auto-drivers and as household litter-pick up girls, handle over 300 tonne of city's solid waste. The Rs 6.13-crore solid waste management project is funded jointly by the Union ministry for environment and forests, state pollution control board and Kozhikode municipal corporation. And citizens pay Rs 30 per month per household.

Open Dumping and Land fill approach is not the lasting solution
Open dumping has been found to create environmental problems because of air pollution, bad smell, presence of insects and rodents which are injurious to health, and potential contamination of ground water. A quick recap is essential to understand Kochi's desperation. The fast-growing city, with 700,000 people plus a floating population of 100,000, generates around 420 tonnes of municipal solid waste each day. But the city had never had effective garbage treatment facilities. This is the case with the most of the municipalities in Kerala. Lack of proper waste treatment facilities, the solution for them was dumping them in any available locations.

Private Participation in Waste Management: need of the Hour

Private sector participation in waste management is the need of the hour since experiments in waste management are not affordable as any failure at any level can be risky. Private sector participation is one of the best choices open to boost the performance of public services like solid waste management.

It has following advantages:

  • Very less risk of commercial failure and halting of this essential service provision unlike in initiatives managed by cooperatives or community organizations
  • Efficiency: Higher level of efficiency and accountability
  • Access to technology and expertise
  • Focus on customer satisfaction
  • Low cost of service because of competition.
  • Access to finances for new investments

For the private sector it is an opportunity to take part in a responsible economic activity. By being part of waste management business, private sector is fulfilling its social responsibility, in addition to be part of a sustainable business venture. It is also to be noted that waste management industry is being viewed as an ever green sector.

Boom or downturns in the economy, this sector will always have business to do. In addition, with the right technology, investment and professional management practices, a new avenue for employment generation would also be opened up.

Waste Processing: Technology and potential

Waste to Energy
According to Planning Commission, there is a potential of 2,700 MW of power generation from urban and industrial waste in the country. The eleventh five year plan in fact targets 4000 MW of power generation from wastes.

Scrap Recycling business
Scrap recycling and processing is yet another element of waste management. After segregating the garbage, after organic and inert waste has been removed, what remains is recyclable material, mostly PET bottles, cold drink cans, metal scrap, paper cartons and certain types of plastic products. These could be sold to companies who recycle such products.

Waste to Fertilizers

Another method of solid organic waste management currently gaining popularity is composting. Organic waste such as food materials can be used for preparing compost.

Feasibility of Waste to Fertilizer project

As far as Kerala is concerned there is tremendous potential for waste to fertilizer processing projects in conjunction with Muncipal Solid Waste management. It is to be noted that a case of collecting and processing biodegradable wastes from chicken shops, meat shops and slaughter houses itself would make a difference since today the prevalent practice is that of throwing these wastes in to rivers or other close by water bodies and sometimes in unused old wells, resulting in ground water contamination.

  • According to some estimates there are approximately 700 authorized slaughter houses across Kerala and several times more illegal slaughter shops
  • According to official sources close to 5 lakh cattle cross to Kerala border each year to be slaughtered, but unofficial figures are close 12 lakh
  • Further, 12 lakh kgs of chiken are transported into the state from TamilNadu every day
  • Every kilogram of chicken produces about 350 grams of wastes, while dressing
  • It is to be noted that hardly any meat stall in the state has waste treatment facility
  • A typical slaughter house that deals with chicken alone generates about 100 kg. of wastes on an average; On very busy days upto 500 kg. of wastes might accumulate in such a shop
  • The wastes of the beef trade are much more voluminous and difficult to manage. The wastes were thrown in vacant spaces and bones kept uncovered in the market or in bags on the roads.

Waste to Fertilizer would further benefit Kerala's agriculture sector as farmers could access fertilizer at a low cost.

In conclusion: Waste Management is an essential service to be provided by the municipal and local government authorities. Failure to provide it efficiently could be disastrous. Examples of Surat plague menace in the early 1990s and recent outbreaks of Chickunguniya and other unknown diseases in Kerala are all suggesting the need to address the issue of waste management in a war-footing. But what is required is putting in place a professional management system, adoption of latest available technologies and best practices so that there is no failure in this essential service delivery to our citizens. Here comes the role of private sector with investment preparedness to take this forward.