This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shilpita Mathews. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why We Need To Pay Immediate Attention To GHG Emissions From India’s Waste Sector

More from Shilpita Mathews

WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

With increasing green-house gas (GHG) emissions nationally, one sector that is often disregarded is waste, which accounts for 3.7% of India’s total national-level GHG emissions (including land use, land use change and forestry), as per 2013 estimates prepared by GHG Platform India.

In aggregate terms, the waste sector was responsible for 96.92 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2015. Whilst the aggregate contribution may be insignificant when compared to sectors like land energy or land use change, waste sector emissions have risen at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.2% for the reporting period of 2005-2015. In light of this, it beckons further national attention.

Waste is divided into solid waste disposal and waste-water treatment and discharge, as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reporting standards. The majority of emissions come from wastewater handling which accounts for more than 80% of sectoral emissions. In the reporting period (2005 to 2015), domestic wastewater (64.8%) accounted for highest GHG emissions, followed by industrial wastewater (23.4%) and municipal solid waste (MSW) (11.8%).

In terms of GHG composition, waste predominantly consists of methane (CH4) (78.4%) and nitrous oxide (N2O) (21.6%) which are then converted to CO2 equivalents for aggregations. Methane is produced and released as a by-product of anaerobic decomposition of solid waste or treatment and disposal of wastewater whilst nitrous oxide occurs due to protein content in domestic wastewater.

In terms of top emitters, most waste is produced domestically. Reasons include, “dependency of population on discharge/treatment systems with high GHG emission generation potential such as septic tanks, inadequately managed aerobic treatment plants, and untreated discharge of domestic wastewater,” as per GHG Platform India.

In terms of industry, most commercial emitters are responsible for organic wastewater generation, which is the highest in the pulp and paper, meat and dairy industries. With an CGAR of 6.1%, this has the highest waste sector growth among the three sub-sectors.

On a subnational level, waste emissions are highest in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, which contributed to 56% of the total waste sector emissions from 2005 to 2015. This is predominantly attributed to higher population size and relatively higher domestic waste generation. In terms of MSW disposal, the states with the highest total GHG emissions (in million tonnes of CO2e) are Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Beyond waste generation, GHG emissions can also be attributed to inadequate waste processing systems. This is the case of 10 Indian states with less than 10% of the waste being processed (Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Odisha, Uttarakhand and West Bengal). Given the exploration of sector specific emissions, there are various government initiatives aimed at reducing GHG emissions in waste.

Legally, most Indian waste management rules are based on the principles of “sustainable development,” “precaution” and “polluter pays” as noted by Down to Earth. For example, under municipal authorities, “there are many laws pertaining to waste management including on hazardous waste, bio-medical waste, construction and demolition waste, municipal solid waste, plastic waste, and e-waste,” captured in the UNFCC Report India Report 2018.

The most prominent national policy in this domain has been the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), which aimed to achieve a clean India by October 2, 2019. MSW management is one of six components covered under SBM. The programme recognised “dual benefits that can arise from efficient waste disposal leading to enhanced environmental benefits along with conversion of promoting waste to energy,” as per the UNFCC report. To this end, the government co-financed numerous waste processing and waste to energy plants. MSW has witnessed progress, with national MSW processing capacity increasing to nearly 23% by 2017.

However, there are various criticisms of SBM with regards to GHG emissions reduction. As the GHG Platform India note, “the progress of the SBM or SWM has been slower than anticipated and consequently the considerable mitigation potential of this initiative remains untapped.” One aspect is the waste processing rates.

For instance, only about one-fifth of the MSW generated by the largest states is currently processed, “states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi need to fast-track augmentation of their waste processing capabilities.”

Moreover, whilst technological development, like bio-methanation and waste to energy technology has been promoted, critics claim this as an irrational obsession.” This is because of low returns on investment (i.e. low waste to energy potential) as compared to alternative policies.

In view of the drawbacks, various alternatives have been championed. For instance, waste segregation paves way for higher compositing and recycling. As GHG Platform India highlights, with “Reduce, Reuse, Recover, Recycle and Remanufacture (5Rs) and appropriate choice of technology, India can profitably utilize about 65% of SWM in producing energy and/or compost and another 10 to 15% to promote recycling and bring down the quantity of wastes going to landfill or dumpsites to under 20%.”

Furthermore, substantial investment is required in “waste infrastructure, sustained behavioural change” and capacity building “at a grassroots level.” One example to engender this is “collaborative efforts between the central and regional stakeholders…for realising the potential of a nationwide Jan Andolan [mass movement] against waste.” Community engagement is required with those at margins of society.

For example, Down to Earth suggests almost 80% of the waste at Delhi landfill sites could be recycled provided civic bodies start allowing ragpickers to segregate waste at source and recycle it. Moreover, community initiatives, like local level compost pits can champion current waste management, as well as encourage the recovery and recycling of other forms of waste, like electronic waste, locally.

Finally, synergies can be identified with existing government initiatives, like ‘smart cities‘ promoted nationally. These cities should “rework their strategies as per changing lifestyles…and reinvent garbage management… so that we can process waste and not landfill it,” as per Down to Earth.

Overall, whilst building toilets, and solid waste management have captured the imagination of the Indian electorate in recent years, the link between waste and contributions to GHG emission remains tenuous at worst and unambitious at best. It is hoped that the increasing CGAR of the waste sector, as percentage of total national GHG emissions, will draw further attention to this use.

Moreover, a revamp of programmes like SBM, smart cities, and spearheading local waste management initiatives, will put waste related GHG emissions, at centre stage of government climate change mitigation policy.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: pxhere.
This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
You must be to comment.

More from Shilpita Mathews

Similar Posts


By Khanjan Ravani


Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below