• Concepts in Waste Management:
  1. Degradation and Biodegradation
  2. Recycling
  3. Downcycling
  4. The Craddle to Craddle Approach
  5. Landfill
  6. Incinaration
  7. Environmental Justice
  • Different Material and what happens to it
  1. Paper
  2. Cloth
  3. Glass
  4. Plastics
  5. Metal
  6. Bioedical Waste
  7. Electronic Waste
  8. Debris
  • What’s in our Waste Basket?


Degradation and Biodegradation

Decaying and breaking down of complex substances into simpler inorganic matter is called degradation.

Degradation of complex materials into simple materials happens in nature by the action of the sun and water as well as by the action of living creatures like ants, termites, worms, bacteria, fungi, and others. Degradation by living creatures is ‘biodegradation’ wherein one or some parts of the degraded material is used as a source of food/ energy by the living creature / micro-organism. Material that can be degraded by this process is biodegradable. Biodegradation helps in natural cycling of nutrients and materials. The presence of This is an important ecological benefit. Not all materials are biologically degradable.


Recycling is a process of recovering resources from discarded materials or wastes. It involves utilizing discarded materials (or wastes) as raw material, processing it and making new products out of it. It reduces the amount of waste ending up in the landfill. It also reduces the amount of fresh resources needed in making new products. Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics.


Some materials such as certain types of plastics cannot be recycled into material of the same quality. For example, plastic made after re-processing may be more brittle. After a few cycles of re-processing, the resultant plastic may be quite unusable. You might have experienced this while using black plastic bags that seem to be coarse and tear quite easily.

The Cradle to Cradle Approach

In the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ model, a conscious effort is made to mimic natural processes in industrial production. It seeks to do away with the linear approach of extract manufacture consumer products generate waste.

The idea is to limit extraction of resources and generation of wastes. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is an approach to reduce net consumption in a systemic manner. All materials used in industrial or commercial processes – such as metals, fibers, dyes – are seen to fall into one of two categories: “technical” or “biological” nutrients. Technical nutrients are strictly limited to non-toxic, non-harmful synthetic materials that have no negative effects on the natural environment; they can be used in continuous cycles as the same product without losing their integrity or quality. In this manner these materials can be used over and over again instead of being “down-cycled” into lesser products, ultimately becoming waste. Biological Nutrients are organic materials that, once used, can be disposed of in any natural environment and decompose into the soil, providing food for small life forms without affecting the natural environment. (From Wikipedia and


A sanitary landfill is a place to bury waste comprising mainly of soiled and toxic wastes in a systematic and hygienic way without causing nuisance to public health and safety. The biodegradable portion of the refuse undergoes anaerobic decomposition over relatively longer period of time and produces gases like methane and carbon dioxide (which are among the main causes of climate change and global warming). Decomposition also produces a highly toxic liquid called ‘leachate’ which can poison the soil and underground water in the area surrounding the landfill. It is very important that leachate does not mix with surrounding water or soil and hence sanitary landfills are lined with special impermeable liners to form a barrier between leachate and the surroundings.

Landfilling garbage is costly, energy inefficient, polluting and unhygienic. Hence, it is advisable to compost and recycle solid waste to the maximum extent possible and use the landfill option minimally.

Currently, Pune sends most of its waste to dump yards at Uruli Devachi and Fursungi. These are open dump yards with only parts of them being closed. Villages around these dump yards have been agitating against these dump yards and the continuation of their use. PMC has promised to find alternatives.


The process of burning waste in large furnaces under controlled conditions is called incineration. Incineration is done with various purposes like disposal of non-recyclable items and generation of electricity. After incineration, ash is the resultant product which is problematic to dispose off. Both fly ash (from the stacks) and bottom ash (what is left inside the chamber) contain high levels of toxins like heavy metals, dioxins and can cause cancers when disposed in the environment and come into contact with humans and other animals. Filtering devices can trap the pollutants; however they are costly and disposing trapped material is not easy. Apart from pollution, energy recovery (electricity) after incineration is inadequate because the composition of waste in Pune is very wet and has mostly organic matter.

Environmental Justice

The term ‘Environmental Justice’ refers to the fact that some sections of society, typically poor individuals, families, areas, minorities etc suffer from pollution, hazardous conditions etc. The work conditions of conservancy/municipal corporation workers and rag pickers, the lives of people living around garbage dumps are examples of such injustice.

Manual segregation, waste/rag-picking is usually done by the women and children of poor families. They are directly exposed to the severe health threats, accidents due to sharp materials present in our waste, dog bites and infections.

People living near garbage dumps have to face the problems of rodents, flies, cockroach, mosquitoes and other disease carriers, gases from decomposing waste leading to frequent incidences of fire due to inflammable methane, polluted ambient air and ground water contamination, etc.

Improving the systems of management of municipal waste can correct such inequality in our society where some people have to face the burden of pollution and waste.


Paper: To Be Recycled Or Composted?

Paper is both biodegradable and recyclable. Newspaper, photocopier paper, office paper, notebooks, cardboard, brown paper, shredder paper in bulk etc can easily be recycled, and such paper items should be kept segregated, stored and sent for recycling. However, small bits of paper, paper chits, small tickets etc. which may not be picked up for recycling can be composted and not just thrown away. Remember, paper is fully recyclable so using a paper plate over a plastic/thermocole plate is far better for the environment, so the next time you have a party, use either your existing set or paper not plastic. Collect your shopping in paper or cloth bags and not plastic. Reuse the boxes and cartons for storage and decorate it to look good. Make craft articles of paper mache, it is not as difficult as you think. Paper is made from the fibers of plants, new or virgin paper requires trees to be cut down, recycling saves almost 80% of the energy used to make paper from new material.


Cloth is again of two types, natural and synthetic. Cloth is not recyclable in one way as you cannot make new colth out of it but it is definitly reusable. A huge variety of things can be remade from old cloth, you just have to see the posibilities in it. Cloth is also used in the production of paper. It is biodegradable as it will decompose back into the soil. When you have outgrown your clothes, either recycle them or give them away to someone who can use them. Old clothes are collected by many orgainsations.


Glass is another evirontmentally friendly material. It can be renewed on melting to form materials with the same properties as the original. So collect the glass seperately and either sell it or dispose of it carefully, remember the person who sorts your waste can get injured.


Plastics are of many types. All plastic is derived from petroleum which is a non renuable resource and is obtained through deep sea drilling which is energy intensive and very expensive. Some forms of plastic can be recycled for a limited number of times while others like thermocole are totally non renuable and not biodegradable and just go into the waste to rot and pollute the place.

Almost everything we use seems to be made of some form of plastic, from the toothbrush we use to the flush tank, the slippers we wear, the bottles in the fridge, the bags we use, telephones, cars, computers, mobiles… all use plastic. We cannot live without it but we can make informed choices to use ecofriendly materials whenever possible. We can also choose to use less of it in our lives by carrying cloth bags for shopping, buying goods that have less of wasteful packaging, reusing plastic articles in various ways as long as possible as storage instead of throwing it out, buying things in glass bottles instead of plastic, every little bit counts .


Metals come from the ground, through the invasive process of mining. The advantage metal has as a material is that it can be recycled, mild steel, aluminiun, steel, copper, brass, all commonly used metals in our lives all can be recycled, saving costs on producing virgin material, reducing pollution and saving on energy costs.

Old utensils can be exchanged for new ones, cars can be on exchange schemes, things like old furniture, window frames, fencing materials, old wire, all can be sold as scrap which is then recycled in the plant.

Biomedical waste at home

We generate biomedical waste such as disposable injection syringes, empty medical bottles and strips, ointment tubes, leftover medicines, blood soaked cotton, diapers, sanitary napkins etc in our homes. These can be infectious or toxic and mixing them with other wastes can spread diseases or cause allergies. Hence it is important to segregate these. Ideally, BMW should be separated into categories as specified in the Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 1998 and stored separately into categories. After primary collection it should be stored at identified healthcare facilities. Government, private clinics and hospitals should be involved to facilitate this. Along with the clinic waste, the residential BMW must be disinfected and then reach authorized waste management systems such as secured landfill or incinerators.

Electronic Waste

Today’s modern life is dependent on various electronic items. After the life period of electronic equipments or their parts is over, these items are disposed off along with other waste. Electronic circuits of TV and DVD, computer, remote controls, CDs, floppy discs, wiring system, old computers, telephones, batteries are some examples of common e-waste emerging from offices and homes. All these contain toxic heavy metals like Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Zinc, Arsenic etc which can contaminate the environment. If they find their way into human body and accumulate up to a certain level, diseases related to endocrine glands, circulatory and nervous system and cancers of different organs will be on the rise. Hence these must be segregated, stored and disposed only in secured landfills. Presently, Pune does not have one. However with several call centres, corporate officers, computer users in the city, Pune urgently needs to develop a system.


At some point of time, we all do some renovation to our homes. Sometimes it is just replacing old windows or doors, in other cases it involves breaking the existing structure and reconstructing. But not many of us are bothered what happens to this waste and where it gets dumped. Normally the contractor doing the job undertakes to dispose of the debris which he just dumps in the most convenient empty ground. Material can be segrated and sold seperately, MS, aluminium, steel, all can be sold as scrap and recycled, if the demolotion is done carefully, even bricks can be saved to reuse, wooden doorframes can be reused or sold, old tiles can be reused. Construction rubble can be disposed of in landfills or in designated zones, try and be more sensitive to the surroundings and not create mounds of dirt if we can avoid it.

When building or renovating, also be aware of the different materials available and look at ecofriendly options like glass vs ceramic, metal vs plywood, keep in mind the life of something and not produce waste

What is in our waste-basket?

Organic Waste or Biodegradable Waste Waste generated from kitchen, vegetables, peels, fruits, leftover food, garden leaves, flowers, litter, etc
Recyclable Waste or Non-biodegradable Waste Paper, plastic, metal, glass, clothes, packaging materials, cardboards, etc
Non-recyclable Waste *Styrofoam/Thermocol, rubber, ebonite, broken cups, etc
Soiled or Infectious Waste Cotton pads, gauze, bandages, or materials stained with blood and other body fluids, bio-medical items like syringes, sanitary napkins, medicine bottles and tubes
Toxic and Hazardous Waste Chemicals, old medicines, paints, containers of fertilizers, patricides, paint, other chemicals, spray cans, batteries, broken tube-lights and bulbs
E-Waste Waste generated from electronic items, refuse generated from computers CD, floppy disc, cartridge, spare parts, mobile phones, batteries, and household appliances
Debris Construction and demolition debris, sand, soil, ash, etc
*These are recyclable but harm humans and the environment while being recycled. Nevertheless, these are being recycled everyday.

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