White Paper – Sustainable Municipal Waste Management in India

Removing Barriers to Sustainable Municipal Waste Management using Anaerobic Digestion in India


Clarke Energy in conjunction with the UK India Business Council have released a white paper in relationship to the opportunities and challenges facing India in the field of solid waste management. In particular biogas from anaerobic digestion, a technology India has a long history with, can be better deployed to help treat waste, reduce carbon emissions and generate renewable electricity.


The reports abstract can be seen below, along with a link to the full text:

India is the 5th largest economy in the world today with an ambition to become a USD 3 trillion economy (making it the 3rd largest economy in the world) by 2025. Accompanied by this ambitious target is the fact that in a similar timeframe India will be the most populous nation with its urban population increasing at a rate of 3-3.5% per annum. Nonetheless, this surge brings about an increase in urbanisation and demand across utilities such as food, water, energy, housing, and sanitation. These multifaceted requirements are crucial for the economic growth, but it must be ensured that the economic growth is backed by sustainability and judicious utilisation of natural resources.

As we see today, with the rapid increase in India’s industrial landscape and population, and Government of India’s vision for “Power for All”, the energy demands have grown manifold and the energy consumption for India is expected to surge from 6 percent at present to 11 percent by 2040. While power generation is expected to increase by 207% to 478% TWh by 2040. To ensure fulfilment of these demands an inevitable pressure will be put on the natural resources. Though there is growth in usage of renewable sources to cater to the growing energy demands, there will continue to be dependence on coal to a very large extent to be the primary energy source almost accounting to 80% of total output by 2040.

It is no doubt that usage of coal to this large extent will only add to India’s growing environmental concerns and augmenting CO2 emissions. Being a signatory to the Paris Agreement and adopting the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), India today must adopt alternatives means of energy generation. And one of the key resources here would be “Waste” – the municipal solid waste, which India generates per annum.

Waste management holds an important key to India’s economic development in a sustained and environment friendly manner, by providing a means to effectively utilise the 62 million tonnes of waste which is annually generated in India. Presently, waste contributes to 0.17% of energy generation from the total capacity of 80GW, and this presents a huge opportunity for India, where otherwise the waste is largely disposed of in a non-environment friendly manner in landfills.

Not only from the point of environment, waste management and utilisation of waste as an energy resource will lead to preservation of finite natural resources, free electricity charges from volatility and external influences, reduce dependence on imports, while simultaneously improving India technology and innovation space, create opportunities for direct and indirect employment, and augment the clean water and air sanitisation efforts in a cost effective and sustainable manner.

However, India lacks proper regulatory mechanisms and policy framework, which necessitates the government at all levels Centre-State-Municipality to develop conducive and coherent policies allowing technology usage and technology transfer for effective waste management. Further, availability of less expensive alternatives for waste disposal, lack of indigenous technologies, high capital, high maintenance, and operational costs of waste-to-energy treatment systems have rendered a slow growth to the sector.

Incineration is the most widely used method in India when it comes to generating energy from waste. Even the central finance assistance scheme encourages use of incineration along with composting as the appropriate usage for energy, but still the effect incineration has on the environment cannot be negated.

Presently, methods being used for waste to energy conversion work best with dry organic waste, but in a country such as India, where segregation of waste is a challenge and with presence of mixed waste, technologies such as Anaerobic digesting, composting are also gradually gaining ground and should be considered as positive alternatives to achieve the 5690 MW of energy potential from waste.

The optimal technological solution is one that has the lowest carbon emissions and maximises recycling and energy recovery. Recycling should be maximised at households and through the engagement of the informal sector. Food waste and readily biodegradable waste should be sent to localised distributed anaerobic digestion facilities, either with renewable electricity, heat and cooling generation or the production of biomethane for grid injection or vehicles. Composting is optimal for green waste streams that cannot be digested. The remaining stream, subject to having high calorific value, can then be used in smaller efficient energy from waste (incineration) facilities that can be linked into district cooling schemes.

In February 2020, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy issued revised guideline for its Waste to Energy Programme, where along with industrial, urban, agricultural and residual waste, municipal solid waste was also included. This led to the revision of the central financing assistance guidelines that earmarked Rs 400 Crore towards energy generation from MSW with the target of generating 200 MW of energy. This is a positive step towards recognising the value of municipal solid waste and technologies which can be harnessed to generate energy.

Also, our learnings from the recent situation of the COVID-19 pandemic showcases the utmost requirement attached to proper hygiene and a sanitised environment as an imperative for the economic environment to remain stable and functional, thus mandating the requirement of environmentally friendly solutions and technologies to be used for managing waste and generating energy from waste.

This focus of this paper, therefore, is on the different technologies that are available, such as anaerobic digestion, composting, incineration, and the technologies that would be advisable for India to fulfil its Paris Agreement, SDGs as well as achieving sustainable economic growth. The paper also focuses on the regulatory and policy framework on how India has assimilated “municipal solid waste” as a means for energy generation and conservation.

Download the full white paper here:
Whitepaper on Removing Barriers to Sustainable Municipal Solid Waste Managment Using Anaerobic Digestion

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