Constructing a Solid Waste Management System in India using IoT and Blockchain Technologies

Sushmita Sridhar - Mount Carmel College, Bangalore


India has been battling an insufficient waste management system for years now. It faces a massive waste management challenge owing to its growing population and rapid development in all spheres.

Our country generates approximately 62 million tonnes of solid waste every year which is approximately 80 % of what South Asia produces and 13 % of the world’s solid waste production. However, only less than 27 % of it gets recycled. The remaining waste thus collected is disposed of in a landfill, untreated, leading to innumerable environmental / humanitarian issues and economic burdens. Global analysts predict that by 2050, India will be generating 3.4 tonnes of garbage annually.

Although due recognition has been given to the importance of constructing an effective waste management system in order to avoid the dire consequences of improper disposal systems, India is lagging behind in adopting innovative measures and strategic execution of the same.

The process of solid waste management is no longer elite knowledge. It begins with waste segregation and every step that follows waste generation intends to create value in waste before reaching its final destination and being disposed of.

The Problems - Case of India

The problem lies with system of administration that ensures these steps are being effectively implemented across India.

1. Problem with segregation of solid waste – Every stakeholder involved in the process is responsible for waste segregation. However, waste generators play a major role. Waste needs to be segregated into the following categories: organic or wet waste, paper, plastic, glass, metal, e-waste and others. Many a times, waste is not segregated completely at point of collection itself. Due to lack of training and awareness among waste collectors , segregation is not effectively enforced as well. At times, waste generators are not willing to co-operate. From lack of segregation arises difficulties in storage, recycling and disposal.

2. Inadequate collection/transportation system – Although India has been able to establish a door to door collection system, the process and technologies used to collect solid waste still stands to be inefficient. There are no provisions to collect and temporarily store the waste according to segregation done. Lack of this functionality further hinders waste segregation. Along with this, the routes taken by these trucks are not monitored. Thus, our processes are not time and cost efficient.

3. Recycling – India lags behind in implementing recycling technologies. The Hindu recently reported that Scandinavian countries have achieved the milestone of recycling 90 % of their waste. However, in India, recycling technologies are in its nascent stage. An article titled “ There is much to gain from recycling of waste” by THE HINDU writes “ recycling has the potential to create six times more jobs and generate around ₹14-lakh crore of additional cost savings by 2030, which is approximately 11 per cent of our annual GDP”. We can establish that there’s much value in waste which is not being capitalised in India. Moreover, due to the unorganised nature of waste collection and segregation, much of the scrap material is contaminated due to which India is importing the same. An improvement in the waste management system would better the recycling scenario in India.

4. Storage and disposal – improper and inefficient systems of segregation/ collection and recycling leads to problems in administering and disposal of waste. Insufficient landfills and final storage spaces cause immense harm to the environment. Landfills and temporary storage areas are often open spaces and close to human habitation. This also is one of the major problems of our waste management system.

The current inadequate solid waste management system and insufficient efforts for improvement is proving to be a curse not only for our present but also for our future. India needs to invest in innovative technologies to simplify the administration process and render it effective.

Policy Suggestions and Roadmap for Implementation

Technology has been the go to solution to numerous third world problems. With increase in usage of Internet of Things, administration of processes has become simple and largely impactful.

Usage of IOT, or in other words, devices (sensors, applications) connected to the internet network facilitates tracking, monitoring and collection of data on real time basis. One major disadvantage of such a technology would be that the data so collected or tracked is susceptible to security risks. This is where BLOCKCHAIN technology comes into picture. Blockchain helps to store data in such a way that manipulation of data is nearly impossible since data is stored in blocks and each block is connected to the previous one. A combination of IOT and Blockchain would aid real time tracking, monitoring and data collection and at the same time ensures data safety and decentralisation.

IOT devices can be used to track real time data on waste segregation, collection, and transportation and with the help of blockchain technology can further increase the reliability and credibility of data so collected.

How can we use IOT and BLOCKCHAIN to manage solid waste effectively?

1. Application connecting all stakeholders – We will have to begin with creation of an application that connects all stakeholders involved i.e., waste generators, waste collectors, government or statutory bodies and manufacturers or buyers of segregated waste for the purpose of recycling.

· Waste generator - Each household will have to register themselves on the app in order to be able to dispose waste. The application serves as a tool which enables tracking of waste generated by each household, and the quantity of waste generated under each category. This will enable us to set up a reward system which would help reinforce the idea of segregation. SO how would the reward system work? Every truck is equipped with a QR code. Before disposing waste or handing it over to the waste collector, a representative from each household can scan the QR code through their application thus connecting to the network. Following this step, the sensors in the truck can capture the total quantity of waste disposed by the individual and also collect data on the waste disposed in different categories. If waste disposed belongs categories that can be recycled, points get added to the account of the individual. These points can be redeemed in different ways such as tax rebate, cash back etc. Such a system would facilitate segregation at point of collection and ease the process of data collection.

· Waste collectors – With the help of the GPS enabled applications and Smart trucks, the authorities can track who is taking which route, time taken by the individual and the force with which segregation is being enforced (with the help of sensors).

· Manufacturers/ recyclers – manufacturers/ buyers of scarp and recyclers can register on the application to easily track and contact respective authorities, place an order for purchase the required waste material. Such individuals or organisations can also avail certain benefits from the government.

2. SMART TRUCKS - India has already achieved door to door collection of waste up to a certain extent. Such D to D collection is done with the help of trucks. Using this existing infrastructure, we can convert them to SMART TRUCKS. How would these Smart Trucks work? There are two main functionalities: tracking of routes taken by the truck and using sensors to monitor and collect data on filling up of each compartment on real time basis.

The existing trucks can be compartmentalised in order to ensure proper collection of segregated waste. Each truck is connected to a GPS network that tracks the starting point, routes taken and the point of disposal, time taken to complete the route assigned etc. Using such data, we can work on optimisation of routes. Sensors installed in the trucks can be utilised : to detect the waste being disposed in each compartment, to monitor and collect data on the quantity of waste collected and consecutive additions along with data pertaining to quantity of waste generated in each category.

· In addition to tracking the trucks that collect waste, movement to the point of storage and disposal can also be monitored. This helps analyse the whole transportation chain in the process of waste management. Tracking can also help to identify the time being taken by stakeholders to not only collect waste but also the time taken to reach points of final storage, period for which the waste is stored, location of storage and final disposal(landfills).

3. Blockchain technology to manage data – Blockchain technology will help protect waste management documentation. This system of administering waste management process can be complex and hence, blockchain can help with decentralisation of management i.e., solid waste management at ward levels. In addition to this, it can be well monitored at the central level as well thereby giving access to higher level management. The linked nature of data renders it difficult even to manipulate at the lowest of the levels. Since each block of data is connected to the other, the data collected by robots or intelligent sensors can be considered credible.

IOT sensors and blockchain technology can be a deadly combination to combat certain inefficiencies in the waste management system. By establishing such a structure, we can not only ensure proper segregation of waste, tracking of waste collection trucks and smoothen the process of recycling but also obtain real time data to benefit decision making and administration of the entire process.