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Biodiversity & Environment

Waste-to-Energy Plants

  • 15 Feb 2019
  • 6 min read

According to a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nearly half of India’s waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, meant to convert non-biodegradable waste, are defunct.

  • Moreover, the existing plants are functioning at low capacity.
    • Since 1987, 15 WTE plants have been set up across the country. However, seven of these plants have since shut down.
  • The key reasons for closure are the plants’ inability to handle mixed solid waste and the high cost of electricity generated by them that renders it unattractive to power companies.
    • MSW (municipal solid waste) in India has low calorific value and high moisture content.
    • As most wastes sent to the WTE plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content (inert materials like soil, sand, grit, etc).
    • These wastes are not suitable for burning, and therefore to burn them, additional fuel is required which makes these plants expensive to run.
  • Despite this, the NITI Aayog, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, envisages 800 Mega Watt from WTE plants by 2018-19, which is 10 times the capacity of all the existing WTE plants put together.
    • It even proposes setting up a Waste-to-Energy Corporation of India, which would construct incineration plants through PPP models.

Waste-to-Energy Plants

  • A waste-to-energy or energy-from-waste plant converts municipal and industrial solid waste into electricity and/or heat for industrial processing.
  • The energy plant works by burning waste at high temperatures and using the heat to make steam. The steam then drives a turbine that creates electricity.
  • Apart from producing electricity, burning waste also reduces the amount of material that would probably be buried in landfills. Burning MSW reduces the volume of waste by about 80%. Thereby offering a number of social and economic benefits that cannot easily be quantified.


  • Most wastes that are generated find their way into land and water bodies without proper treatment, causing severe water and air pollution.
  • Waste to energy generates clean, reliable energy from a renewable fuel source, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels, the combustion of which is a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
  • In addition to energy generation, waste-to-energy can fetch significant other benefits like:
    • Success in municipal solid waste management could lead to opportunities in other waste such as sewage waste, industrial waste and hazardous waste.
    • Waste to Energy opportunities exist not just in India but all over the world. Thus, there could be significant international expansion possibilities for Indian companies, especially expansion into other Asian countries.


  • Waste-to-Energy is still a new concept in India.
    • Most of the proven and commercial technologies in respect of urban wastes are required to be imported.
  • The costs of the projects are high as critical equipment for a project is required to be imported.
  • In view of low level of compliance of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 by the Municipal Corporations/ Urban Local Bodies, segregated municipal solid waste is generally not available at the plant site, which leads to non-availability of waste-to-energy plants.
  • Lack of financial resources with Municipal Corporations/Urban Local Bodies.
  • Lack of conducive policy guidelines from State Governments in respect of allotment of land, supply of garbage and power purchase / evacuation facilities.
  • The WTEs have also triggered widespread criticism from citizens. For instance, there has been a continuous protest against the Okhla WTE plant in Delhi for polluting the environment.

Way Forward

  • In the context of climate change, focus on renewable source of energy and burgeoning population, the WTEs approach is needed to address the growing energy need in a sustainable way. However, it is also important to ensure their effectiveness.
  • For this, Urban local bodies (ULBs) should invest in preparing an action plan on waste management in accordance with the Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules, 2016 within a time-bound approach and promote and adopt the key elements of waste hierarchy as refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.
  • It is also important to focus on segregation at source, spreading awareness, preparing an action plan for the city for waste management by adopting decentralised technologies. This will not only improve effectiveness of WTEs, but will also ensure protection and improvement of our environment as envisaged in Article 51 A(g) of our Constitution.
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