Making India’s waste streams sustainable

MIT researchers are developing a decision-support tool to help cities in India sustainably manage the societal and environmental impacts of their waste.

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The full story appears on MIT News.

The massive Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai has become the most visible emblem of an increasingly serious nationwide problem for India: what to do with its trash.

Deonar’s towers of garbage are tall enough that there are concerns they could affect the flight patterns of airplanes coming and going from India’s financial capital. The dump has caught fire twice so far in 2016, enveloping the city in smoke and raising an outcry from locals. And Mumbai isn’t alone. Nearly every city in India faces waste management challenges that are only expected to grow along with rising population and affluence.

A team of researchers at MIT’s Materials Systems Laboratory and Tata Center for Technology and Design wants to help cities understand their waste streams and begin to manage them in ways that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.

Led by Randolph Kirchain, principal research scientist in the Materials Processing Center, and Jeremy Gregory, research scientist in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the team is developing a decision-support tool to help Indian cities optimize the way they collect, transport, and treat household waste.

“Like many things in India, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Gregory says. “Everyone interacts with the solid waste system, so everyone stands to gain from better management. But to do it right, you have to understand the cultural, socioeconomic, and technical context of a particular city.”

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