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Institutionalizing waste segregation at source: insights from a field experiment in Delhi

Student Name: Ms Shivani Wadehra
Guide: Prof. Arabinda Mishra
Year of completion: 2019


Waste segregation at the household level is possibly the most efficient method of processing waste. Policies in India have expounded the need for segregation at source for efficient waste processing since Municipal Solid Waste Rules (MSW), 2000. However, the same is not as yet practiced in Delhi. Organic waste and recyclable waste constitute 50% and 17.5% of the total waste. Mixing the two at the stage of generation renders the reuse or recycling of both either impossible or expensive. Given the above context, the thesis aims to explore the following:
1. Determinants to segregating waste at source
2. Influence of interventions— information, norms and monetary incentives on the households‘ waste segregation behavior
3. Effect of interventions across different income categories
4. Assessment of economic viability of decentralized composting facilities

The study uses field experiments to understand the effect of the above-mentioned interventions on households‘ waste disposal behavior. The data comes from approximately 900 households across 15 localities in Delhi (11 in the treatment group and 4 in the control group). Unit of randomization was localities while the unit of analysis was households. To ensure that the findings from the study are policy-relevant and practicable, the Residents‘ Welfare Associations (RWAs) in various localities covered by the research were co-opted as collaborating partners. All treatment households were given information on waste segregation and its societal advantages (e.g. health benefits to rag-pickers/ scavengers) in addition to dustbins and garbage bags. Since the literature on resolving social dilemmas highlights the importance of norms, subsets of households received additional interventions— (a) a comparison of the amounts of ‗own‘ waste and ‗others‘ waste and another subset received monetary incentive to cooperate (i.e. segregate waste).

The study concludes that even low-cost interventions, such as information on segregation and its benefits, are effective in changing the household behavior. Further, combining information with monetary incentives can play an important role in inducing the households to begin segregation at source. The efficacy of monetary incentives highlights the importance of defining a differential user fee— lesser amount for those who segregate and a higher amount for those who do not segregate.

Moreover, waste management involves different actors at different stages (viz. generation, collection, transportation, and processing and disposal) and coordination across these multiple stages is essential. Field observations highlighted that in the waste management chain, actions at every stage affect not only the later but also the former stages. For example, if a garbage collector mixes the waste segregated by households, the latter will stop doing it at source. Thus, it is essential to ensure that the waste segregated once stays segregated until the end and that such a feedback is communicated to all the actors as a means of sustaining behavior. The thesis proposes a mechanism to the above ends.

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