The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 183

Mumbai's urban metabolism and the role of waste management through informality

urban metabolism

13 September 2016

Author: Mariangela Veronesi

Publication Date: September 2016

As cities in the Global South continue their expansion, waste increases accordingly as a by-product of urban life. Although public authorities tend to aim to deal with disposal through formal waste management (municipal or private contractors), this often proves to be insufficient to deal with the volume of waste and to cover all areas of the city. Hence these systems are usually paralleled by informal solutions that in turn provide important ecological and economic contributions to the city and its inhabitants. Informal waste management takes place through a network of actors that collect and/or transform waste in order to sell it, using discarded material as a resource for the creation of recycled goods. Nonetheless, the recognition of the contribution of the informal sector and its actors is often lacking, with little emphasis on the benefits generated by informal waste pickers and the related industries. 

Through the paper, I analyse the role of informal waste management in the urban metabolism of Mumbai, India. The paper aims to identify the contribution of the informal sector in managing waste by determining: a) what role does informal waste management play in improving urban ecological sustainability and resilience?; b) how does informal waste management respond to historical transformations of urban nature?; c) what forces govern distributional flows of urban transformations and how can these be negotiated by informal waste management actors? The paper concludes by drawing lessons on how understanding the value of informal waste management can relate to the evolution of Mumbai into a just and sustainable city through urban planning. In fact, in a world of scarce resources and increasing income disparity, it is important to understand the contribution of informal waste management in order to improve urban sustainability, not only from an environmental perspective, but also in terms of livelihood and wellbeing for all citizens.

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