One Solution To All The Environmental Problems: How Circular Economy Can Save Mumbai

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One Solution To All The Environmental Problems: How Circular Economy Can Save Mumbai

Mumbai – a city with over 20 million residents – has 55% of its population living in slums

Famous for Bollywood and dubbed as the ‘City of Dreams’, the coastal city of Mumbai is the financial capital of India. The city is plagued with many social and environmental issues due to the rapid and unplanned urbanization in and around Mumbai.

The increase in temporary establishments and shanties without basic amenities like water and sewage plan, pollution from the residents and the thriving industries, and complete negligence towards the delicate estuarine and coastal biodiversity hosted by the city, are few of the many problems the city faces.


  • Mumbai is the most populous city in India and has one of the fastest rates of urbanization.
  • Asia’s largest slum – Dharavi, which is home to more than a million people – lies right in the middle of the city.
  • Almost 60% of the population live in temporary establishments or shanties and do not have access to a proper sewage system.


73% of Mumbai’s garbage is food waste

  • If this food waste is properly managed and recycled, the garbage transported to Mumbai’s overburdened landfills will be reduced by 93%.
  • Mumbai generates 7,000-7,500  tonnes of solid waste every day, which is equivalent to the weight of more than 40 blue whales, the largest animal to exist.
  • Around 80 to 110 metric tonnes of plastic waste, much of it is single-use plastic, is being dumped into Mumbai’s drains and water channels every day.


Mithi River – a major river flowing through Mumbai – is more of a sewage line than a river as 100% of the water flowing through it is sewage dumped by the establishments set around it.

1 in 6 glasses of water that a Mumbaikar drinks is contaminated.

  • Major lakes in and around Mumbai face similar treatment and are marked as ‘unsafe’ for use with Powai lake – one of the origins for the Mithi river – being 8 times more polluted than the safe limit
  • The Arabian sea and the beaches of Mumbai are among the worst polluted in the world, due to marine litter, microplastics, and untreated sewage being let out into the sea.


  • Between 2005 to 2015, Mumbai has incurred losses worth ₹140 million due to flooding.
  • All through the year, Mumbai’s canals, creeks and rivers – which are natural storm drain systems – are clogged with silt, garbage and untreated sewage. Mithi River being a major storm drain.
  • This the root of the water-logging problem the city faces. Before every monsoon, the municipal corporation scrambles to clean up and desilt these waterways.

Collectively, around ₹39 billion have been spent on Mithi River restoration.

De-silting and clean-up at Mithi River, Mumbai (


  • According to WHO, Mumbai was ranked 4th on the list of polluted Megacities.
  • One of the worst years in recent past was 2018, where the air quality was recorded to be 5 times worse than the limit prescribed by WHO.
  • Due to its coastal location, Mumbai benefits from the sea breeze, which helps to dispel some of the suspended pollutants.

Transport emissions will overtake Industrial emissions to be the worst polluter in Mumbai during the next decade

  • Mumbai has one of the best public transport networks which is a benefit but Mumbai’s bus service – Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) buses – has a history of not conducting the mandatory PUC (Pollution Under Control) checks with buses failing the pollution test, further increasing the pollution.


The Circular Economy model is based on the idea of maintaining the value of the products and resources as much as possible by keeping it in circulation within the system. 

This helps generate revenue and maintain a balance between the 3 Ps of the system,

  1. People (Society)
  2. Planet (Environment)
  3. Profit (Economy)


Globally, more than 2 billion tonnes of solid waste is produced every year — roughly 5 times the total weight of all people on Earth. This number is expected to grow by 70% in the next 30 years if no measures are taken.

The only way to solve this is by putting this waste back into the system and using it as a resource.

It makes economic sense to properly manage wasteSILPA KAZA, WORLD BANK URBAN DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST

Proper employment of a Circular Economy in waste management helps build jobs, create new industries, and provide economic stability despite limited natural resources available. For instance,

  • Employment in the sectors of collection, segregation, and processing of the plastic and paper waste will increase.
  • Training people to repair and refurbish electronic products, appliances, and vehicles has shown an increase in small-scale industries and employment rates as was seen in the Remanufacturing Model of circular economy in Ghana.
  • Communities could also be trained to upcycle waste fabrics into useful products like bags, decor, toys, and more.

India could create $218 billion in profits by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23% by adopting circular principles in the agriculture and vehicle manufacturing industries.


Earth5R has been involved and trained slum communities in revenue-generating ideas by upcycling waste.

  1. Waste segregation and composting

The Earth5R team has trained many housing complexes to segregate their waste and has installed composting bins to turn their organic wastes into manure. This not only minimized the waste ending up in the landfills but the manure was also used for community and urban gardens.

The manure was also distributed to the women living in slums to grow saplings which were later bought for plantation activities.

This way, the waste was utilized in the system while generating revenue.

  1. Upcycling Fabric Scraps into Dolls

Earth5R team with a designer designed ‘Coffee Dolls’ which are easily made using fabric scraps and coffee grinds sourced from a local coffee shop.

Few women in slums were trained in making these dolls and they soon built a small independent business by selling their dolls to the retailers.

Female Empowerment and Social reform through Circular Economy and Coffee Dolls! (Earth5R)

  1. Upcycling waste paper into paper bags

Similarly, the people living in slums were also trained in making paper bags out of newspapers. 

These activities help put the waste back into the circulation and makes the slum-dwellers independent by generating good income.


52% of commuters in Mumbai use public transport

Mumbai Suburban Railway is the oldest commuter rail in Asia with the highest passenger density in the world, 7.5 million people daily. Mumbai also has one of the largest organized bus transport networks in India.

These public transport services in addition to Metro lines and Monorail is a big win for Mumbai as good public transit systems help reduce the emissions and energy consumption.

But this is not enough to curb the city’s air pollution woes.

A large percentage of the population is still dependent on private transport for commuting and this percentage is increasing.

The falling use and maintenance of public transport, growth in the number of private vehicles, and traffic congestion will all lead to a rise in transport emissions.

Mumbai is already working on solving this problem by,

  1. Encouraging the use of public transport by reducing the transit fare
  2. The authorities also began to adopt zero-emission electric buses in the city under BEST and NMMT (Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport)


Being a tropical, coastal city, Mumbai has a potential of switching towards renewable energy sources like Solar, Wind and Tidal energy.

Few steps to inculcate solar energy are already on way with,

  • Mumbai Central Railway taking a step towards Solar power run railway stations.
  • Mumbai Western Railway suburbs installing solar-powered charging stations.
  • Solar panels were installed at the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command station in Navi Mumbai. This step will cater to nearly one-third of the Station’s annual requirement.

But much needs to be done.

Mumbai experiences monsoon with heavy rains but the city runs dry by the summer next year. Implementing water harvesting practices will greatly help the city.

Water harvesting initiatives were implemented in Delhi, India. Similar initiatives could be taken in Mumbai for the city to overcome the water shortage issues faced during the dry season (Times Of India)


A major source of pollution in the water bodies of Mumbai is the solid waste being dumped into them, especially plastic which chokes up the channels, storm drainage, and ecosystem, causing heavy damages.

Powai Lake Clean-up

Earth5R had arranged a clean-up and waste awareness project for over 13 weeks at the Powai lake in Mumbai under the A.C.T. (Action. Collaboration. Transformation) Powai project. During this, over 1 ton of plastic was collected and recycled by working with rag-pickers to make plastic benches. This initiative led to the following changes:

  • Social: Helped change community behaviour through awareness and involvement while including them in the formal economy
  • Environmental: Kept the trash out of the environment and the landfill
  • Economical: Generated revenue by circularizing the resources.

Circular economy in practice at the Powai Lake Clean-up(Earth5R)

Mithi River Clean-up

Earth5R is working towards the restoration of the Mithi River in partnership with United Nations Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL), VTT Technical Research Centre (Finland), RiverRecycle (Finland), and Huhtamäki (Finland).

The objectives of the Mithi River Clean-up in Mumbai are:

  1. Creating behavioural changes in the citizens living in the River Catchment Area by providing awareness training and hands-on-workshop on effective solid waste management
  2. Cleaning the river catchment area to protect the ecosystem and ensure a healthy environment
  3. Recycling and valorising the collected waste into valuable fuels, chemicals, bio-energy and bio-fertilizer instead of sending it to the landfills.

This one-of-the-kind project will be executed in two stages.

The first stage of the project involves

  • Public awareness and systemic change within the people and the businesses
  • Drone studies for data collection and analysis of the waste using AI and IoT (Internet of Things) for future circular economy studies and generating a short overview of the potential valorisation routes based on the characterisation of the waste.

The second stage of the project will include:

  • Recycling of plastic waste
  • Valorisation of the mixed plastic waste, bio-waste and fractions to valuable fuels, chemicals, bioenergy and bio-fertilizer.

The restoration is based on ‘Value Creation’ with Citizen Awareness and engagement of Circular Economy at the core in accordance with technological advancement.

The Value is Created by using a fully automated floating unit that runs 24 x 7.

This is an environmental-friendly unit working on solar energy without any emissions.

The system includes:

  • Concentrating and collecting the floating waste present in the river
  • Sorting the waste
  • Recyclable plastic would be recycled
  • The low-value/mixed plastic waste which could not be recycled would be converted into oil but the process of Pyrolysis.

The unit uses Zero Emission Pyrolysis Technology that makes oil with 70% conversion rate and it also runs on its fuel.

This project will help Mumbai

  1. Reduce the plastic waste entering the oceans through the Mithi River
  2. Collect the raw material to be processed into valuable products, and
  3. Engaging the ecosystem of stakeholders in India to transit from linear circular to a more sustainable circular economy

The waste monitoring system hence developed and the data which is collected would help develop similar projects for other cities and many other rivers.

Building a Circular solution for any city can help tackle more than one social, environmental and/or economic issue as it has the potential of being sustainable and effective with Citizen participation and technological advancements. 

Reach out to Earth5R to know more about solving environmental, social and economical issues by creating a circular economy based sustainable projects.


Earth5R is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long term environmental courses.

Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes, and create social and environmental impact.

Reported by Riya Dani, Edited by Mehfil Mubarak


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