India faces major environmental challenges associated with waste generation and inadequate waste collection, transport, treatment and disposal. Current systems in India cannot cope with the volumes of waste generated by an increasing urban population, and this impacts on the environment and public health. The challenges and barriers are significant, but so are the opportunities. This paper reports on an international seminar on ‘Sustainable solid waste management for cities: opportunities in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries’ organized by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and the Royal Society. A priority is to move from reliance on waste dumps that offer no environmental protection, to waste management systems that retain useful resources within the economy. Waste segregation at source and use of specialized waste processing facilities to separate recyclable materials has a key role. Disposal of residual waste after extraction of material resources needs engineered landfill sites and/or investment in waste-to-energy facilities. The potential for energy generation from landfill via methane extraction or thermal treatment is a major opportunity, but a key barrier is the shortage of qualified engineers and environmental professionals with the experience to deliver improved waste management systems in India.