Future lies in cycling and recycling

Future lies in cycling and recycling

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Lack of information on C&D waste generated in the country, it’s difficult to imagine the size of the problem nor any solution for the same. Unfortunately, this is considered as the most insignificant part of the entire exercise

We are living a borrowed life – a life borrowed from our Mother Nature. And the most unfortunate thing is we often (or always?) forget this crucial fact and there lies the crux of the problem. The more we ignore/forget her the more we cause destruction eventually endangering the Mother earth itself.

India is a growing economy and in recent times it has secured the tag fastest growing economy in the world. No wonder then India has increased its material consumption six times, from 1.18 billion tonnes in 1970 to 7billion tonnes in 2015. To maintain the current momentum, this consumption has to go up further. And rapid pace of urbanisation will only add up to this demand. At the same time, availability of the material is limited in quantity may be sufficient to feed the human needs for next few centuries.

In such cases we are left with only a few options. We have to increase the efficiency manifold so that the inevitable is postponed to unknown future. Another option, more reasonable one, is to recycle and reuse. Yes, just as cycling keeps you healthy and going, recycling can save mother nature from destruction and keep the human race going till the infinity.

Recycling for survival

But enhancing efficiency and recycling are easier said than done as they often come in the way of human comfort. Therefore, to achieve both these objectives, there is a need for government intervention by way of national policy announcement and incorporating suitable rules and regulations in Building codes and other laws. The government has realised this, at last, and the Draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019 prepared by the Ministry of Environment, forest and Climate Change is the result of this line of thinking.

Apart from announcing the government’s policy, NREP, 2019, also provides for creation of a dedicated institution for fostering resource efficiency as ‘National Resource Efficiency Authority (NREA)’ that draws its power from Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, to provide for the regulatory provisions of this policy. NREA will have a collaborative institutional structure with members from line ministries, state governments, government agencies and stakeholders. An inter-ministerial National Resource Efficiency Board (NREAB) will provide necessary guidance on the aspects critical to the implementation of resource efficiency across all sectors. The process of developing and implementing resource efficiency strategies will inherently be carried out by concerned line ministries and state governments with NREA providing collaborative set-up as well as coordinating actions among ministries and state governments.

Industry apprehensive

However, people from the industry have their apprehension about the proposed policy. Doesn’t it create another layer of hierarchy, eventually leading to further redtapism in project approval and environment monitoring process? “This may create some overlapping scenario but is worth a try keeping in mind the ultimate objective of the policy,” says an official from Environment Ministry on the condition of anonymity. It can also give rise to inter-departmental rivalry leading to delay in approval process. It’s too early and too difficult to assume that Environment Ministry will give up a part of its authority and ultimately it may result in creation of two departments with similar authorities.

Deadly deadlines

The draft National Resource Efficiency Policy wants by 2025 30% of total public procurement of materials for civil construction should be from recycled materials. The Draft wants the Municipalities in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities to start inventorizing construction and demolition waste data by 2022. Further, it aims at recycling rate for C&D waste of 50% by 2025 and 75% by 2030. The policy aims at gradually reducing the dependency on virgin materials and at the same time enhancing reuse of the construction and demolition wastes. “For resource efficient construction sector, companies need to make manufacturing of sustainable construction products from recycled materials,” says the draft policy. According to the Draft, a substantial share of the new demand can be met using the waste of the existing stock. Also, the Draft Policy puts the responsibilities for managing the C&D waste on the local bodies. “Property taxes need to be rationalized periodically and funds can be allocated not only for incentivizing product development from recycled C&D waste but also possibly supporting demonstration projects,” says the Draft.

Thus, the Draft Policy includes some targets to be achieved and some politically unpopular decisions to be taken by the government like rationalisation of property tax. Though the proposed policy has good intent, it raises more questions than solving any. “Drafting a policy is one thing and making it workable is another thing. Many such policies (with good intent) in the past have come and gone. This policy too has all the ingredients to go the same way,” says Arvind Gopalnarayanan, an environmentalist. According to him, a Policy framed without taking the local bodies’ views into account nor assessing their strengths and weaknesses is bound to fail. One only hopes, Arvind is proven wrong because this is one of such policies which can act against speedy extinction of natural  resources.

Our past is not so inspiring

Pessimism grows even stronger when one learns that India’s first plant that converts construction waste into building material is hardly a decade old.  Further, a Ministry of Urban Development circular on June 28, 2012, directing States to set-up such facilities in all cities with a population of over 10 lakh still remains in a circulation mode with no concrete steps on the ground.

Construction waste recycling

Construction waste recycling process can be either wet or dry process. While dry process produces 40-50% waste, again posing disposal problems, wet process is relatively efficient with wastes being hardly 5-10%. Dry process also poses pollution problem as there is possibility of sand dust polluting air of surrounding areas. On the other hand, wet process is relatively harmless. An efficient reuse of construction waste can produce enough material to make ready-mix concrete, kerb stones, cement bricks, pavement blocks, hollow bricks and manufactured sand.

Lack of dependable statistics

When an entrepreneur puts up a recycling plant the most important statistics he looks for is the quantity of waste generated in the area where he plans to put up the plant. However, an accurate estimation of construction waste generated in the country is hardly available. For example, in 2010, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change estimated annual C&DW at 10-12 million tonnes. In 2011, the Central Pollution Control Board ‘imagined’ C&DW at 12 million tonnes only to revise it upwards to 25-30 million tonnes in 2017. On the other hand, Centre for Science and Environment’s estimation showed humongous 530 million tonnes of waste in 2013 which also included the waste from renovations/repairs. Thus, all these estimations are just predictions which are as good as the ones made by our IMD about rainfall. Lack of information on C&D waste generated in the country, it’s difficult to imagine the size of the problem nor any solution for the same. Unfortunately, this is considered as the most insignificant part of the entire exercise.

The policy which is currently in draft mode has come very late in the day, at least 10 years behind than the ideal time to meet the 2030 deadline. But its always said ‘better late than never’. In India, it takes quite some time and efforts to get acclimatised to new law and this cannot be an exception. Meanwhile the government should use the intervening period for creating awareness about and need for recycling.