Consider this – India’s material consumption is expected to jump from 7.4 billion tonnes in 2015 to 15 billion tonnes in 2030. India’s rate of resource extraction, which includes mining of virgin resources, is nearly three times higher than the global average.
India currently imports 100% of its lithium, 90% of aluminium scrap and 40% of steel scrap. According to a TERI analysis, if we were to apply the 6R principles of a circular economy, ie reduce, reuse, recycle, redesign, remanufacture, refurbish, it can bring down steel and aluminium scrap imports to zero. Not only will this cut down India’s import bill, it will also lead to new enterprises carrying out new activities.
Further, it will result in a huge reduction in millions of tonnes of slag and solid waste generation and CO2 emissions, all of which together are a lethal cocktail ruining our environment today.
This leads us to the second big idea – waste management. While every effort has to be made to ensure as little waste is generated as possible in any process of production and consumption, we need all our imagination and innovation to convert waste into a variety of useful products.
In Delhi, plants which are converting construction waste and road dust into interlocking tiles are a good example of not just recycling, but upcycling as well. However, the fact that these plants are currently not cost effective, tells us that we need new business models for their success. And many such new ideas need to be supported in every sphere of the economy. Ultimately, waste has to be positioned as a resource for which entrepreneurs are willing to pay money.
India’s success in promoting large scale adoption of renewable energy has many lessons. Over the last decade, it has aggressively moved towards solar and wind energy. Non-fossil fuel electricity (produced from hydro, wind, solar and nuclear sources) is likely to account for 45% of electricity mix in India by 2030. Today, businesses are investing in renewable energy because it is economically attractive; solar electricity at about Rs 2.50/ kwh is the cheapest electricity available in India, but only when the sun is shining.
The challenge is to bring down the price of storage so that the combined cost of solar electricity and storage costs can provide us electricity at night, which is cheaper than or competes with the price of electricity from coal. Similarly, if resource efficiency and waste management are given the right impetus to demonstrate that it makes both economic and environmental sense, India stands to gain immensely.
The blueprint of a Resource Efficiency policy has been rolled out for public consultation by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change. The draft policy aims to enable reuse of waste and double recycling rate of key materials to 50% in 5 years. It envisions setting up a National Resource Efficiency Authority which, like the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, will develop resource efficiency strategies for key sectors – automobile, plastic packaging, building and construction sector, electrical and electronic equipment sector, solar photo-voltaic sector, and steel and aluminium, to begin with.
For example, to enhance reuse of construction and demolition waste, it will require developing codes and standards for quality of secondary raw materials produced from reprocessing of wastes, so that by 2025, at least 30% of total public procurement of materials for civil construction can be from recycled materials.
2020 is an essential milestone towards Agenda 2030 – a global commitment to achieve sustainable development by 2030, ensuring that no one is left behind. As we are hitting the limits of every possible material resource, as evident from the increase in prices of such disparate resources as copper or land, for waste and wood, it is clear that the linear model of ‘produce, consume and discard’ needs rejuvenation. Resource efficiency and waste management will need to be the key drivers of a green strategy because that is now the only viable path, capable of creating growth, new enterprises and a cleaner environment.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.