India’s (Green?) Union Budget

“The 2018 budget of Government of India has been silent on environment and climate change”

I gave my initial reaction to my Professor friend. We were sitting in his study having a masala chai and samosas for a change.

Professor heard me but didn’t react immediately as he was on the phone – (perhaps with the FM?). I knew that Professor was close to the FM and he must have had a hand in shaping the 2018 budget. I was therefore surprised that despite his proximity and influence on the FM, there was not much green in the budget that we all wanted to see.

I had a reason to expect this time a Green Union Budget. We know that economic indicators alone are no longer representative of the growth. How long can we continue to cheat? While India may claim a growth rate of 7 to 8%, its true GDP growth could be just about 5% due to poor management of our natural assets and payment to be made for the liabilities (e.g. contaminated lands) we have created. India is ranked today third from the bottom on the Environmental Performance Index, lower than nations such as Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Economic Survey has projected loss of up to 25% in farm income highlighting the risks posed to due to climate change. Unfortunately, there has been no change in the allocations under the Climate Change Action Plan or the National CC Adaptation Fund. Its strange that at the same time, the government is expecting to double farmers’ income by 2022. And there is no place in the budget on the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as communicated in COP 21 in Paris.

Poor air quality in New Delhi has drawn international attention. The situation is however no different across most Indian cities.  The Government has been steadily “diluting” the environmental governance. For instance, the old emission norms for thermal plants are allowed to continue for the next five years. Provisions like Environmental Supplement Plan (ESP) have legitimized non-compliance. Several conditions have been relaxed while obtaining Environmental Clearance (EC). Two crucial economic instruments – the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund (reportedly over Rs 56,700 crore) and the Water Cess — have already been dissolved for the sake of accommodating the concerns of the States on GST.

Professor had put the phone down. He looked at my agitated face and smiled. He said “You haven’t really understood the budget Dr Modak. There is a lot of green there – but you need a lens if you want to see. Let me explain”. He lit his cigar.

“The Centre has announced a ₹1.4 lakh-crore scheme for promoting decentralized solar power production of up to 28,250 MW to help farmers. We will spend ₹48,000 crore on the ten-year scheme called Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan or KUSUM. KUSUM would provide extra income to farmers, by giving them an option to sell additional power to the grid through solar power projects set up on their barren lands. Farmers will thus be empowered and become entrepreneurs.

Now see the environmental perspective. KUSUM will de-dieselise the energy sector as also the DISCOMS. India had about 30 million farm pumps that include 10 million pumps running on diesel. Just think about the massive reduction in the GHG emissions. As solar pumps will operate for only 8 hours, excess withdrawal of the groundwater will be curbed and thus the groundwater table will improve and provide water security to farmers”

I thought the Professor was right. You need to think more to understand the green perspective and massive implication of KUSUM to the environment, empowerment and social development.

“What about the Operation Greens?” I asked Professor.

“I told FM to build Operations Greens in line with the Operation Flood and allocate 500 crores. But to me Operations Green is a climate adaptation strategy” Professor said.

“Operation Greens aims to promote farmer producers’ organisations, agri-logistics, processing facilities and professional management. Operation Greens will work to increase demand in the economy. As many as 470 Agriculture Promotion Market Committee promoted markets will now be connected to the e-nam platform while the government will help in development of 22,000 agricultural markets.

The Operation aims to aid farmers and help control and limit the erratic fluctuations in the prices of commodities like onions, potatoes and tomatoes. Operation Greens has a price fixation scheme that aims to ensure farmers are given the right price for their produce. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) regulation has a key role to play here. The announcement to set MSP of all kharif crops at 1.5 times the cost of production will increase the farmers’ income. In addition, the Budget’s rural sops such as MNREGA allocation being increased from Rs 38,500 crore to 48,000 crore, the coverage of ‘Fasal Bima Yojna‘ being increased from 30 per cent to 40 per cent etc, will definitely serve to address climate change related risks. Operations Greens is thus essentially an adaptation strategy to address the risks of climate change and make our agriculture sector climate resilient.”

“Oh, how clever of the FM” I thought. I was sure that our MoEFCC must have crafted this strategy in partnership with the Niti Ayog. No wonder the Ministry was christened as MoEF and Climate Change.

Professor continued. “Yes, we sacrificed the National Clean Energy and Environment Fund to accommodate disadvantage to the State on account of GST, but we have now set up a special scheme to address air pollution in Delhi- NCR region. You are aware, due to burning of paddy fields after harvesting by farmers mainly from north India, the resultant smoke gets carried by winds to Delhi and beyond, adding to the existing Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and other noxious substances that affect the lungs.

To combat this problem, a special scheme will be executed with Delhi government and adjoining states where steps will be taken to subsidize the machinery required for management of crop residue. Instead of heavy penalties for burning agricultural waste, we are providing incentives to the farmers to make them more productive, albeit limited to the NCR.  And remember Dr Modak, I don’t need to explain that stopping burning of crop residues in this innovative manner will greatly reduce emissions of GHG.

Professor had another example to cite

“In an effort to make the villages open defecation free and improving the lives of villagers, the FM has announced the launch of the Gobar Dhan scheme. The Gobar Dhan scheme will manage and convert cattle dung and solid waste in farms to compost, biogas and bio-CNG. Understand the massive reduction in GHG emissions expected due to this project through waste utilization, fossil fuel substitution while promoting clean energy. We are confident that we will be able to achieve targets set in the INDC just by implementing the Gobar Dhan scheme.

I was now impressed. I wished that FM had spoken about these environmental benefits explicitly and silenced the environmental NGOs and critiques.

But I still had questions to ask.

“What about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Professor? There is no mention on the SDGs in the Union Budget.”

Professor was perhaps expecting my question

“You would notice in the budget that the government had identified 115 districts taking various indices of development into consideration, aiming at improving the quality of life in these districts by investing in social services like health, education, nutrition, skill up-gradation, financial inclusion and infrastructure like irrigation, rural electrification, potable drinking water and access to toilets at an accelerated pace and in a time bound manner. All these indicators can be mapped to the 17 SDGs. These 115 districts are expected to become models of sustainable development and help track the progress towards SDGs”

I liked this pilot approach of working with 115 districts out of the 600+ that we have and test progress towards the SDGs.

Professor extinguished his cigar.

“Sorry, Dr Modak, I have to now rush to the North block. FM has called. He wants me to rewrite his Budget speech – now in Green script – giving all the environmental implications of the economic measures he is proposing.  He feels this communication is needed to make people understand that this Government is deeply concerned about environment and sustainable development. I had warned him before, but he did not get my point then”

Now I understood why the FM quoted Swami Vivekananda in his budget speech and had said, “You merge yourself in the void and disappear and let a new India arise.” What a deep and loaded quote!

On my way home however, I realized that I wasn’t fully convinced. I wasn’t very comfortable about Professors impressive green interpretation of the budget. Was the green interpreted budget going to be a usual marketing green-wash, full of voids, less of substance and not a true commitment.

Well, I leave to you to decide. Professor could well be right! And a new India may arise!!


You may like to create an assignment for graduate students to study India’s Union Budget and rewrite its “green version” with application of some metrics. Students may examine to what extent the budget reflects (of course “untentionaly”) the INDC and the SDGs and do a discussion.


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Is it worth recycling?

It was a Sunday morning.  We were sitting in my Professor friends study. I was enjoying my coffee.

Professor lit his cigar and said “Dr Modak, I feel that today benefits of waste recycling are simply overrated. We should stop much of the kind of recycling we do and I mean it”

I was shocked to hear Professor’s views. I did not understand why he was so much critical about recycling. I decided to protest.

I said “Professor. Recycling has many benefits. Firstly, it conserves natural resources as extraction of virgin materials is reduced. Further, recycling diverts waste that is to be sent to incinerators and landfill. Landfills take up valuable space and emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas; and although incinerators are not as polluting as they once were, they still produce noxious emissions. Unless you segregate waste at source you cannot do effective recycling. So, segregation of waste at source and recycling must go hand in hand”

Professor smiled. He said. “You have not updated enough Dr Modak. What you are saying is a rhetoric and well said in the national and international seminars”

“In the western world, recycling was introduced through the kerbside programmes that asked people to put paper, glass and cans into separate bins. In India, we are asking this to happen at the household level following three bins approach as per the Municipal Waste (Management & Handling) Rules. But we both know that this is simply not happening. It is frustrating to see that the waste-picker mixes your carefully segregated bins into one big bin and dumps the mixed waste into the collection vehicle every day”

I couldn’t disagree.  Most citizens have been complaining about this dichotomy and hence don’t feel like segregating waste at source.

Professor continued.

“The trend now is back again to the co-mingled or “single stream” collection. The switch towards single-stream collection is being driven by emergence of new separation technologies that can identify and sort the various materials with little or no human intervention”

I thought that good waste segregation and recycling was everybody’s moral responsibility.

Professor added “San Francisco, which changed from multi bin to single-stream collection a few years ago, now boasts a recycling rate of 69%—one of the highest in America. Systems like TiTech—more than 1,000 of which are now installed worldwide—are able to sort numerous types of paper, plastic or combinations thereof up to 98% accuracy. The Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are now set up with business models between the private sector with the local bodies.”

It was hard for me to believe that the mindset of the local governments in the west was slowly moving towards single stream collection and in India we are pressing for three bin-based waste segregation and collection system!

Professor was reading out from a handout. It said that notable benefits of single stream recycling were increased recycling rates, lesser requirement of space to store collection containers and reduced costs of hauling as separate pickups for different recycling streams were avoided.

However, I had three major concerns – one about the safety of the waste-pickers when they segregate the “single streams” as these would be contaminated. Second was about the safety of “waste processors” who process the waste to extract materials or make secondary products. My third concern was about the quality and safety of the recycled products. The recycled products while boasting their “greenness” and “creating green jobs” did not assure the quality and safety and hence were putting the consumers at risk.

Professor heard me alright but summed up saying that battle was between quality, reality (that nobody wants to segregate) and the convenience. For India at this point in time, single stream collection seems the most practical solution. I pointed out however, that we do not currently have indigenous machinery that can do this “magic of separation”.

Well, I have asked PMO to put this as a priority item in the Make in India program, said Professor.

I thought that we need to educate the citizens on the consumption itself and guide them to make “green choices” i.e. avoiding use of products to the extent possible that use harmful chemicals and non-biodegradable materials in the first instance. This will ensure “circularity”. The production patterns should be influenced by responsible consumption. The manufacturers will need to extend their involvement beyond the factory gates and across the life cycle.

When I expressed my view on this dual responsibility, Professor said that under pressure from environmental groups, such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, computer-makers have established rules to ensure that their products are recycled in a responsible way. Hewlett-Packard has been a leader in this and even operates its own recycling factories in California and Tennessee. Dell, which was once criticized for using prison labor to recycle its machines, now takes back its old computers for no charge. And Apple is executing plans to eliminate the use of toxic substances in its products.

Oddly, these very companies and other product makers in India are rather silent when it comes to the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Reports by Toxic Link on EPR on E-waste show the double standards. The Government and Environmental NGOs need to “arm twist” these companies.

The solution therefore, according to economists, activists and many in the design community, is to get smarter about both the design and disposal of materials, and shift responsibility away from local governments and into the hands of manufacturers. Products as well as packaging need to be designed with recycling in mind. Waste generation should be considered as a design flaw. Remedying this problem may require a complete rethinking of industrial manufacturing. This may sound like wishful thinking. The key question is can we design the product to make recycling easier?

Professor had more to say.

“Dr Modak, it is also important to understand recycling everything is not good. Economics of recycling is volatile, complex and contextual subject, You cannot generalize”

He said that the secondary materials market of recyclables is hard to control and speculate. The waste supply (in both quantity and characteristics) is highly variable and unless you stock, you cannot ensure getting decent economic returns from recycling business. To top, in countries like India, you have to manage with the informal sector that is not easy. This situation discourages the investors to deploy smart technologies of separation and processing – especially on extraction.

Further, not all recycled materials are created equal. Each material has a unique value, determined by the rarity of the virgin resource and the price the recycled material fetches on the commodity market. The recycling process for each also requires a different amount of water and energy and comes with a unique (and sometimes hefty) carbon footprint. All of this suggests it makes more sense to recycle only select materials than others from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Professor made this important point and ended the conversation by passing a study made by Kinnaman and his colleagues of 2014 called Socially optimal recycling rate: Evidence from Japan.

In this paper, using Japan as his test case Kinnaman evaluates the cost of recycling each material and the energy and emissions involved in recycling. Benefits are also assessed including simply feeling good about doing something for environment. He and his colleagues come to a controversial conclusion that an optimal recycling rate in most countries would probably be around 10 percent of the used goods.

To get the most benefit with the least cost, Kinnaman argues that we should be recycling more of some goods and less — or even none — of others. The composition of 10% should contain primarily aluminum, other metals and some forms of paper, notably cardboard and other source[s] of fiber. He wrote in a follow-up piece that “Optimal recycling rates for these materials may be near 100% while optimal rates of recycling plastic and glass might be zero.” I would add to his list the electronic goods.

Although several disagreed with Kinnaman’s 10% conclusion, his point that we need to be selective about what we recycle —resonated well with environmentalists and waste management experts alike.

I thought Kinnaman had an important point to make. He was asking two basic questions about recycling: Is it good for the environment? And does it make economic sense? The answers need a good study. But again, you can ask – isn’t recycling a moral responsibility? Or aren’t these computations reflecting our short term thinking?

I wonder whether we have conducted such studies on recycling practices in India. I thought of asking Professor to float a research project in partnership with Kinnaman and his colleagues. Indeed we need to revisit recycling to know its worth!


Cover image sourced from http://fortworthtexas.gov/kfwb/school-green-teams/


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Data and Diagnostics – Two Interesting Conversations

My Professor Friend and I went to meet the Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India. The Chairman was busy conducting a meeting with the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Professors from reputed Academic institutions such as IIT Delhi, Environmental NGOs like the Centre for Science and Environment, Medical Professionals etc.

Although we had barged in without prior appointment, Chairman welcomed us and requested to join the meeting. We were offered seats at the long elliptic table in the conference room. Tea with sugar and cashew nuts were served.  Around 20 experts were present on that cold and smoggy day.

The Senior Environmental Engineer at CPCB was making a presentation about the air pollution in Delhi.

“We have today real-time air quality monitoring at 10 automated stations that generate data on 8 parameters every 15 min. This data is transmitted to the server of CPCB for visualization and analysis”

He showed us pictures of the stations, some “data flow” diagrams that had steps of data quality control and assurance. The stations seemed to work.

I whispered to the Professor “Very impressive – this means in a year there will be nearly 3 million digits of “information” available on Delhi’s air quality. This should be really useful for the “diagnosis” of the “problem””.

Professor did not seem to be impressed. He said, “Do you think that we ever link data with diagnosis and decisions when it comes to  managing environment? Decisions are often ad-hoc and an exercise so rhetoric”. He had a smirk on his face.

” All we get from this online data is information on mean, max, min, extent of violations over standards etc. and the plots. Next, this data is crunched into an Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI essentially adds up the “effect” of each pollutant independently or in “isolation” without considering any “interaction” between pollutants. When air pollution hits your health, both particulates and gaseous pollutants act “simultaneously”. The formula for AQI does not recognize this complexity. So, this AQI is really a bit of “fooling around”.”

I thought Professor was becoming overly critical. “But can we ever address this limitation? If we start dissecting the crudeness of the AQI and disclose its various limitations, then what will the National Green Tribunal (NGT) do? And AQI is so sensational today in the media as “breaking news””

Air Quality Index

A Professor from a reputed academic institution was the next presenter.

“We just completed a source apportionment study sponsored by CPCB using a Chemical Balance Model (CMB). In this project, we collected nearly 1000 samples of Particulate Matter (PM) and for each sample 12 constituents were analyzed. Now we have a fair idea on which group of emissions influence Delhi’s ambient air quality and where to prioritize. In this process, the conventional CMB model was modified. Our work will soon be published in an international research journal”

I was really impressed when I saw the graphs, pie charts and outputs of the modified CMB that was called CMB-Plus. Indeed, there were considerable assumptions made in reaching to the final conclusions but isn’t this usual? Unfortunately, the outcomes of the work appeared a bit trivial and sometimes a bit far-fetched. I thought that many of the actions could have been taken without waiting for the results of the CMB. It was now Professor’s turn to whisper

“Dr Modak, I am glad to see that in the process of generating such huge data, at least a research publication could be made”. Once again, I saw that he had a smirk on his face.

A Professor from a Research Unit of a famous Medical Hospital in Delhi presented results of “long term” (2 years) survey on air pollution and health. This survey was carried out over 2000 patients who were tracked over a period of 2 years and an extensive data was collected on the symptoms, respiratory illness, loss in working days and costs paid for medical treatment and consultation. This data was correlated with the ambient air quality data reported at the monitoring stations of CPCB and DPCC. The results concluded that air pollution affects human health, and more so to children and aged people. The economic costs are also significant. (We could not disagree with these important conclusions). The study however provided new statistics on morbidity and disability-adjusted life year (DALY) and some of these numbers were rather alarming.

While we all were appreciative of the painstaking work that was done, one gentleman asked (I think he was a retired bureaucrat as a bureaucrat generally speaks sense only after retirement!)

“Professor Doctor, did you consider indoor air quality at all in your attempt to correlate respiratory illness with air pollution? You are aware that we spent more than 70% of the time indoors. And to draw conclusions on DALY, don’t you think that 2 years data is rather short”

We left the meeting a bit earlier as we had another event to attend.


I was facing a problem of stomach acidity for a while. Antacids worked but I did not want to take them overly long. My GP (General Physician) was on leave and so I went to Hinduja Hospital and sought an appointment with a Senior doctor in the department of Gastroenterology. The doctor examined me and wrote down on a paper a number of tests that he wanted me to get done.

“Dr Modak, we must first build data around your “problem” and “diagnose” accordingly. Come with your reports in a week and I will see you then”. I liked his style of building data for diagnosis. As I was about to leave, he said “now that you are going to do these tests, we might as well get some more tests done – perhaps a good idea to do a MRI and a 2-D Echo cardiogram too as you mentioned about frequent heart burn you get due to acid reflux. Let us not take any chances”. He smiled and took back the note he had given and scribbled some more tests.

I spent the next week making visits to a Path clinic and a MRI Centre. I got the 2-D echo done too. I walked to the room of Gastroenterologist with a large “paper bag” that had all the reports/plates and a CD. The doctor looked through all the “outputs”.

He removed his spectacles and said “Dr Modak, I was checking for the disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer and reflux disease. These appear to be absent with a minor case of acid reflux. However, I need to check now possibilities like chronic liver disease and bilio-pancreatic disorder. And I also want to rule out malignancies”. He said this in a caring tone.

I thought this data collection exercise was now getting rather too much with no diagnosis for timely action. I left the Hospital.

My GP had just returned then from his vacation. I went to meet him with all the data that was generated – thanks to the Gastroenterologist.

“Oh, Dr Modak, I don’t need all this stuff. I will see this later but let me examine you first”

He asked me to show my tongue. He then put a stethoscope on my back. Checked my pulse and asked some simple questions like what I eat, do I take a walk every day or exercise, am I constipated and how well do I sleep. I thought these questions were rather basic and appeared “traditional” and not so much “data driven”.

“Nothing to worry Dr Modak. I will solve your problem” He yelled at his assistant or the “compounder” and instructed him for my medicines.

I was given a paper sachet of colorful tablets with 2 x 1 x 2 written on it. The assistant explained the numbers. I listened obediently. “This dose is for 3 days” he said.

“Come back after 3 days and see me. And don’t eat too much spicy food now – at least for the next 2 weeks” He said this patting on my back.

I realized that I would have to miss the wada-pav (bread with a spicy patty) that I used to relish every other day at the street food stall next to my office. Oh, was that the reason?


We sometimes collect too much data just because we have the technology. We rarely connect with the nature to make observations and use our traditional knowledge on “bio-indicators”. They often offer inexpensive, instinctive, participatory and communicative ways to get forewarned and interpret the situation. How many of us for instance observe the movement of frogs around a lake that message about the status of the lake ecosystem? Tribals do not need data from Automated Weather Stations (AWS) to estimate the onset of rain. They watch the movement of insects instead.

Doctors have no time today to converse with patients to understand the “symptoms” or the burgeoning “problem” to diagnose the “root cause” and “hit on the spot”. They talk about possibilities. A lot of expensive data is collected in the process but it often lands into poor diagnostic.

These types of doctors and the “modern” environmental scientists and engineers are no different.

Striking a balance is the key. The stress and disruptions to the environment and our disconnect with nature & traditional knowledge – are making the diagnostic rather difficult.

We seem to be data rich but with a “foggy” understanding – unable to face the world of tomorrow.


Cover image based on

https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-diagnostics-data-numbers-ball-measure-problem-find-solution-image38259320


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My Experience with Three Landmark Reports on Waste Management with UNEP

Why this post?

The subject of waste management is rapidly evolving. National policies and regulations are getting redrafted, strengthened and expanded. Indeed, implementation continues to be the challenge but the interest from the community, entrepreneurs and investors is growing. The term waste is now closely linked to resources and innovation is now recognized as a product of this “union”. Achieving circularity in the material and energy flows using these innovations is imperative towards this planets sustainability. 

In the last decade, I was fortunate to work on three interesting reports brought out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  This post recounts these reports, describes their genesis and shares some of the findings. Though targeted to policy makers, these reports serve as a great resource to students, research workers and young practioners who are looking forward to making careers in the new era or avatara of waste management.

The Waste Chapter – UNEP Green Economy Project

The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the global financial is considered by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The housing market suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures, and prolonged unemployment. In particular, as businesses cut production in response to lower aggregate demand, workers were shed in large numbers, sharply increasing unemployment worldwide. This was a time of great depression.

As a consequence, between 2007 and the end of 2009, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of unemployed. Beyond job losses, the quality of employment also deteriorated. Across the globe, many workers who did not lose their jobs were forced to accept reduced working hours as well as lower wages and benefits. In developing countries, a large number of workers lost their jobs in export sectors and were forced into informal and vulnerable employment elsewhere. The situation was further aggravated by austerity measures in most developed economies. The great recession had thus created a global jobs crisis.

It was in the background, UNEP launched the Green Economy project in 2008.  Achim Steiner, then UNEP Executive Director played a crucial role on pushing the Green economy project. The Green economy project was coordinated by UNEP’s office in Geneva.  Do watch Achim in the video below.

The idea of the Green Economy project was to demonstrate that the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth.

Green economy was defined as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy was thought of one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. UNEP’s definition of a green economy was influential in the build up to Rio+20.

The report was prepared in three Parts. Part I focused on investing in natural capital and had chapters on Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Forests. Part II delved in Investing in Energy and Resource Efficiency,  Renewable Energy, Manufacturing, Waste, Buildings, Transport,  Tourism and Cities. Parts I and II thus illustrated how greening could be mainstreamed towards economic, environmental and social advantage.

Part III addressed supporting the transition to a global green economy with chapters on Modelling, Enabling Conditions and Finance. Modelling was carried out by the Millennium Institute (MI) from the United States. MI used Threshold 21 (T21) model that was developed after more than 20 years of research and application. The Chapters of Parts I and II provided inputs to T21 and results of T21 were in turn interpreted in the respective Chapters.

Armed with T21, the Green Economy report argued that Green investments will open up and enhance new sectors and technologies that will be the main sources of economic development and growth of the future. Sectors of potential included renewable energy technologies, resource and energy efficient buildings and equipment, low-carbon public transport systems, infrastructure for fuel efficient and clean energy vehicles, and waste management and recycling facilities. Greening was thus mainstreamed in the global economies as an engine of growth to revive the economy after the meltdown.

My company Environmental Management Centre LLP was contracted by UNEP to build the chapter on Waste. I was the Principal Author. We had benefit of five contributing authors representing various regions of the world and with extensive and varied experience in the waste sector. There were peer reviewers appointed as well and a global consultation was performed on the drafts we produced. I remember my colleague Swati Arunprasad had a harrowing time to compile and respond to some 400+ comments/inputs that we received! The Chapter was built over 8 months of painstaking work. I enjoyed interacting with the MI Team when it came to building scenarios or make predictions.

The tone of the Chapter was more on the economics of waste management. The global waste market, from collection to recycling, was estimated at US$ 410 billion a year, not including the sizable informal segment in developing countries. Recycling sector was considered as the main job-provider and attracting investments. The chapter recommended that we establish a global circular economy in which material use and waste generation is minimized, and any unavoidable waste is recycled or remanufactured.  Only remaining waste should be treated in a manner least harmful to the environment and human health, and in a way, that generates new value such as energy recovered from waste. The circularity concept was thus positioned. However, we did not emphasize enough on the aspects of reduce, refurbish, re-manufacture. Probably we had less data, only scant case studies and less experience to make a strong economic, environmental and social case. Unfortunately, this weakness continues even today.

Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO)

Presentation of the Green Economy report and especially the Waste chapter, led to The UNEP Governing Council decision GC 27/12: ‘develop a global outlook of challenges, trends and policies in relation to waste prevention, minimization and management […] to provide guidance for national policy planning’.  In response to this decision, UNEP International Environment Technology Centre (IETC) in Osaka was asked to prepare Global Waste Management Outlook (GWMO). International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) joined as the partner.

The GWMO chose to focus primarily on the ‘governance’ issues– including the regulatory and other policy instruments, the partnerships and, crucially, the financing arrangements. Relatively less emphasis was given on the technology. The GWMO was result of two years’ work (by UNEP and ISWA) between 2014-2016 and provided an important and timely status report and call for action to the international community.

David Wilson from the UK was appointed as the Chief Editor of GWMO and I was taken on board as one of the four contributing authors. I had just completed then a Strategic Action Plan for Waste to Resource Management for UNEP. In the situation analyses of the Action Plan, I reviewed some 300 projects and programs of the UN across the world in the arena of waste management and assessed their effectiveness vis-e-vis investments made. This Action Plan was not published – perhaps outcome of this assessment was rather dismal!

During the work on GWMO, team at EMC LLP took the task of developing a “database” on waste generation, waste collection and processing infrastructure across the world. Apart from the waste related data, key “meta data” was also compiled on economic and social parameters. This was quite some sweat, requiring validation as the numbers were often conflicting and my colleagues Shreya Bhatia, Vishwa Trivedi, Tausif Farookhi and Anuja Sarangdhar helped me immensely. This database, now a bit dated, was put in Tableau platform for rapid processing and visualization. I wish I could update this work now. I am looking for researchers/interns to take this up.  Interested?

The GWMO stressed on costs of inaction – the public health and environmental damage costs of uncontrolled disposal and open burning – and cautioned that these costs far exceed the costs of sound waste management. We were hoping that this argument would influence the politicians to allocate more budget for management of waste. Pity that we did not have very many “convincing” case studies.

The GWMO noted that while developed countries have made good progress in increasing recycling rates and stabilizing waste growth –there was still much to be done across the world in making the transition from ‘end-of-pipe’ waste biased linear economy, to a circular economy.  So once again, the need for circularity in material/energy flows in waste management was emphasized.

The report corroborated with findings of the Green Economy report and recommended a steep increase in the level of funding on waste management sector. It came up with targets to consider such as  – achieving 100% collection coverage in all cities with a population more than 1 million. Integrated strategies to simultaneously address sanitation and solid waste management services were emphasized. GWMO urged that producer responsibility programmes should be promoted and monitored to ensure that international companies take more responsibility for waste management associated with their products and wastes in developing countries.  We realized that we were working on inconsistent and incomplete numbers and were many times apologetic. Poor data  was also the experience of one of the well-known reports of the World Bank called “What a Waste?”.  So, a plea was made to improve the availability and reliability of waste and resource related data.

Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO)

The success and experience of GWMO and to respond to requests from countries, UNEP IETC  considered building Regional Waste Management Outlooks. Accordingly, a project on preparation of Asia Waste Management Outlook (AWMO) was launched in partnership with ISWA. I was appointed as the Chief Editor with contributions from three other authors. UNEPs Regional Resource Center at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) did the coordination and final production. My students Asha Panwar and Malavika Gopinath from IIT Bombay assisted me.

By then I had realized that the Outlooks and associated reports were getting rather rhetoric. Lot was said before and many a times more. More focused and strategic recommendations were needed. In AWMO, we therefore stressed the importance of developing and promoting Green products and introducing Green Public Procurement as recycling was dominating the understanding of circularity. Since informal waste pickers play a major role in waste management in Asia, sorting centres and materials recovery facilities were recommended providing a safe environment for waste pickers to work. Segregation was stressed as something vital for circularity.

We also realized that the secondary materials industry in Asia is growing rapidly. This sector needed to be factored in the national economies as done in countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. The growth of this industry was important because it provides an alternative to the use of virgin materials, thereby improving resource security and reducing GHG emissions.

To build more consistent data, standardization of definitions of waste streams and waste-related terminologies was recommended while generating inventories, tracking progress and making comparisons. Today, each country “defines” waste differently.

Studies on “costs of inaction” on health, environmental and social impacts of indiscriminate waste disposal were found to be rather scant. In this context, remediation of contaminated dumpsites was suggested as a priority intervention by the national governments. Further, necessity of preparing strategic action plans to address upcoming and challenging waste streams, such as marine litter, mining and disaster waste was also emphasized.

The AWMO, amongst its several recommendations, made following four key suggestions for strategic action

  • Test the effectiveness of economic instruments for effective and sustainable waste management. We realized that Asia lacks this experience.
  • Develop a referral framework assessment of policy equivalence, implementation and tracking of progress to guide national governments. The idea was to attempt a regional harmonization on waste and resource related governance. Material flows that dominate movement of waste and resources through trade are dominating today and are getting skewed due to differentials in pricing and governance.
  • Emphasize holistic or zero waste management addressing waste in all three media (solid, liquid and air). This suggestion came from Surendra Shrestha, then Director of UNEP IETC. Indeed, a needed expansion of the “mandate”, but rather ambitious and difficult to achieve. Needs piloting.
  • Consider development of an Asian Directive on Circular Economy to guide the national governments. I thought this was an important intervention to consider.

The Outlooks are expected to get updated every two to three years. I do hope I get an opportunity to work on the next updates. The experience has been inspirational, enjoyable and with a lot of learning.

Access the Green Economy reports here. Follow link here to access the Outlooks.


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Are We Future Ready? The 4Cs of Sustainability

Sustainability today is no more a concept. It is a framework that provides direction to the Governance and influences the business strategy.

The need for sustainable development is no longer debated, what is argued, however, is how this should be achieved.

In India, we do see an awakening and evidence of the paradigm shift towards sustainability. It is important however that we understand this progression, identify the barriers and come up with strategies to overcome them.

The Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) and my organization Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC) came up with a project to understand the “pulse” on Sustainability by connecting with some of the top leaders in the Indian business.

Interviews were conducted of Chief Sustainability Officers and their Teams representing 20 leading Corporates in India. Objectives of the Survey were

  • To assess the understanding of the concept of ‘sustainability’ in businesses
  • To understand to what extent Sustainability is mainstreamed into the business processes
  • To learn about the Sustainability initiatives being undertaken and share best practices
  • To understand the driving forces and future trends

I am presenting below some of the key findings of this survey. The full report  ‘Business & Sustainability’ Survey 2017′ can be downloaded at BCCI’s website

Sustainability means different things to different people. Common phrases used to define sustainability included responsible growth, value-add through sustainability, conserving natural resources through inclusive growth, produce more with less, “profit, people and planet”. Not commonly used phrases include “less problems and more solutions”, “making sustainable living commonplace”, “sustainability means relationships” and lastly, “sustainability means newly articulated but ancient wisdom”

Top focus areas majority of the organizations studied were Energy, Water and Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions. Many have implemented renewable energy solutions to reduce their dependency on conventional or fossil fuel based sources of energy. All organizations surveyed mentioned initiatives on recycling of waste water. Being a common good, organizations have embarked on community engagement and taken initiatives to conserve and share this valuable and increasingly scarce resource.

All organizations are going beyond compliance and have taken initiatives to ensure that resources are used cautiously and more efficiently. Next or in many cases equal priority has been environmental management, health and safety (EHS). This is because risks of non-compliance on EHS are high. For some, sustainability program has evolved from the solid foundation built on EHS systems and processes.

We found that only few organizations have begun looking at Sustainability across their supply chains. There are few leaders who have put in place policies and requirements to bring up the standards of their vendors and suppliers. Organizations however recognize that it is a risk to ignore the supply chain since any slip up on this front will mar the company image and hurt the brand. As a result, these companies are renaming departments to include supply chain management, setting up procurement conditions asking for management systems (like ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001) and forming supplier forums to support smaller companies. These requirements and facilitation is expected to raise the bar and help to monitor risks as well as improvements. Some organizations have stipulated business codes of conduct on infringement of laws like child labor and human rights and have developed guidelines which the vendors are required to sign and adhere to.

We expected that Innovation would be everywhere among the organizations we spoke with. Businesses believe that innovation promises to reduce dependence as well as improve productivity and providing new market opportunities. Many suggested that Innovation and Sustainability are closely linked. Leading organizations are teaming up with academia and investing in research, startups and such efforts, to develop new technologies. A sizable amount of investment is spent on R&D for such innovation which is expected to save money as well as lessen the adverse impact on society and environment. Some organizations are highlighting such innovations on the canvas of their corporate philosophy on Sustainability. However, resources for upscaling the innovation are not always available. There is also a low appetite from stakeholders –less encouragement from the Government, not enough of a push from the consumer and low interest from employees.

Largely the focus of all CSR activity is aimed at the benefit of the community. Most initiatives are in the areas of Education, Health & Sanitation, Skill Development and creation of Livelihoods. In line with the organization’s business, some offer to support the community with their needs for example a cement manufacturing company provides low cost housing to the community. Areas for implementing CSR projects are usually around the location of the organization’s projects or manufacturing facilities and units. Community transformation is the main objective of all CSR initiatives. Often the employees of the organization are roped in through volunteering programs to provide community service in the form of teaching, managing health programs and making donations. We found that sometimes compliances to CSR forms part of the KPI for the Managing Director of the business. CSR expenditures often exceed the 2% PAT requirement as per the companies act. Many businesses have been offering community support services even before the mandate and continue to do so without the pressure of the requirement. Large organizations find their CSR directives being derived out of the vision and mission of the Group as a whole. Of course, all business do not fail to take advantage of any opportunities that come up by way of doing CSR. It’s almost standard practice to do so.

Employee engagement and training of employees is believed to be an essential step in the organization’s roadmap to achieving targets, increasing shareholder value and growing the bottom-line. Raising awareness of the human resource on Sustainability and ensuring their meaningful engagement with the associated initiatives is critical. The general feeling is that the business will not be able to conduct sustainability initiatives without the involvement, constant support and understanding of its employees.

Businesses always look for Compliance, Competitiveness, Continuity and Collaboration i.e. the 4Cs. These 4Cs pave the path towards Sustainability.

No organization wishes to downscale or shut down operations. Business honchos lead with best practices while Governments keep pace with regulations and imperatives. Governments also encourage businesses to take up targets that are aligned to national targets on global issues of climate change. With the conversation around sustainability reaching a stage where actions speak louder than words, more and more organizations wish to demonstrate their commitment to the public and the world including their stakeholders.

There are many pressures other than social and environmental perspectives. Maintaining a balance is a huge challenge. How does a business ensure that they continue to operate when the business does not perform well financially? Here is where many resort to innovation in doing business. Sustainability is often the unintended result of this effort rather than the goal. This goal is to be financially viable. So it is ‘Smart Sustainability’ that the business is looking for.

For many, running the business within the constraints of externalities such as globalization, resource constraints and political stability was itself a challenge. Given these complexities, the process of communicating, convincing and committing to Sustainability has become a daunting task.

We therefore still need more evidence to prove that Sustainability is not just ethos or a responsibility but that it is material and can be monetized. This realization will send ripples across the supply chains influencing small and medium enterprises.

Certainly, the doctrine on Sustainability is not going to be limited to large corporates and multinationals. We will also see many organizations investing in Sustainability to spur innovation – there will be an increase in innovative technologies and materials which will improve products and processes. Employees will hold greater value for management who will invest more in aligning them to their organization’s sustainability goals. The Human Resource Managers may position sustainability related awareness and training as a Primer or core of Induction Program.

Sustainability is now seen as an opportunity – to cut costs, to increase revenue, to innovate, to look good and to stand apart. Sustainability will be the business strategy to be Future Ready. And here, the 4Cs of Sustainability will guide.


You may like to watch following short videos

 

 


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Resources, Residues and Circular Economy

Sustainability of this planet depends heavily on the availability of resources.

Resources are under threat today due to severe depletion and degradation.

Depletion has been on a steep rise due to increasing population, urbanization and consumption. Degradation has been a result of reckless disposal of residues.

Strangely and oddly enough, the national governments, particularly the Ministries of Environment, have focused more on the management of residues rather than management of the resources. Legislation was evolved to set limits on the residues that will have to be met prior to disposal but not much attention was given on the limits of extraction of resources and resource pricing. The latter was more of a political issue.

Limits on residues became stricter over the years as our understanding of the adverse impacts and risks to the environment improved. We realized that residues when not properly disposed could lead to considerable damage to the humans and the ecosystems. There were severe economic implications both on damage and restoration. Many of the impacts were found to be long term and irreversible and further compounded with risks that were not easy to anticipate.

Most national governments followed a precautionary approach following “do no harm principle” in setting the limits. Over the years, advances were made in the monitoring of pollutants in the residues and the technologies were developed that could be economically used for treatment. These advances made tightening of the limits on residues possible.

Having framed the legislation and limits or standards on the residues, the national governments established institutions for monitoring and enforcement. Procedures and practices of documentation were laid down. Most legislations began with addressing wastewater but soon air emissions, solid and hazardous wastes were included. In the last two decades, specific residues such as municipal solid wastes, construction and demolition wastes, plastic waste, electronic (e) waste were also addressed by setting limits and requirements for safe disposal. Consequently, the investments on the end of pipe management of residues increased.

Unfortunately, since the institutions made responsible for monitoring and enforcement were weak, compliance to the standards or limits was not satisfactorily achieved. The resources continued to be degraded.

The polluters realized that to reduce cost of the end of pipe treatment and remain competitive, efforts were required to reduce generation of residues at the source. Concepts such as waste minimization and pollution prevention therefore emerged and the polluters did every effort to reduce residue generation by deploying better housekeeping and practicing reuse, recycling, recovery to the extent possible. This required a behavioral change, application of management systems, use of productivity improvement tools and adoption to modern technologies. The investments for management of residues essentially moved upstream leading to “ecological modernization”.  Unlike end of pipe investments, the “upstream” investments had a payback or economic returns.Strategies such as Cleaner Production, Green Productivity and Eco-efficiency emerged. These strategies showed a link between resources (in specific the resource use efficiency) and the residues that could be converted as a resource.

Gradually, importance of product design was understood that connected resources and residues.  Our understanding of Life Cycle impacts of the products made us realize that we must think of both resources and residues at every stage of life cycle i.e. extraction, transportation, processing, packaging, distribution, use, disposal.   The two R’s (viz. Resources and Residues) were thus integrated with the opportunities of 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle)

Over a period of time, the legislation on residues expanded and became more comprehensive. Figure below shows an illustration of evolution of limits, expectations and requirements for the pulp and paper sector.

Clearly, enforcement of such limits could not be done solely by the Government. It required a partnership approach where the markets (consumers, retailers) and investors were also involved. An enunciation of an umbrella policy and coordination between ministries was also necessary. The new paradigm of governance addressed both resources and residues, across the life cycle and in partnership with G-B-FI-C (Government, Business, Financing Institutions and Communities)

In India, importance of green products is not understood even today.  We are still far lagging on the strategy of eco or sustainable product design and green public procurement. Our eco-labelling program “Eco-mark” failed long ago, with no efforts made for revival. There are only handful schools in India who teach sustainable product design today. There isn’t much “market demand” either.

You can assess the “maturity of the environmental governance” of a country based on how the limits are set and are operated considering both resources and residues and how key stakeholders are involved. I would rate India at level of 4 if there was a maturity scale between 0 to 10.

As earlier said, the Indian environmental governance is still biased to the management of residues. But remember that even on the residues we have not looked into risks on disposal from ecological perspective. Although the name of Ministry is now Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change, we have not paid attention to the  risks posed on our resource security due to climate change. Our approach is still conventional and dated.

Resource management in India is in the purview of line ministries e.g. water, energy, agriculture. There is a poor coordination between the Ministries in visualizing a “systems” perspective where resources and residues are integrated. Years ago, New Zeeland enacted Resource Management Act (RMA). The RMA has not been a smooth ride but there are interesting lessons that could be learnt.

The recently promulgated concept of Circular Economy added additional 3Rs namely- Repair, Refurbish and Remanufacture.   These 3Rs introduced three significant components viz. social (employment), investment and innovation. Once material flows become circular, compliance becomes of interest to every stakeholder. 

China legislated Circular Economy Law as early as in 2007 focusing on industrial estates.  Japan promoted this concept at Eco-Towns. European Union came up with country specific targets, indicators and reporting requirements on Circular Economy.

India is estimated to become the fourth largest economy in the world in about two decades. This economic growth is however going to come with challenges such as urbanization with increased vulnerability (especially due to climate change), poor resource quality and scarcity and high level of unevenness in the socio-economic matrix due to acute poverty. India, if it makes the right and systemic choices, has a potential to move towards positive, regenerative, and value-creating development. Its young population, growing use of IT, increasing emphasis on social and financial inclusion as well as the emerging manufacturing sector can make this happen. For this, the conventional linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model of growth must change and an enabling policy framework at the national and sectoral level needs to be evolved. Developing a national policy framework on Circular Economy therefore makes sense.

The recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on India shows that a circular economy path to development could bring India annual benefits of ₹40 lakh crores (US$ 624 billion) in 2050 compared with the current development path – a benefit equivalent to 30% of India’s current GDP. Following a circular economy path would also reduce negative externalities. For example, Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) would be 44% lower in 2050 compared to the current development path, and other externalities like congestion and pollution would fall significantly, providing health and economic benefits to Indian citizens. This conclusion was drawn based on high-level economic analysis of three focus areas viz. cities and construction, food and agriculture, and mobility and vehicle manufacturing.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of Government of India set up the India Resource Panel (InRP) in 2016 to examine the material and energy flows across key sectors following a life cycle approach and to assess resource efficiency. I am a member of InRP. Sectors such as Construction, Automobiles, Iron & Steel and Metals were considered and key cross-cutting areas were examined. Recommendations of InRP are now taken up by India’s Niti Ayog (Planning Commission chaired by the Prime Minister) and is expected to develop a national framework to foster and support India’s Circular Economy.

The Government of India has embarked on several iconic projects to improve and expand its infrastructure (transport, cities and energy) and undertake ecological modernization of important sectors such as water, agriculture and food. In these Mega projects, Foreign Direct Investment is encouraged and these investors are asking for good practices on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) apart from conventional compliance. The 100 Smart Cities program, Make in India initiative, Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India), Namami Gange (Ganga River Action Plan), Interlinking of Rivers, Climate Resilient Agriculture etc. are a few examples. In all these projects, an application of the principles of the Circular Economy is extremely relevant and, more critically, leadership on the circular economy will need to be built in Cities, Industries, Investors, Project Developers and with Policy makers and Regulators.

Circular Economy is thus a concept that brings management and resources and residues together in the interest of economy, livelihoods and the environment. If implemented well then it will spur innovation and stimulate investments. The question is which institution in India will champion and how will we mainstream Circular Economy at national, state, city and industrial estate levels. Leadership in Circular Economy is going to be the key to bring in the necessary change.

We need to start walking the talk. But who will bell the cat?


Cover image sourced from http://www.guengl.eu/news/article/a-true-circular-economy-must-be-anchored-in-the-grassroots


My company Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation is developing an international leadership program on Circular Economy in partnership with Green Industries  South Australia. This program will have E-learning and Face to face components. The program will be  launched in mid of 2018. Do write to me if you are interested to learn more or get involved 


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A Minimum Environmental Care Size for an Industry  

(click on the Figure to enlarge)

Industrial production is important to meet our needs and generate employment. To ensure that the industrial production is economically feasible, the industry must operate above a Minimum Efficient Scale (MES).

MES can be computed by equating average cost  with marginal cost . The rationale behind this is that if an industry were to produce a small number of units, its average cost per output would be high because the bulk of the costs would come from fixed costs. But if the industry produces more units, then the average cost incurred per unit will be lower as the fixed costs are spread over a larger number of units.In such a case, the marginal cost is below the average cost, pulling the latter down. An efficient scale of production is reached when the average cost is at its minimum and therefore the same as the marginal cost. If we exceed the MES, then the marginal costs may increase due to pressures on product distribution (logistics), additional labor oversight and need for tapping more resources that are not locally available.

I was reading on the concept of MES. I told my Professor Friend that Government of India should make a toolkit for all the entrepreneurs to guide on choosing the right MES for their business focusing on the priority manufacturing areas.

“Well, you have a point Dr Modak” said the Professor lighting his cigar. “ Perhaps we should train the lenders (bankers) and investors on this subject so that they do not finance industries that are way off from the MES. This could help reduce the Non Performing Assets (NPAs) as well – Professor winked.

Professor took a deep puff, walked to the window and turned back to me and asked “You mentioned about the Minimum Efficient Scale or MES, but do you think there could be a concept of Minimum Environmental Care Size (MECS) for the polluting industries? The MECS must accommodate the costs of environmental pollution control that have often no economic return”

I liked the term Minimum Environmental Care Size.

Professor continued

“Dr Modak, many industries don’t do well because they arrive at MES without considering or sometimes not adequately internalizing the costs that they must incur on environmental pollution control. When they approach the Pollution Control Board (PCB) for a consent, they are stipulated several conditions on permissible pollution discharge. Compliance to these conditions often upsets the overall profitability of their operations. Consequently, many industries receive closure orders from the PCBs and judiciary directives due to non-compliance. The case often gets a political overtone as a closure means loss of employment. So, the industry is “allowed” to operate while not in compliance and the environment continues to deteriorate”

I thought the Professor was right. Why should we let these industries to come up at less than MECS in the first place”? I thought of including Department of Industry and Department of Environment in Professors training program (By the way, have you ever seen these two departments talking to each other? – but thats another story)

Could MECS be generally be higher than a conventional MES?

Professor smiled when I asked this question. He walked to the white board in his room and drew Figure as below. The Figure was complex but self-explanatory.

(click on the Figure to enlarge)

“This is just one scenario” – Professor said. “There would a number of variations based on the context”

I noted the following points

  • Many times, industries that operate on the MES are unable to do an environmentally sound or responsible business. Perhaps scales higher than MES allow use of more resource minimal and efficient technologies. A minimum environmental care size or MECS may therefore be higher than a conventional MES.
  • At this scale, the costs/output would be lower and hence even if the costs of investments may be higher, the overall economic returns will be impressive.
  • Besides, the MECS will exhibit higher resilience to the volatility of the markets. (I thought this perspective is interesting and requires a good case study)

While agreeing to my observations, Professor further elaborated

“Dr Modak, apart from the economic objectives, we need to ensure that products we produce have least life cycle impacts and the waste streams we generate in the “overall system” (i.e. covering extraction, processing, transportation etc.) are reused, recycled and recovered (3Rs) to the extent possible. Only the residues that are left need to be treated and disposed in a secured manner. All these costs and benefits must be included in the computation of MECS. In all above, we need to ensure that resource are minimally extracted, used at high efficiency and the 3Rs are followed to the letter and spirit”

I said “Professor, Indeed both scale and technology will play a significant role in arriving at the MECS. Of course, there are other equally important variables such as the location (where resources are extracted and processed) and the demand on the products (especially the green products) from the market”

An analysis of the cost of production break down between a large forest based pulp mill in India with chemical recovery and an agrobased small mill without chemical recovery has shown that the chemical cost alone is 30% of the total cost of production against a figure of 21% for forest based mills. A decade ago, Indian machinery manufacturing companies have shown that, when the mills reach a level of 100 TPD Black liquor solids, it is viable to set up a chemical recovery plant. Today, this threshold could be lower.

Pulp mills of small sizes (20-30 TPD capacity) cannot afford a chemical recovery unit and they would continue to discharge harmful chemicals into the environment. As the society and the State cannot allow continuation of discharge of polluted effluent, either the industry will have to close down or find out alternative methods production to stop pollution or take production to higher scale. This is often not possible due to shortage of finance.

(Do read, though dated, a very interesting report on above)

When I cited this example on MECS and the challenge of financing, Professor got up and responded while extinguishing his Cigar.

“Dr Modak, in such cases, one may conceive a central or common chemical recovery for a number of pulp mills, where Black liquor of individual mills can be collected and processed in a Central Recovery Plant. The white cooking liquor produced in the Central Chemical recovery plant can be transported to the individual mills for their use. Again, the Central chemical recovery unit shall be of a capacity which is technically desirable and is viable financially.

In order to make this concept implementable, one must identify a cluster of pulp mills suitably located within an economic zone. The cluster can harbor at least 6-8 mills. The economic zone can be of a radius of 60-75 Km. The Centralized Recovery unit can either be an independent unit or an integrated unit with one of large mills in the cluster.

There are advantages and disadvantages of setting up an independent central recovery plant. A recovery plant, independent of the pulp mills, and non-integrated with any pulp mill, must have its own infrastructural facilities, such as water supply, steam and power supply, workshop and laboratory in addition to its own Management. The Management which would control the functioning of the central recovery, is independent of the pulp and paper mill operation. Its function is to procure black liquor free of cost from the mills and in return sell the white (cooking) liquor to them at the market price. It must generate its own steam and power required to run the various sections of the Recovery unit.  The extra power can be sold to the State Electricity grid system.

Professor walked back to the white board and drew a New Figure as below.

(click on the Figure to enlarge)

“Look at Points B and C carefully. The MECS with support of a common resource recovery center and a common end of pipe solution will be lower than the MECS for a larger industry. The Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) under a cooperative agreement can still do business sustainably on a smaller production scale. What you need is a proper industrial planning, right institutional set up and an interested technology provider/investor for a joint venture” He said

I could see potential of this concept for chrome recovery in tannery clusters, metal recovery in the cluster of electroplating industries and spent acid recovery in chemical industries. There will be several such examples I thought that we could use to develop guidelines for key polluting  SMEs.

“So Dr Modak, what we need is to deepen the concept of MECS and guide the industries, lenders & investors, PCBs, Industry and Environment departments. There is so much to do”

Professor left the room for a meeting

Indeed, we want to see more of Make in India but on a scale that will ensure environmentally and socially sound production – I decided to bring this topic to the attention of MoEFCC and Central PCB when next in Delhi. On a second thought, I thought that it should be the job of the Niti Ayog (India’s earlier Planning Commission). They are the Gurus and can bring in a change at national level.

Friends, whats your take?


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