Global Recycling Day: A look into India and The World

Global Recycling Day was created in 2018 to help recognize, and celebrate, the importance recycling plays in preserving our precious primary resources and securing the future of our planet.

Today is the Global Recycling day, an initiative now in its second year, developed by Ranjit S Baxi’s Global Recycling Foundation. The organization wants to get as many people as possible motivated to get out and help in recycling. “The role of the Foundation is to show the world that recycling is a collective endeavour, crucial for the future of the planet,” the company says.

This year like after China in 2018, India too has shut its door for solid plastic waste recycling as the country, every year produces a whopping 62 million tonnes of waste out of which 45 million tonnes of waste remains untreated.

Over 75% of the waste we generate is recyclable but we, in India, recycle just 30%. It is time for the nation to wake up and start taking waste management seriously because if this issue is ignored any further then by 2030 we will need a landfill as big as Bengaluru to dump all the waste. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, less than 15% of the municipal solid waste generated is processed or treated. There are various issues plaguing efficient waste management in India, ranging from lack of proper guidelines, planning on the part of authorities, poor waste collection, and treatment system to poor awareness among citizens about waste segregation.

Read also: Malaysia Plastic Crackdown- Over 100 Illegal Recycling Facilities Shut in three months

Though plastic recycling has been talked about at length by many experts and groups, there are other issues that also need our attention. Due to India’s rapid economic growth combined with rising incomes, there is a larger consumer base, which needs more natural resources and material goods.

Read: Delhi’s Municipal body Surprises With ‘Waste to Wonder’ park

Our material consumption is expected to triple by 2025, recycling these resources offer a viable and sustainable option to meet this growing material demand. Waste from industrial, municipal, agricultural, construction and demolition (C&D) and other processes normally contain base materials in the form of scrap, like ferrous metal, non-ferrous metals, plastics and glass. But in India, recycling rates are way below international benchmarks — like for packaging paper, it is 27 percent; plastics, 60 percent; and metals, a mere 20-25 percent. Whereas in Scandinavian countries, the average recycling rates have reached 90 percent.

The Indian recycling rates are languishingly low for a variety of reasons. First, no strong social awareness nor enough political will to promote recycling. Second, waste collection and segregation mechanism is unorganized leading to scrap contamination. Third, most municipal infrastructure is old and inadequate for collection, transportation and maintaining scrap yards. And, fourth, technologies to maximize recovery from recycling are still unavailable or in a nascent stage.

But there is much value in waste including the environmental and social gains. For example, one tonne of recycled paper saves approximately 17 trees, 2.5 barrels of oil, 4100 kWh of electricity, 4 cubic mts of landfill and 31,780 litres of water overproduction of virgin paper from wood.

Similarly, recycling of one tonne of steel scrap saves 1.2 tonnes of iron ore, 0.7 tonnes of coal, 0.5 tonnes of limestone, 287 litres of fuel oil, 2.3 cubic meters of landfill, and is achieved through 40 percent less water and with 58 percent avoided CO2 emissions.

According to a study by the University of Oklahoma, recycled steel reduces 97 percent mining waste produced, whereas simultaneously saves 75 per cent of energy, cuts back 86 percent of air pollution and 76 per cent on water pollution. Similarly, recycling of an aluminium can or producing a glass container saves 95 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively, of the energy required for producing a similar container from virgin material.

There are bigger benefits from recycling value chain which is typically more labour intensive — it can potentially generate 6-8 times more jobs than by land-filling or incineration activities of wastes.

In China, the recycling industry created 1.5 million direct jobs and about 10 million indirect jobs. In India, the metal recycling sector currently employs about 1.75 million people and contributes around 2 percent to GDP. For India, recycling can create six times more jobs and generate around ₹14-lakh crore of additional cost savings by 2030, which is approximately 11 percent of our annual GDP.

Read: The Kamikatsu lessons: An Almost Zero Waste Town in Japan

An Indian case study is of Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, also known as the Recycling Centre of India. Dharavi employs around a quarter of a million people with a turnover of a staggering £700 million (US $1 billion) each year. Over 80 percent of Mumbai’s waste is given a new lease of life by recyclers and the wages in Dhavari as compared to other recyclers in India, are relatively better. The salaries range between Rs 3,000 and Rs 15,000 per month.

Such numbers can be found everywhere which is why the global scrap metal market has been growing and is expected to increase to $406.2 billion in 2020 from $277.1 billion in 2015.

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We can argue that India has tremendous potential for reuse and recycling of products, but lack of a more comprehensive policy and regulatory simplification aiming and ‘ease of doing business’ for recyclers is still needed. The plan should include removing barriers for the input factors, a better established marketplace for scrap and recycled products, promoting public procurement and enhancing overall consumer awareness, and harmonising standards and certification.

While source segregation has to be actively promoted through behavioural shifts, the four million rag-pickers and kabadiwalas can be substantially incentivised and trained to sort waste for the recyclers. This can encourage a true rags-to-riches entrepreneurial journey of pickers to become recyclers themselves, in this so-called uneconomic sector.

Lastly and more importantly, of course, is the change in our own behaviour, first to reduce the use of materials like virgin plastic, buy more recycled products, support natural fibers and also make recycling an everyday habit in our daily lives, rather than something we do occasionally.

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