Recycling of C&D Waste in India: First Steps Taken

The Delhi government has decided to mandate recycled products from C&D waste in prospective contracts for building works and road works to be taken up by the government and its agencies. Following the decree, all Delhi government authorities are required to incorporate a clause in their tenders: It mandates use of a minimum of two percent recycled products from construction waste in all future contracts for building works and ten percent recycled products for road works. Five percent use of such products is expected for non-structural applications during examining and approving building plans.

The megacity`s government has acknowledged that processing of construction and demolition waste has great potential to save urban space, will reduce negative environmental impacts, can conserve natural resources and will address the shortage of building materials. Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Center for Science and Environment’s Sustainable Urbanization team, commented: “This is an important move forward as construction and demolition of buildings cause enormous waste – about half of all materials used – that degrades the land and environment.”

Found to be suitable, but few demanded

Delhi produces about 4,000 to 4,600 tons of C&D waste per day. The inert but bulky waste is either disposed in city landfills or dumped in open spaces, water bodies and flood plains. Now the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and IL&FS Environment Infrastructure Services Limited have implemented a pioneering initiative of setting up a 500 tons per day capacity processing plant in Delhi on Public Private Partnership model to manage construction and demolition waste. The resulting aggregates are converted to ready-mix concrete, pavement blocks, kerb stones and concrete bricks.

The products have been tested and are considered to be suitable for specific purposes. But as the inflow of waste is almost three times of its capacity, the plant is overwhelmed. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi East has built a new C&D waste recycling plant to cater to the waste being generated in its area, that is expected to become operational in the next weeks. However, the products manufactured by the recycling plant have difficulties in finding any takers due to lack of information and the absence of a C&D waste policy or standards. This is not only a problem of Delhi, but a structural problem of India`s waste management.

Few estimates on amount existing

Following estimates of the Union Ministry of Urban Development in 2000, India produced ten to twelve million tons of C&D waste annually. This has remained un-changed in the ministry’s report of 2015. In 2001, the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council calculated waste from the construction industry accounting for 25 percent of solid waste or twelve to 14 million tons per annum – this estimate has not been changed in the official documents.

But in January 2014, the then Minister of Urban Development has told the parliament that no estimates exist for C&D waste in the country. According to the Center for Science and Environment,  in 2013 the total C&D waste generated by buildings alone was estimated by 531 million tons, about 50 times higher than the existing official estimate. If C&D waste generated by infrastructure projects like roads, dams, etc. is added, then India is already drowning in its C&D waste.


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A lack of effective national laws

Not well quantified and grossly underestimated because of lacking systematic database is not the only problem connected with Indian C&D waste. According to the Center for Science and Environment, India extremely lacks of effective national laws on C&D waste: The Municipal Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules in 2000 was „inadequate“, and the Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management in 2015 delivers basic guidelines on its handling, but no standards. Although the draft of Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules of 2015, published by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, includes a chapter on C&D waste, the rules are not notified yet.

The lack of standardization, missed listing in Standard Codes and/or Schedule of Rates, poor policy push and lack of awareness are other key barriers. Though a number of innovative cost-effective recycled building materials, components and construction techniques have been developed, the Indian housing and building agencies have not adopted them in their construction practices. Furthermore, up to now Indian laws permit use of only naturally sourced building materials. “Naturally sourced” means that only virgin materials like sand and aggregate mined directly from nature can be used. The use of recycled or reused components is not yet allowed. IL&FS Environment Infrastructure Services Limited reports, that this has lead to private contractors utilizing unscientific dumping methods by putting severe pressure on scarce urban land as well as reducing life spans of landfills. Meanwhile, the partial use of recycled C&D waste as substitution in concrete mix is envisaged and expected to be notified soon.

Photo: O. Kürth

Photo: O. Kürth

Limited steps

Another sticking point is the proactive action needed in municipalities. After Western India adopted an action plan including separate collection of C&D waste, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) came out with Construction & Demolition & De-silting Waste (Management & Disposal) Rules 2006, one of its kind in India, and so did Pune. But the state failed to implement the policies; so the sole C&D waste recycling unit in Mumbai was shut down in 2009. Recently, the Government and Municipal Corporation of Delhi have taken steps and are to set a good precedent for governments and municipalities across the country. Additionally, several creative architects have taken steps to reuse waste in their buildings: a school building in Rajkot and the Institute of Rural Research and Development (IRRAD) building in Gurgaon. But these are limited steps.

Construction waste as a resource

Anumita Roychowdhury urges the Delhi government „to take the next steps to announce a composite policy on C&D waste like other states for improved collection, segregation and handling of waste. Organizing more decentralized collection and recycling centers. Penalize wrongful disposal and littering and implement tax measures to lower the cost of recycled products to make them competitive. At the same time, take steps to build public awareness.” Aiming at the Delhi government, these recommendations apply to whole Indian C&D waste management policy as well. The demand for this material will rise. For two-thirds of the buildings that will stand in India in 2030 are yet to be constructed. But the environmental cost will only compound with the anticipated construction boom unless immediate steps are taken to recycle and reuse construction waste as a resource.

Photo: Jorg Hackemann | Dreamstime.com

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