CII International Waste To Worth Conference: Session Highlights – Exploring the many challenges faced by the Waste Management Ecosystem

The fourth and the last session of the day at the CII’s Waste To Worth conference held on October 30 was all about the many challenges facing the waste management sector in India. Titled “Exploring the many challenges faced by the Waste Management Ecosystem” this session provided a fitting conclusion to the day-long deliberations to this important conference. 

  • Mr Saurabh Shah, Vice President, Excel Industries LTD.

Mr Shah described 2020 as an exciting year during which the entire “ecosystem” of various countries, states, cities, and businesses were “turned upside down”. Recounting how India’s waste ecosystem has evolved over the years, Mr Shah said, “It all began when the MSW Rules were introduced in 2000. However, there was a major lag after that. There were waste projects under JNNURM and decentralised projects across the country but no serious implementation of the rules until 2014. When the Swachh Bharat campaign was launched, there was excitement among the common people who also started talking about waste management and the need for cleanliness. The next big milestone was 2016 when a lot of rules were introduced for plastic and hazardous waste management.” Mr Shah also recalled that a lot of investor interest was seen, sustainable assets for waste management were set up and new concepts in waste management, which were unheard of previously, began doing the rounds. A new movement began in plastic waste management and other streams in India. The waste management ecosystem has evolved over the years and become fairly structured in the last few years – but they have only scratched the surface, emphasised Mr Shah.

  • Mr V K Chaurasia, Sr Advisor, CPHEEO, Ministry Of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government Of India

Mr Chaurasia said the central government gives a lot of importance to waste management and has tried to keep things simple under the Swachh Bharat Mission so that more people become part of it. Further, the government was able to handle the pandemic better because of SBM.

On the topic of circular economy, Mr Chaurasia said business models are fast evolving which can potentially contribute to wealth generation, making waste management more sustainable. “If this opportunity is accepted by the industry, scientific management of waste is entirely possible”. 

Noting that door-to-door waste collection and segregation at source is picking up fast across the country, Mr Chaurasia admitted there are still some challenges in terms of waste processing. “Automated, decentralized solutions are being encouraged for MRF centers to allow waste to be locally processed. This provides immense opportunity. There should be more interaction between ULBs, industry, and the government so that the concept of the circular economy can be taken to next level.” 

  • Col. Suresh Rege, Executive Director, Mailhem Ikos

Col Rege expressed his optimism about the impact of the SATAT scheme. “The policy is backed by the government and implemented with a lot of inputs from the grassroots level. That’s why it will be a success.” Appreciating the government’s move to promote the biogas sector through financial incentives, Mr Rege highlighted that the surge in the number of projects in the sector is a positive development.

  • Mr Umesh Chopra, CEO, JITF Urban Infrastructure Services Ltd.

Sharing details on JITF’s ongoing and upcoming projects, Mr Chopra said the biggest challenge the WtE sector is facing is the phenomenal cost associated with these projects. Suggesting that there should be Viability Gap Funding (VGF) to make WtE plants viable, Mr Chopra said government support is essential. The per-unit cost of energy produced should be around Rs 8, said Mr Chopra. 

  • Mr Jugesh Jagga, Director – Finance, Ecogreen Energy

Echoing Mr Chopra’s views, Mr Jagga said that WtE plant costs are very high and tariffs very low. “That’s why a lot of these projects become unviable in India,” he said. Explaining how this is problematic for companies like Ecogreen, Mr Jagga said, “The way these contracts are structured and dealt with by the municipalities, makes it difficult to operate in India. We have invested roughly about Rs 500-600 crore into power projects but everywhere, we are facing payment issues. Lenders are always asking if they will get their money back.” Highlighting the serious issue of non-payment by municipalities, Mr Jagga felt these are trying times for the WtE sector in India. “We can scale up big time if we are assured of payments and contracts are drawn up in a fair manner.” 

  • Mr Sandeep Patel, CEO, NEPRA

Mr Patel kept his comments on EPR short but informative. “EPR is a useful tool for the survival and growth of a circular economy. It will also evolve over time and should be seen as an important opportunity for everyone. Moreover, it is important that the stakeholders live up to their commitments,” said Mr Patel.

  • Mr Jabir Karat, Founder, Greenworms Waste Management

Describing his organization’s efforts at the grassroots level, Mr Karat described the challenges faced by rural populations who still have limited access to proper waste collection and treatment systems. “Greenworms does a lot of capacity building work with women in these areas in collection and segregation. We have a buyback model and do a lot of hand-holding to guide the workers.” Noting that there has been little improvement in the living conditions of ragpickers, he said they are denied access to landfills and the collection of recyclables. “There are a lot of individuals and organizations who are trying to bring them into the mainstream but these are scattered efforts and their numbers are few,” Mr Karat felt.

  • Mr Vinay Maheshwari, President – Corporate Projects & Environmental Management, JBM Group

Agreeing with what Mr Jagga said about costs and unfair treatment for WtE projects, Mr Maheshwari said that although they call it the PPP model, it’s a ‘you-lose-and-I-gain model’. “This is why integrated waste management remains a challenge in India.” Noting that the cement industry still doesn’t encourage RDF purchase, it is not a viable proposition, Mr Maheshwari felt. JBM has been developing its first integrated large scale commercial Waste to Energy facility at Sonepat, Haryana.

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