SWI Exclusive with Mr Palaniappan: Connecting the Government and Industry to enhance waste policy and practice in India

Mahindra Waste to Energy Solutions Limited (MWTESL) was established by the Mahindra Group in 2017 to focus on converting municipal solid waste to BioCNG. Since 2018, Mr. Palaniappan P, as CEO of MWTESL, has led the establishment of seven biomethanation plants across the country and is in the process of setting up many more.  

Palani also leads the All India CII Task Force on Waste to Worth, which facilitates better policy and waste management practice as well as encourages and rewards industry members, start-ups and ULBs through the 3R Awards to promote best practices in waste management. SolidWasteIndia’s Editor-in-chief Aafrin Kidwai caught up with Palani to discuss MWTESL, the CII task force and other issues related to effective solid waste management (SWM) in India.

Q1. Could you please tell us about Mahindra’s sustainable waste management initiatives? 

The Mahindra Group is, and has been, at the forefront of championing the cause of sustainability. In the last few years, we have made noteworthy efforts and achievements. For instance, Mahindra’s engine manufacturing plant at  Igatpuri is the first carbon neutral plant in the country. This was achieved through energy efficiency, a sharp focus on the use of renewable energy and planting of trees to absorb residual carbon. Many of Mahindra’s facilities have installed waste-to-biogas plants to convert organic waste and generate sustainable energy.

The Group promoted MWTESL to convert wet municipal solid waste (MSW) to BioCNG and become a part of the nation’s journey towards scientific waste management.

Q2. How is MWTESL utilizing organic waste for clean energy production? How many biogas projects are currently operational?

MWTESL is converting the wet waste portion of MSW and other organic waste to BioCNG, a clean and sustainable energy. The slurry is used to make enriched organic manure. The MWTESL plants aim to use 100 percent of the organic/wet waste received without any going to the landfill.

Currently, MWTESL is running eight plants in cities across the country including Indore (which undoubtedly plays a role in Indore’s top position as the cleanest Indian city), Tirupati, Aurangabad and Udaipur. These plants can process 200 tons of wet waste every day, 365 days of the year.

MWETL’s BioCNG plant

Q3. Given your decades-long experience in SWM, can you share some thoughts on how the sector has evolved in India? For instance, what are some of the positive changes you have observed? Conversely, in which areas are we lagging?

India, being a developing country, has been facing real challenges in terms of SWM. Over the last few years, we have seen a change in citizens’ attitude towards SWM for the better. However, a lot more sensitization is required to bring about complete change. 

Many municipal corporations/ULBs in India have also shown positive intent to develop a proper SWM mechanism through the utilization of appropriate technologies and facilities for segregation, composting, biogas generation and recycling at the decentralized level. But there are many municipalities in India that are still in the developing phase and do not consider waste as an issue despite the urgency of the situation. 

There is also an increase in private sector involvement to tackle municipal SWM (MSWM) challenges. However, I believe that a lot needs to be done to enhance this partnership between the government and private sector. 

There has also been upsurge in participation from large Indian corporates, international waste management players, technology providers, startups, and investors due to a change in government strategy and policies towards waste management. However, to have integrated SWM, India still needs more engagement of private players and investors – apart from innovative and sustainable solutions from India, global industry and academic institutions involved in waste management.

Further, adoption of new technologies such as ICT and AI for solid waste management is gaining momentum. Waste management firms/ start-ups in India over the last few years have also learned how to manage solid waste effectively.

Finally, I would say that we have seen lots of positive changes in waste management, but the sector in India still lacks the appropriate assessment of quantity and quality of solid waste, proper infrastructure, best practices, innovation, and off-take of finished products, financial viability, and lack of single regulatory body to handle the sector effectively. 

Mr. Palaniappan P

Q4. How is the CII Task Force working towards facilitating better policy and waste management practice?

The CII has convened a working task force on Waste to Worth to facilitate better waste management policy and practice in the country. The task force, with the support of its members, has been engaged in conducting policy research and sharing its recommendations with the Centre and state governments; encouraging private sector participation and investment in waste management in India; creating benchmark practices across stakeholders; and encouraging a partnership between industry and government to develop a joint pilot project to scale up waste management technologies.

Q5. What are the major waste to worth initiatives which the CII task force has been working on?

The CII task force is at the forefront of implementing conducive policy and best practices for strengthening waste management sector. It has been conducting policy research, submitted policy recommendations, and partnered with government. Recently, in March, CII submitted suggestions and recommendations on steel slag, generated as an industry waste from the steel Industry to MoEF&CC, NHAI, BIS, and MoRTH. A meeting was scheduled with Secretary, MoEF&CC to share the findings of the suggestions of steel slag to be considered as by-products, not waste.

CII, at the behest of Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to GoI, has also constituted a CII Core Group for developing a strategy for reclamation of the Ghazipur landfill site. The CII has also been holding various interactive sessions between the Government and industry to explore government-industry partnerships in the waste management sector. As a result, one of our industry members is in advanced-level discussions with the office of PSA for the joint piloting and scaling up auto-segregation technologies to sort out municipal solid waste.

Mr. Palaniappan P

CII has also been recognizing and rewarding the industry, start-ups and ULBs, to set a benchmark of excellence in waste management for a large number of industries to adopt best practices.

Lastly, CII has been organizing a number of focused web-based seminars to create awareness amongst the stakeholders regarding waste management. We bring together relevant stakeholders to share their perspectives and solutions in waste management, engage the industry and explore partnerships.

Q6. How are the CII’s 3R Awards promoting best waste management practices in the industry?

The entire world is adopting innovative and cost-effective approaches and solutions to address the growing problem of waste. It is important for a country like India, where the population is very large and waste management practices are not yet fully adhered to, adopts innovative and scientific management of waste that is socially, environmentally, and commercially sustainable.

Various innovative solutions are available and practised by industries and start-ups to manage waste. Moreover, most of the industries follow the 3R practices and stipulated guidelines of waste management through sanitary landfills and other processes. However, large scale implementation of solutions is yet to be seen, especially in MSMEs. Besides this, people from the industry are also designing and innovating zero/ minimum products. However, their efforts in designing their products including its packaging are still inadequate.

CII – through 3R Awards – is not only capturing and disseminating the best practices, but also recognising and rewarding the industry, start-ups and ULBs who have setup benchmarks in waste management.

Q7. How do you view the pandemic’s impact on the Indian waste sector?

Undoubtedly, the current pandemic has adversely impacted many sectors, including essential service sectors such as waste management. Here are some observations:

Picture credit: Image by Roksana Helscher from Pixabay
  • India has seen a significant increase in the generation of biomedical waste (BMW) which needs specialized handling;
  • There has been a constant threat of contamination of MSW with COVID wastes like masks, PPE kits and sanitary napkins used by self-quarantined patients;
  • While the government introduced the new BMW guidelines for COVID waste-handling which incorporated all facets of BMW segregation and collection, there are still many gaps in the implementation of the same;
  • Further, many waste management agencies in India, including those working on the ground were forced to halt or reduce their services;
  • There were no buyers for segregated waste as recycling plants were shut for some time due to the lockdown;
  • Collection and segregation of wastes was also a challenge because the workers were afraid of getting infected or moved to their native places.

Applications are being accepted for the CII’s 3R Awards till August 30. Click here for more information.

Read Previous

NTPC withdraws from Mohali project

Read Next

Mulund dumpsite closure delayed