Recycle & reuse: Indian government proposes a resource efficiency policy

  • A draft policy aims to bring in efficiency in the use of materials drawn from the natural environment for various industries, by focusing on a reuse and recycle philosophy.
  • India’s resource extraction rate is more than three times than the global average and the proposed policy aims to take forward an environment and development balance.
  • The draft National Resource Efficiency Policy 2019 proposed by the environment ministry outlines a three-year resource management action plan across seven sectors which contribute to about 25 percent of India’s income.
  • It proposes a series of measures for better waste management and reduced landfill use, better management of construction waste, electronic waste and waste from other growing sectors.

By 2025, India will have more than 21 million vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life, according to an estimate by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). More than 8.7 million vehicles had reached the end-of-life vehicle status in 2015. At present, these vehicles usually end up at the unorganised dismantling centres for extracting functioning spare parts. 

In a new draft policy, India’s environment ministry has proposed a higher focus on recycling in the automobile sector, among other sectors, with a target of 75 percent to 90 percent recycling rate for vehicles, depending on the year of manufacture. The draft also seeks establishment of 20 official vehicle dismantlers across major urban centres by 2020. 

With India’s resource extraction (withdrawing materials from the natural environment) reported to be more than three times the world average, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed a National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP) 2019 to increase the focus on recycling and reuse for resource efficiency. 

The draft also proposes a three year action plan and implementation strategy across seven major sectors – automotive, plastic packaging, building and construction, electrical and electronic equipment, solar photovoltaic, steel and aluminium – which together contribute to one fourth of India’s income. The ministry has sought views and suggestions on the draft of the policy within the next one month.

India extracts natural resources, primarily for use in its various industries, at the rate of 1,580 tonnes per acre. This is significantly higher than the world average of 450 tonnes per acre, according to the draft NREP policy. Thus the draft policy aims to implement efficiency in the use of all relevant resources including metals, minerals, fossil fuels, biomass, air, water, land, forests and across all life cycle stages starting from raw material extraction to end-of-life management. 

Among the proposed measures in the policy, the draft said that “over time, it will be extremely important to move towards zero landfill” and for that, it will be important to disincentivise landfilling by “imposing landfill taxes” and “high tipping fees especially for bulk generators of waste”. It stressed that this would encourage the optimal use of the material and better waste management.

The need for such a policy is important as India’s fast-growing economy is unsustainably consuming its resources, with the policy noting that India has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tonnes in 1970 to seven billion tonnes in 2015 and projected to be more than double of this by 2030, but that this “economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on the natural environment.” 

The draft policy stressed that India has low material productivity compared to the global average and a much lower recycling rate at 20-25 percent compared to rates as high as 70 percent in regions like Europe. Material productivity means the ratio of output achieved compared to the inputs (resources) used and low material productivity indicates that resources are not being used efficiently. India also withdraws the highest amount of water for agriculture, globally. Additionally, 30 percent of its land is undergoing degradation and there is a high import dependency of many critical raw materials.

“The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environmental degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and quality of life. Further, material use is also closely associated with the problem of increasing waste,” said the draft policy.

The policy said it wants to reduce “primary resource consumption to sustainable levels” in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, create higher value with less material through resource-efficient and circular approaches and minimise waste creation. 

Focus on recycling and reuse

The draft policy includes the first three-year action plan (2019 – 2022) for the seven sectors that are heavily dependent on imports of raw materials, which can be brought down by efficient use of resources.. 

For instance, for electronics sector, the import dependency of raw materials like silver is 75 percent, rare earth material (100 percent), gold (90 percent), platinum (95 percent) and Copper (50- 60 percent).

An auto scrapyard in the United States of America. Photo by IFCAR/Wikimedia Commons.

Among materials, the action plan also addresses the use of plastic, which has been on the national agenda for a while. At present, a majority of states in India have imposed some kind of a ban on plastic. CPCB recently told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that 18 states across India have completely banned the use of plastic carry bags while in five other States there is a partial ban at some places.

The proposed plan calls for 100 percent recycling and reuse rate of PET plastic by 2025, 100 percent recycling of PET plastic and 75 percent recycling and reuse rate of other plastic packaging materials by 2030. It also suggested a ban on “disposal of recyclable waste (plastics, metals, glass, paper, cardboard and biodegradable waste) to landfills by 2022.”

The action plan also looked at ways to manage the waste from the building and construction sector that contributes to about nine percent of India’s national income. It called for a 50 percent “recycling rate for construction and demolition waste by 2025 and 75 percent by 2030.”

It is projected that over 40 percent of the population will be living in urban areas by 2030. For that, it is estimated that almost 70 percent of buildings that are supposed to exist by 2030 are yet to be built which reveals a huge upcoming demand for naturally extracted raw materials like sand, soil, stone and limestone (for cement). 

India’s annual consumption of sand is estimated at 750 million tonnes, of stones for making aggregates is two billion tonnes and limestone to make cement is 242 million tonnes. “A substantial share of the new demand can be met using the waste of the existing stock,” noted the plan while setting a target that, by 2025, 30 percent of total public procurement of materials for civil construction comes from recycled materials.

Read more: The world is extracting sand faster than it can replenish it

Meanwhile, for the electrical and electronic equipment sector, the plan called for strengthening the compliance of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and introduce a “penal system in case of non-compliance and the financial resources thus collected can be used for providing access to recycling technologies to the informal sector”. In 2016, India was the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world and generated nearly two million metric tons of e-waste.

Ravi Agarwal, who is the founder-director of non-government organisation Toxics Link, said the government is looking at a national resource efficiency framework as part of the circular economy. “It will have major ramifications. It is not just going to be about the waste but also about energy, production and the whole circularity of material use,” Agarwal told Mongabay-India. 

Prevent the sunshine sector from eclipse

The proposed draft also addresses waste generated from the solar power sector, India’s renewable energy pillar under which 100,000 megawatts of solar power is expected to be installed by 2022, which would result in a significant amount of waste as well.  

The action plan observed that key materials used in solar panel manufacturing include silicon, glass, silver, aluminium and copper and the demand for these would increase with the growth in the sector. “Under an ambitious solar energy deployment scenario of nearly 170 gigawatts by 2030, the total estimated demand for materials will increase from almost 0.7 million tonnes to 12 million tonnes between 2015 and 2030. Under this scenario demand for glass, aluminium, silver will reach seven million tonnes, 1.7 million tonnes and 3.8 million tonnes by 2030, as compared to 0.4 million tonnes of glass, 0.1 million tonnes of aluminium and 0.2 million tonnes of silver consumed in 2015 by the sector,” it said. 

Electronic waste is emerging as a major waste management problem for Indian authorities. Photo by Praveenp/Wikimedia Commons.

The plan called for setting up proper solar panel recycling infrastructure to manage large volumes of solar panels that will be disposed in the near future. It targeted that by 2025 four major authorised dismantling facilities are established and increased to eight by 2030. 

Surbhi Singhvi of renewable energy consulting firm Bridge to India (BTI) welcomed the move. 

“I think it is a great start for India. Globally, there are a few solar panel manufacturers who are reusing old panels at the end of their lifetime to make new ones. If something like this happens in India, it is a welcome step. On top of making recycling and reusing an integral part of the industry, the government should also have included a provision to ensure that environmentally non-hazardous raw materials are used in the manufacturing of solar equipment.” Singhvi told Mongabay-India.

“There are certain elements in solar panels that are not recyclable and are environmentally hazardous. The government should ensure that such elements are not used in the first place. It is a well-timed and a much-needed move by the government,” she said.

Read more: India’s growing solar power programme could leave behind a trail of waste

As e-waste continues to pile up, a greater focus on its management is needed

In the plan for the steel sector, an “imposition of import duty for scrap imports beyond certain limits to promote utilisation of domestic scrap” was proposed. It proposed a goal of zero import of steel scrap for recycled steel production by 2030. Similarly, for the aluminium sector, the action plan stressed that that there is heavy dependence on imported scrap and “increased availability of domestic scrap can be achieved through various economic instruments including export taxes, export quotas, and even export bans or punitive tax rate if recycler resorts to trade in scrap without processing or adding value.” 

For this, it recommended goals of domestic scrap fulfilling to be 50 percent of the total aluminium scrap requirement by 2030 and increasing the recycling rate to 50 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2030.


Banner image: Waste from the solar power sector is an emerging problem for authorities in India. Photo by Rsrikanth05/Wikimedia Commons.

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