Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, is quickly becoming an industrial powerhouse. Companies that produce petro-chemicals, fertilizers and pharmaceutical products dominate the state’s economic landscape, providing jobs for many of its 62 million residents.
But with the increased industrialization comes a massive flow of waste. Gujarat has 7,751 units that hazardous waste generating units that generate more than a quarter of India' – the highest in the country.
In the industrial town of Vapi, for example, paper mills generate as much as 200 MT of waste per day. In the past, such waste was directed to a landfill or sent for incineration. In some cases, when the cost of disposal was too much to bear, some mill owners tossed their waste – illegally – into rivers, or burned it themselves, which often led to accidents.
But lately a new idea has come along: The state government, with assistance from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, began to work closely with industries that generated large amounts of plastic waste, and introduced them to the concept of ‘‘co-processing of waste”.
Co-processing refers to the use of waste materials in industrial processes or the use of waste as a substitute for primary fuel or raw material. In this case, paper mills in Vapi collected their plastic byproducts, then used them to fire cement plants.
“It is a recovery of energy and material from waste. The challenging task was to convince the top management of cement plants to do this,” says Hardik Shah, a former member secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and currently the Private Secretary to the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Shah led the project when he was in Gujarat.
The Basel Convention on hazardous waste, whose secretariat UN Environment hosts, recognizes co-processing of hazardous waste in cement production as an environmentally sound method of disposal.
The GPCB arranged a number of meetings with Gujarat Paper Mill Association, and the cement industries owners in order to make this a reality. Thereafter, a trial run was conducted by the cement mills for plastic waste usage in the kiln. Based on the success of the trial run, companies in the cement industry have modified their feeding system to incorporate a large quantity of plastic waste.
Co-processing may require some additional investment for companies that do not already have the technology to extract plastic from the waste, but in the long run the method can help them save on fuel costs.
Figures from the state show that, as of December 2017, approximately 14.95 MT of waste had been diverted for co-processing in various cement mills.
Diverting plastic waste from religious ceremonies
Gujarat is also tackling plastic pollution from a very different source: religious processions. Thousands of people across the state take part in these events, marching up to 30 kilometres in a single day in order to reach a temple - and often discarding plastic bottles, cups and plates along the way.
In 2016 and 2017, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board implemented cleanliness drives in partnership with civil society, to ensure that devotees collected their waste and disposed of it responsibly.
For instance in 2016 on the pilgrims' march to Ambaji temple in Gujarat, nearly 5,800 kilograms of waste was collected and recycled, while during the Jagannath Temple yatra (religious walk) the same year, some 5000 kilograms of waste was recovered.
Both exercises made people aware of how much waste was generated and what it takes to recycle so much plastic.
#BeatPlasticPollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2018. India is this year's host.