Clean Tech

Circular economy, a half-a-trillion dollar opportunity for India

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on January 01, 2020 Published on January 01, 2020

The statistics say it all and cry out for an urgent remedy. Of the 62 million tonnes of garbage generated in the country annually, 45 million tonnes go untreated. With landfills in major cities brimming over and an annual growth rate of trash at 4 per cent, it is believed that by 2030 we could face a severe garbage crisis. And by 2047, it is estimated that 1,400 sq km of landfill area would be required for dumping this municipal solid waste.

Of the dry waste generated in urban areas, paper accounts for 50 per cent, followed by plastic (14 per cent), glass (6 per cent), textile (5 per cent), wood (3 per cent), metal (1.5 per cent) and residue (20 per cent). And it is this dry waste that could be turned into a resource if waste management is taken seriously, decentralised and micro-managed involving local citizens, traditional rag-pickers and the larger community. Besides this, e-waste collection and recycling of plastic hold great potential for a robust circular economy — one that closes the loop on ‘reduce, recycle and reuse’.

Untapped potential

In fact, a 2018 report of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) says that “half-a-trillion dollars of economic value can be unlocked” through circular economy business models by 2030 in India. It gives the example of e-waste and how extracting gold from it can yield a business opportunity of $0.7-1 billion. FICCI points out that scrap plastics and end-of-life-vehicles (ELVs) are the other sectors that can grow massively. It says that 40 per cent of plastic waste that is currently uncollected, if properly managed, represents a $2-billion opportunity. And that over 8 million tonnes of steel can be recovered from ELVs in India by 2025, representing a $2.7-billion opportunity. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2016 study too offers a positive direction. It says: “A circular economy development path could significantly mitigate negative environmental externalities. For example, greenhouse gas emissions could be 23 per cent lower in 2030 and 44 per cent lower in 2050 compared with the current development scenario, helping India deliver on its targets promised in the recently ratified Paris Agreement.”

This too has been the effort of the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission when it launched in 2014, with 100 per cent collection and scientific processing, disposal, reuse and recycling of municipal solid waste as a clear demarcated aim.

It has also put in place a ‘polluters pay’ policy, which has led to some action among the corporates, but clearly not enough. However, the pressure of policy has led to some top global and Indian corporations reiterating their commitment to work towards circular business models, integrating resource efficiency in the life cycle of a product — from design stage to the end-of-life stage.

According to experts, the circular economy is essentially looped with the 2Rs — reuse and recycle and pushing the innovation in resource recycling will make the circular economy a true infinite economy.

One way to ensure that the economy goes circular, they say, is by governments providing institutional support, developing policies that incentivise industries and by extending tax incentives initially.

Published on January 01, 2020
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