In September, Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, attended the IFAT India event in Mumbai. Joined by a senior team, the goal was to look at ideas and opportunities in the market. Having had time to reflect, he shares some of his thoughts and explains why the visit made him feel quite nostalgic…
Just over three-years-ago, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched the ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission).
It included cleaning up India’s streets, pledges to segregate waste into wet and dry bins to encourage more recycling and re-use, and giving waste management the highest level of importance and priority.
The five-year campaign is to be applauded for its successes so far and, as always, there is still much more to be done.
One of the big issues India faces is that tax payers are digging deep for the big street clean-up, while the businesses who helped create the problem in the first place, are getting a free ride and not having to contribute a penny – or indeed an Indian rupee.
It rather reminds me of the UK’s own “free rider” dilemma back in the 1980s/90s, when Mrs Thatcher’s government brought in new rules on waste, and many shops and offices took advantage of council-run services to dump their rubbish in household bins instead of paying for it in the correct manner.
“Given the country has a population of 1.3bn, it produces a large amount of rubbish, almost all of which is valuable to someone”
The polluter pays principle is almost unheard of in India and there seems to be a general feeling that waste is someone else’s problem.
Our impression was in both the home and business environment there is a big disconnect between the creation of waste and responsibility for what happens to it.
Part of the issue is that there is very little legislation or permitting required and I could see no equivalent of our own Environment Agency.
Given the country has a population of 1.3bn, it produces a large amount of rubbish, almost all of which is valuable to someone.
The trick is to the waste into money and then properly monetise the landfills to create a value chain so everyone can be charged for proper disposal.
There have certainly been attempts in the past by overseas companies to try and make a difference to the waste problem, but inevitably many have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of local understanding of the challenges involved.
A new Energy from Waste facility is of little use if the road network precludes easy and timely collection and delivery of waste.
And talking of collection and delivery, I also know that if I were a vehicle manufacturer, I’d be looking at building an India-specific refuse vehicle, because I can certainly see a need for one.
Earlier this year, I was very impressed when, as part of our Grundon goal to become a bigger player on the world stage, my father Norman and I visited the country and took a tour of the JCB India factory.
Attending IFAT on our second visit gave us a chance to talk to many of the people on the ground in the sector, to meet councillors and dignitaries, waste providers and others who care about the environment.
The show was excellent – although it appeared to be chaotic as we arrived in the morning, by 6pm on the evening before we opened, everything was immaculate.
We walked away with plenty of leads and many stories, some of which reminded me rather nostalgically of conversations some 20-years-ago when the focus was on how many miles a vehicle could travel in a day and how many tyre changes were likely in a year.
Now, it’s all about the technology and what you can do with the waste, so allow me a little indulgence for those simpler times.
Our next move is to return, follow up with our contacts and take a more in depth look at local waste disposal methods and opportunities.
I already see the highest demand being for the correct disposal of electronic items such as iPhones and laptops; while ecommerce and home delivery is also making a big impact and creating a steady rise in quantities of waste paper and cardboard.
Our goal will be to explore these areas more and then consider how we might help to make a difference by sharing our knowledge and expertise.
I believe that by matching this exciting and forward-thinking economy with our innovative ideas and track record, we could play a real part in helping to meet those Clean India goals.