Empire State Building, World Trade Centre, Sears Tower, Petronas Tower, Taipei 101 is a list of buildings with an honorable distinction. The latest entrant to the list is Burj Khalifa. Yes, you guessed it right! These are the list of tallest buildings in the yesteryears, each emulated by its’ next one on the aforementioned list. Skyscrapers are turning out to be the identity of cities these days (while it might be statues for India). Meanwhile, we have been informed that a new entrant from Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah Tower is knocking the door to join the elite list whose height is a whopping 3280 ft (1000 m). Anyway its pride might last just for a year or two as the list goes on. A day may even come when the tallest structure in this planet might be a man-made one. One may laud the efforts put forth by our engineers for the years of meticulous planning and execution but we can’t deny the fact that humongous amounts of what we call them as Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste are generated out of these activities.
An estimate by World Bank says that cities might generate about 2.2 billion tonnes of solid waste by the year 2022 and C&D waste will account for half of it. The large estimated quantity might be due to another estimate which tells us that 70% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 are yet to be built. In 2013, it was reported that India generated 530 million tonnes of C&D waste from buildings alone. Imagine how large the number will be if construction of other structures like dams, roads, etc. are included. Where is all this waste going? Most of them are used to level the water bodies and wetlands around cities for illegal construction of high rise buildings which can culminate in disasters such as Chennai and Kerala Floods. Rest of them is simply disposed off in dump yards where it leads to groundwater contamination.
The discarded waste could really be of great use if utilized properly. Concrete, bricks, tiles, metals, wood, glass, plastic, cardboards, bituminous materials.They all can be recycled and reused. Being said that 70% of buildings that will exist in 2050 are yet to be built, where do such huge amount of resources come from? Since most of the construction materials are produced from energy and water intensive processes, it will have a huge negative impact on the environment. Emissions from buildings must be reduced 80-90% by mid-century, and all new construction must be fossil-free and near-zero energy in just two years to limit the global warming to 1.5°C says World Resources Institute. With all the talks about resources efficiency and circular economy taking spotlight, reinserting the recycled C&D waste materials will greatly help the case.
While we delved on the useful aspects such as recycling and reutilizing the C&D waste, it is also important to look at roadblocks. The only C&D waste recycling plant with a capacity of about 4000 tonnes per day runs in Delhi. Owned by IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd (IEISL), the plant is under huge crisis of economic sustenance. This is because there are no buyers for the recycled products from the plant due to the lack of clarity in Indian standards. The BIS Standard (IS: 323-1970) stipulates that concrete can be made only with naturally accessed materials. Construction agencies cite this rule to avoid using recycled C&D waste. To clear all these speculations around C&D waste, Ministry of Environment, Forestry and climate change (MOEFCC) came up with Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016 in which usage of materials for construction made from C&D waste and its products are clearly listed. With this being the case, Coimbatore Municipal Corporation has come up with a project of building a new C&D waste recycling plant in 2019 which will only be the second plant of the nation.
If our nation is progressing at this rate, it is difficult for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) within the target time, 2030. With the clarification regarding C&D waste coming in 2016 from the government there should have been at least 2-3 C&D waste recycling plants per state by this time. Imagine if all the reconstruction and rehabilitation for the affected people in Gaja cyclone are built from C&D waste. People who were living under thatched roofs will get concrete houses, government can reduce their spending by using recycled materials and can also protect land and groundwater from pollution. Only these kind of solutions can pave way for a win-all situation for Governments and citizens.
If countries like Singapore and Hong Kong can recycle above 90% of their C&D waste, with all our man power and resources, we too can. Undoubtedly, India has the potential to be the most resource efficient country in this planet and show the way forward to all other countries in converting this biggest urban menace into a secondary resource to battle climate change!
Danwant is a graduate of B.Tech. Energy and Environmental Engineering, who is a technical Intern at PR Climate Studio, Delhi He is interested in the fields of climate change, sustainability, circular economy, smart cities and green buildings.