Circular Economy Of India: Roadmap Missing
Recently, our Prime Minister, while speaking on the 14th United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14UNCCD) in Delhi wherein more than 196 countries participated, emphasised on restoring degraded lands-estimated to be huge in the case of India, around 29% of its land area. It was also highlighted that recommendations of the earlier three Rio conventions on Climate, Biodiversity and Desertification be implemented. Added to these concerns are the challenges emerging out of the rise in the global population, soon touching the 8 billion mark, and the ensuing pressures on natural resources including land, minerals and water. In India, the rising economic growth is leading to enhanced production of materials and industrial and service goods. The population growth and urbanisation along with increased scale and intensity of resource-use, has resulted into resource constraints, their rising prices and so on. The environmental and socio-economic and political consequences of resource extraction and their utilisation and further disposal impose disproportionate burdens on the poor and vulnerable sections. Therefore, India has to search for a just balance between its economic transformation and the emerging negative environmental impacts.
The current ‘take-make-dispose’ model, termed as linear approach towards resource consumption and consumer behaviour followed across the globe poses serious risks to growth, environment and climate change. How to ensure inclusive and peaceful sustainable human development in India with 18% of the global population and thriving middle class, while just possessing 2% of global land and about 4% of available fresh water resources is now a serious question. Efforts have begun at the international level to work on the resource-use efficiency through circularity principles related to energy-saving, waste recycling, product restoration and its reuse rather than throwing away, so that waste of one section becomes an input for the other. The scope of this circularity is limitless. The various estimates given by FICCI, Accenture and Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) show that there is a $218 billion opportunity per year i.e. about half-a-trillion dollar worth opportunity by 2030 for India and $4.5 trillion business opportunity for the world with an abundance scope for starts-ups and innovative commercial and business ventures.
II The CE, which got momentum in 2000s, aims to improve upon the literature of resource-use and sustainability increasingly contextualised into socio-economic and environmental dimensions and their interconnectivities. It essentially relies on the principle of (i) designing product and optimising it for a cycle of disassembly and reuse; (ii) differentiating product components into commutable and durables; and (iii) using renewable energy source to complete this cycle. The focus is on material use diversification, maximizing the cycles and raising the uncontaminated parts, so that waste is recycled for new uses. Properly aligned, it can help in job creation, supply chain resilience, balance of payment support and climate neutrality and so on. It has become an accepted component of long term development strategy both in EU and China. Japan has also placed CE in its priorities. A few major industrial players e.g. Google, Philips, Renault, Ricoh and Unilever have already initiated circularity approaches, and adopted resource-efficient supply chains in order to realize cost savings.
The Circular Economy Club which after tracking over 3,000 circular economy activities all over the world, brought out that only 9% of these can be termed as truly circular. The international community, thus, has a long way to go to understand and achieve the circularity features particularly in Agriculture, Automotive, Construction and Electronics.
III Globalization coupled with inter-connectivity and information and digitally enabled technologies paving the way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R), offer a great scope for value creation, economic diversification, and skill development. India being the young country with developing manufacturing sector, offers a great scope for creating the digitally-enabled CE in the background of its strong connectivity backbone with the second largest market for smartphones. Its fragmented private sector and a large informal economy contributing about half of the GDP and offering employment to about 90% of the workforce offer a great scope of CE activities and practices. The electronic waste, phone repairs etc. can be engaged in high-value CE supply chains. About 60% of discarded plastics are recycled in India as against just 6% in the US. There are more than 1.5 million people who are said to be involved in the informal waste/junk management (Pickers). Almost 90% of the built-stock used for residential purposes in the informal construction sector is not subjected to any regulatory system, which results into an unplanned settlements and haphazard urban/rural growth.
In agriculture and food, the sharing of equipment, adoption of regenerative applications giving back nutrients to the soil and technology-led innovations can yield multiple constructive outcomes. Sikkim has gone totally organic. The mobility and housing offer a number of CE benefits of net resource savings. Tata Steel’s Advanced Materials Research Centre in collaboration with IIT(M) to develop light-weight, high-strength materials; E-waste Rules (2018); developing perforated clay bricks-an alternative to concrete and from non-agricultural land which require 15% less materials etc. the National Electricity Mobility Mission Plan and so on further supported by technology and finance mechanisms, if tweaked properly, can integrate CE into the Indian development system. This requires aligning the CE principles with the existing policies, priorities and institutional structures.
By Guljit K Arora
(The author is associated to University of Delhi as Principal, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar College.)