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Circular economy: Waste nought, want not

From solutions that prevent modern society inflicting irreparable harm on the environment, the waste management sector has graduated to devising solutions that also recover valuable resources that can re-enter the circular economy. Large companies have entered the fray to manage urban waste, picking and choosing the right solution for the right problem.
The flurry of activity at the Waste Technology India Expo, until the last hour of the last day – in fact, even after the gates were closed – is a harbinger of the big boom this sector finds itself enjoying.
Service providers

A whole new category of exhibitors marked their place at the Waste Expo, where the term ‘integrated waste management’ was on everyone’s lips: service providers for urban waste management. From collection and transportation of waste to recovering useful materials from mixed waste, treating hazardous waste to designing, installing and operating waste-to-energy plants, these waste management behemoths offer every service under the sun.

As urban local bodies begin to realise that they do not possess the domain expertise to effectively manage waste themselves, they have started to embrace the idea of outsourcing this to service providers who are equipped with the required technology and who follow the recommended processes to manage the entire waste chain. As they gain the confidence of municipal bodies, non-waste services like cleaning of public toilets may also be assigned to such vendor-partners.

Budgets differ from ULB to ULB. At present, there is financial support for biomining projects, which has spurred cities and towns to scientifically treat their legacy waste. These bodies have also understood that automation is superior to manual operations both financially and in terms of results, and now mandate this wherever possible in their tenders for service providers.

“Unlike earlier, urban local bodies want a single entity to take ownership of managing all kinds of waste, rather than multiple agencies”, said Prashant Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, Blue Planet Environmental Solutions. “Accordingly, we choose the best processes and technology, tweak them to Indian conditions and assume responsibility for the entire waste management chain.”

For example, his company has cleared over 200 acres of legacy waste in Chennai through biomining, where more than 5,500 tonnes of waste is processed every day. But this is just one of the services his company provides. He cited making green hydrogen projects more affordable for the Indian ecosystem, and making plastic upcycling solutions more scalable, as milestones of the future.

“Entrusting waste management to a single integrated services provider introduces transparency and accountability in the process,” asserted Sunil Singh, CEO, MS Division, Lion Services Ltd. “We become the single point of contact, and show evidence of work done through a mobile app, which can be monitored from the ULB control room as well by local residents, who can also raise complaints in the app.”

The company used a combination of GIS and GPS technology for tracking waste management operations. The entire city is mapped, geofenced beats are created and then assigned to dedicated personnel. The supervisor must upload before/after cleaning photos of the area, which are uploaded through a cloud server and go directly to the control room. The condition is that the photo can be taken and uploaded only when the supervisor is present in that particular area. Similarly, routes of waste collection vehicles are also geofenced and mapped.


One of the advanced technologies such integrated waste management service providers may adopt is Indico Motors’ mini-hopper, which compresses waste on the go – a feature that was not available in smaller waste collection vehicles. These mini-hoppers have a separate shovel mechanism and hydraulics which have a compaction ratio of 3:1; while a standard vehicle can transport 400 kg of waste at a time, their vehicle can carry 1-1.5 tonnes in one go. This reduces the requirement for manpower, cuts the number of trips and saves on fuel costs as well. Shubham Dubey, Executive Director revealed: “We have helped urban local bodies reduce their waste collection budget by 50%.”

The company’s mini-packer vehicle has an automatic bin lifting mechanism for 40 litre dustbins; the only manpower required is the driver of the vehicle. A separate leachate tank collects the liquid after compression, preventing spillage. Naturally, municipal officials responsible for solid waste management were excited by these products.

Automatic waste segregation

If the Waste Expo had a ‘star’ product, it was Ishitva Robotic System’s automatic waste segregation machine, which uses AI and machine learning to separate mixed waste into separate streams.

Every recycling company needs good quality material input to produce good quality upcycled products. In India, impurities vary from bale to bale and location to location, depending upon the source of waste. Also, since waste segregation is largely done manually, only a fraction of waste is segregated and useful material recovered.

Enter the automatic segregator, whose predictive algorithm can detect and sort new objects with ease. Sandip Singh, CEO said: “We have garnered a lot of interest from municipal corporations and industrial hubs. Material recovery facilities have also reached out to us. By increasing the amount of waste segregated at a location from 1-2 tons/day to 100-150 tons/day, we are also generating more employment in the recycling sector.” The machine is already in use at three locations, with seven more set to be deployed before the end of the year.

Road sweepers

Truck-mounted sweepers for sweeping roads in cities and industrial areas continue to rule the roost. However, municipal corporations and industry bodies are now looking for CNG or electric vehicles rather than the traditional, diesel-fuelled ones.

Waste bins

The MPH Group has introduced some special chemicals in their bins to ensure dust doesn’t stick to them, a feature that was much appreciated by the Uttarakhand government, which has procured 1 lakh units. Chandersheel Yadav, Sr Manager (Admin), shared: “Spurred by the Smart City movement, people in Tier II and Tier III cities also are asking for Smart bins, which have sensors that alert the concerned person to empty the bin when it reaches a certain capacity, ensuring there is no chance of garbage remaining uncollected or the waste overflowing into the environment.”

Food waste treatment

Since the largest component of food waste in India is water, waste compactors, macerators and dewatering machines are obligatory to reduce the volume of waste before it is composted or otherwise processed, to curtail transport costs. Dinesh Raghav, Regional Sales Manager – Culinary Division (North & East), Middleby Celfrost Innovations (P) Pvt Ltd said that demand comes from the hotel industry, as well as malls, which collect food waste from multiple F&B units in their facility. Since even the smallest machine has a capacity of processing 200kg/hour, it makes sense for an aggregator like a mall to be their client of choice.

To this list, Raju Parekh, Director, Infed Bio – which sells shredders for organic waste – added canteens, cruise ships and warships.

Organic waste

Organic waste converters, which use the 45-day composting process, seem to be enjoying stability, if not a resurgence. Apartment complexes, factory canteens and tech parks, which generate large amounts of such waste everyday, are major clients. So are smaller cities like Erode, Bellary and others which have growing populations, but whose land footprint is modest enough to have land for OWCs available at the city outskirts but not far from the city centre. Ramanan Natarajan, CEO, Shudh Labh Solutions Pvt Ltd revealed that temporary OWC installations at construction sites generate compost for on-site kitchen gardens; once the project is completed, the machine is moved to the next site.

In larger cities, a single machine can service a single mass generator of organic waste, like a marketplace. The mushrooming of large gated communities has lent an impetus to the residential sector adopting organic waste converters; with the larger volumes and the need for landscaping, the investment makes financial sense as well. For these, and municipal customers, branch and leaf shredders are necessary products prior to composting.


The trend of sustainability which pervaded the entire show also made its presence felt in the Waste Expo in the form of Daulatram Engineering’s vacuum bio-toilets, which use only 500 ml of water for flushing instead of the usual 4-5 litres. The vacuum effect also removes any foul smell, while the bio-digester tank safely converts waste to liquid which can safely be discharged without the need for a sewage treatment plant. Kuhu Sharma, CEO said that this product is sought after by public toilets, railway toilets, airports and other high-traffic facilities.

Sewage treatment plants

Every facility with more than 14 rooms is mandated to have its own sewage treatment plant, which can prove expensive to operate. Ravi Arora, Sales Director, Cizar Hygiene Pvt Ltd showcased an enzyme-based, pH-neutral solution that converts sludge to water, which can then be used in horticulture. “It is more affordable than conventional solutions, because the bacterial colonies in it produce enzymes for 3-5 years,” he said.

C & D waste

A combination of government mandates and price benefits have pushed the construction industry to embrace materials generated from Construction & Demolition waste. Sands and aggregates produced from this are cheaper than virgin materials; ready mix concrete and cement increasingly contain a portion of upcycled C&D waste. This sub-sector of waste has not one but two sets of clients: construction companies and urban local bodies which pay upcyclers to process the waste, and construction material manufacturers which then procure this for use in their products.

No two kinds of waste may have anything in common, but the solutions to process them will: design to recover or reuse as much material as possible, reduce the burden on the environment in the form of resource use or byproduct effect, and the word that underlines almost everything in waste management – decentralisation.

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