The article discusses how an innovative incineration technology has been used in processing tonnes of solid waste in the State of Tamil Nadu to zero waste without pollution and creating byproducts with tangible economic values. It also points out at the technology’s huge potential for transforming the national landscape into global markets and the need for a public policymaking system to change its mindset to live up to the ground realities.

The vivid impacts of COVID-19 on the social and economic milieus are unwittingly visible at all levels of society and the economy across the world. India is no exception to it. However, impacts of COVID-19 on the environment and environmental protection measures are perhaps by far the most enduring, which are yet to be measured systematically and comprehensively to take up a multipronged approach for course corrections across the world. However, few studies stress on the impacts ofCOVID-19 to bring out perspectives on the subject of climate change.

In a vastly populated country like India, which is an emerging market with a low level of per capita income, environmental protection measures are hitherto largely left to the governments, industries and other stakeholders. The local governments across the country are mainly focused on saving people from getting affected by COVID-19 and other prevention measures. Adequate attention is not given to environmental protection measures to minimise the degradation of the environment.

Though, during COVID-19, few cities did far better in handling not only the municipal solid waste (MSW) but also medical waste and hazardous waste through innovative technologies, in most of the others it was completely left to the fate of nature.

The past few years have seen several inventions and innovative technological experiments in the area of solid waste management in India. Some of them have been piloted and tested for efficacy with effective recycling of MSW and creation of comprehensive zero-pollution byproducts, showing encouraging trends in handling the most dangerous non-biodegradable waste generated by the residents of cities and urban growth centres.

Moreover, few proactive States like Tamil Nadu have shown commitments by piloting innovative technologies and taking up the next phase of experimentation to scale it up to achieve clean and green urban centres.

However, from the policy evolution perspective, it has been noticed that the use of innovative technology in most sensitive issues like MSW management often tends to face multiple hurdles while getting recognised by the government apparatus, which needs to be changed forever to transform the cities into really smart in finding solutions. 

A few years ago, 100 cities were brought in as Smart Cities with some or other combinations of technology to find solutions to the challenges faced by cities, but the sustainability of those technological solutions seem to be eroding faster. However, a few exceptional innovations and inventions are waiting at the doors of mainstream policymakers who still seem to be reluctant to take them up at a larger level.

An interesting breakthrough technology named ‘MAK Green Incinerator’(homegrown and patented), which has a huge potential for transforming the national landscape into global markets with the most ultra-modern sophistication capacity, was recently awarded CavinKare MMA Chinnikrishnan Innovation Awards-2020 for zero-pollution and creating byproducts with tangible economic values out of biodegradable and non-biodegradable solid waste using Green incineration, i.e., without using any external fuel and a state-of-the-art pollution control system.

The output is pure organic manure from biodegradable waste, paver bricks from ash produced from non-biodegradable waste, carbon from smoke, etc. Water used in the process is being recycled. The paver bricks produced are excellent quality which can be used for ground water recharge in the long run. The total volume reduction from non-biodegradable waste is up to 4 to 6 percent. For the first time in the State, the unit also got consent from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to operate, based on its merits.

All byproducts generated by this innovative technology have been tested in NABH approved laboratories and quality audit was done for gauging the sustainability of quality and standards. It was found that the byproducts have achieved not only the expectations of the experiments for zero pollution, but also more effective alternative use. As the total mixed MSW can be easily converted, there will be zero dump at dump yards, and this points to a possibility of converting existing dump yards into parks, thus saving100 hectares of land used as dump sites.

The MAK Green Incinerator was awarded after multiple rounds of discussions among eminent panellists, consisting of academic (IITs) and industry (Saint Gobain, ITC, Kirlosker) experts, about the innovation’s uniqueness, its potential benefit to people and the capacity to scale up to save Mother Earth. The new technology can be adopted in cities and urban centres, where it can help to convert waste to zero waste in an eco-friendly way, without any pollution.

The MAK Green Incinerator has been piloted in different locations in Tamil Nadu during the last two years and has achieved converting several thousands of tonnes of MSW and the medical waste of COVID-19into byproducts. The new technology was invented by a team under the leadership of reputed engineer Manickam Athappa Gounder and Scientist Prof Dr Raman Sivakumar, who is associated with M/s MAK India Limited, based out of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Their rich overseas experience and hard work paved the way for the success.

The commercial experiment of the MAK Green Incinerator technology was carried out at the Erode City Corporation, by operating the first pilot plant with 25 tonnes per day capacity. The efficacy of the new technology was effectively achieved in full capacity within a matter of six months. Indeed, the pilot plant was effective in preventing the mounting MSW dumped at the banks of Cauvery River for more than a year, thus saving the river and eliminating groundwater contamination, besides others.

The pilot plant also helped prevent the spread of diseases caused by dumping of MSW, that too nearby a fertile agricultural land on the banks of Cauvery River in Erode city. Various tests conducted for pollution, including stack emission, water quality, ambient air quality etc., found to be well within the norms, and all reports are available with transparency. Various dignitaries including the NGT officers, IAS officers, College and School students, and NGOs visited the plant and poured appreciation.

After reviewing the success of the plant, the GCC Commissioner took an initiative for a pilot plant with10 tonnes per day capacity and installed it in the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) at Manali. This has processed several hundred tonnes of MSW, includingCOVID-19 non-biodegradable waste, and effectively prevented the spread of diseases to people and animals. The plant has been successfully operating for more than a year, resulting in zero dump at dump-yards. Chennai city generates about 5400 tonnes of solid waste per day, but processes only about 200 tonnes per day, leaving the rest to be dumped at various places on the outskirts of the city.

Therefore, considering the successes of the MAK Green Incinerator’s innovative technology, the GCC has identified the potential of incineration technology to handle non-recyclable plastic waste such as plastic covers, wrappers, bubble wraps, etc. and to convert them into zero waste and effective byproducts for alternative use. Thus, the incinerator technology has huge potential and can transform the urban landscape by halting some 600 tonnes of waste from being dumped in landfills.

The new technology, with 50 tonnes per day capacity, is also being installed in Chennai to scale up the experimentation to handle solid waste. It is worth noting that this is the first project developed only to solve the pollution problem of MSW, which is so far a major problem for civic authorities. The innovators are getting appreciation from different parts of the globe including the USA, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, etc.

Therefore, public policymaking system has to change radically its mindset to live up to the ground realities, by taking advantages of new technologies like MAK Green Incinerators to deal with non-biodegradable MSW in cities and urban growth centres and create byproducts in a matter of a day instead of dumping solid waste at different locations and wait for years to eliminate them.

Moreover, the citizens of the country have to demand the right public policy action which will yield new technologies to solve the issues of cities. We should start now and work towards a ‘Clean Mother Earth’ for our future generations.

This article is co-authored with Prof Dr Raman Sivakumar, who is Chief Scientist at MAK India Limited. He has worked as a senior scientist in several firms/organisations both in India and abroad. He was a renowned Professor and Head of the Departments in leading academic institutions.  

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research

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Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan
Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan
Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan is Research Fellow (Urban Eco-system and Skill Development) with CPPR. His areas of research interest are economics of education, vocational education and skills development, economic reforms, liberal vision for India, water management, regional development, and city development. Chandrasekaran has an MA in Economics (University of Madras) and an MPhil in Social Sciences (Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya University, Indore).

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