Home Articles Cash from Trash: India to tow Chinese line

Cash from Trash: India to tow Chinese line

Cash from Trash: India to tow Chinese line

The ‘Green Fence’ recycling initiative may have expired late last year, its effect continues to be felt even now. India may have a thing or two to learn.

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Except for few firms that are following environmentally safe procedures for disposing the waste, the recycling and waste treatment scenario in India is quite grim. A large portion of the recycling industry is still unorganised, comprising of small home based workshops where workers often handle toxic waste without any precautions at all. Oblivious of the regulations that such establishments have to abide, the dirty business of waste processing has been thriving in India year-after-year posing a threat to the workers and to the environment. Should we let this scavenging continue under the name of recycling or is it high time for India to wake up and take notice of the clamp down by China on its recycling industry.

With China getting its act together, countries looking for easy grounds for dumping their hazardous waste may now turn to India. For years, China let the world’s trash come in, creating a roaring business in recycling that would provide livelihood for hundreds and thousands. The clamp down on the recycling industry that helped the West dispose of its waste is abruptly changing a multibillion-dollar global industry in which China turned into a major processing centre for the world’s discarded soft drink bottles, scrap metal, electronics and other materials.

Like the recycling pockets that exist in numerous Indian cities with pathetic waste disposal record, China’s south has came to have house hold workshops devoted to processing single products, such as electronics. Not entirely different from the unorganised recycling industry in India, found in an odd corner of a city or a town, household workshops in China came to break down discarded computers or appliances to recover copper and other metals. Some used crude smelters or burn leftover plastic and other materials, releasing lead and other toxins into the air.

The Chinese initiative, Green Fence, in line with the ruling Communist Party’s pledge to make the economy cleaner and more efficient after three decades of breakneck growth that fouled rivers and left China’s cities choking on smog, may have expired late last year, its effect to bring about a drastic change in the way the recycling industry came to operate the world over continues to be felt.

Interestingly, business visitors at scrap shops in USA and Europe, who came looking for scrap like discarded refrigerators, have diminished. They were regular earlier, searching for scrap that could be shipped to China for recycling. With the clamp down, their numbers have started to dwindle. Stricter scrutiny has slowed imports and raised their costs.

The decline in the number of traders buying scrap to ship to China has also depressed prices American and European recycling companies can get for their plastic and metals. With little alternative, but to support Green Fence, the task of disposing waste is adding to the cost of doing business.

Even as a section of the recycling industry is expressing that recyclers investing in cleaner technology should be rewarded with more business as dirtier competitors are forced out of the market, the crackdown is creating new opportunities to process material in the United States and Europe instead of shipping it around the globe. The other alternative could be destinations like India and countries in Africa were regulations are not followed in letter and spirit. China’s recycling industry has boomed over the past 20 years. As the need for metal, paper and plastic grew, recycling was looked upon as a way to supply the industry with what it most needed – at least in part, if not in full.
Tolerating the environmental cost in the process as millions of tonnes of discarded plastic, computers, electronics, newspapers and shredded automobiles and appliances flowed into the country’s recycling workshops from the United States, Europe and Japan.

Environmentalists have long been complaining the industry’s ill effect on China’s air, water and soil.

With India’s water beds and soil no longer devoid of effluents, contaminants or industrial and human waste, often toxic, time may be right to step up vigilance as well as an effort to channelise the fragmented, and unorganised recycling industry into one that is organised and efficient. The one that does not degrade the environment. There is a dire need to update the recycling industry in India for the sake of its people, and the environment as a whole.

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