Sprucing up

...production techniques could go a long way in creating a pollution-free milieu as the final aim would be to achieve a no-waste company discipline

By Mukta Kumra
Published: Monday 30 September 1996

-- the ultimate goal of economic development is to improve human welfare by raising living standards, enriching education, bettering health systems and providing equal opportunities for all. This process is crucially dependent on the environment and natural resources to provide the goods and services which directly and indirectly generate socio-economic benefits. However, economic development is often accompanied by a significant adverse impact on the environment, as the conversion of natural resources to finished or semi-finished products results in residues that are often discharged as wastes and pollute the environment. If the entire mechanism of converting raw material into an useful end product is carried out with 100 per cent efficiency, it would result in zero waste.

As populations and incomes rise, a growing economy will require more inputs (thus depleting the earth's resources) and will produce more emissions and waste (over-burdening the earth's sinks). The moot question is whether the factors that tend to reduce environmental damage per unit of activity can more than compensate for any negative consequences of overall growth in scale.

In clean technology seems to lie the answer to better eco-management practices. Alternatively identified as low-waste or no-waste technology, clean technology, as defined by the Commission of European Communities, refers to the measures taken by various industries to reduce or eliminate waste and pollutants at the source and conserve raw materials, natural resources and energy. These precautions curtail the harmful emissions to air, land and water. In other words, it is the ability to reduce environmental damage per unit of input or output of production that results in a cleaner environment.

The advent of the cleaner production ( cp ) method augurs well for the environment. A solution for industrial pollution, more often than not, lies in the use of conventional waste treatment referred to as 'end of pipe technology'. This solution is not attractive to an industrial policy maker as it means an extra financial burden. This problem can be reduced if both industrial and environmental policies are integrated with the concept of cp . Working in tandem towards both productivity and pollution prevention, cp can facilitate sustainable industrial development.

The basic tenet of cp essentially reflects the continuous application of an integrated, preventive environmental strategy directed to both processes and products in order to reduce risks to humankind and environment. It includes raw materials and energy, eliminating the usage of toxic raw materials / inputs and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions, effluents and wastes before they leave a process. For products, the strategy focuses on reducing negative impacts along its entire life cycle -- from raw material extraction through manufacturing and use to its ultimate disposal.
Going green and how Implementing a cp programme involves a series of eco-friendly actions. Step one is the basic and foremost recognition of the need to prevent pollution by embarking on a production process that is environmentally sound. The next step is planning and organisation. An organisation must enter into a commitment to include cp in its management practices. It would be beneficial to locate an expert in the area of environment impact assessment ( eia ) to analyse suitable areas in the production process which can be modified. This step, therefore, constitutes a preliminary study for laying down a proper policy plan for the implementation of cp .

The third phase of the cp approach would be to assess the areas where it can be implemented. For this purpose, data on the company and all its processes should be collected. In every process, raw materials are used to arrive at the final product. There is, however, a concomitant creation of by-products which are usually wastes. An assessment team should be installed which will set priorities for the flow of raw materials, wastes and other emissions. This team generates options for cleaner methods of production.

Once the options for cp have been set, the feasibility of these options have to be analysed for the simple reason that laying down plans and actually implementing them are two separate things. The planned options should be checked for technical, economic, financial feasibility and environmental implications. The options that are acceptable to the organisation and can be executed after accurate analysis are selected for implementation.

The last step is to actually bring the selected cp options into practice. Adequate funds should be obtained for installing the required equipment. After the project is implemented, the results should be periodically monitored and evaluated. The cp approach can also be used to plan new activities and adapt old projects in an appropriate manner.

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