Solid wealth

India is churning out construction and demolition debris at an incredible pace. With landfills overflowing and building material becoming scarce, the country needs a policy to recycle the waste

By Avikal Somvanshi
Published: Sunday 31 August 2014

Solid wealth

Developers deliberately dump building debris in low-lying or watershed areas to reclaim eco-sensitive zones for real estate

India needs a landfill the size of West Bengal to dump 21,630 million tonnes of construction and demolition (C&D) waste it will generate from repair and demolition of old buildings and from new ones between 2005 and 2030. And still more land if the waste from infrastructure projects, such as roads and dams, is taken into account, according to an assessment by non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi.

CSE’sfindings ring alarm bells at a time when urban areas across the country are witnessing a real estate boom, and the new government plans to create 100 smart cities as part of its development agenda.

Unfortunately, there is no up-to-date official data on the magnitude of the problem. On February 6, replying to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) said there are no current estimates on the amount of C&D waste generated in the country.

Worse, the handful of government estimates available for C&D waste are at variance with each other and fail to capture the real picture. Consider this. In 2000, an estimate by MOUD showed that India generated 10-12 million tonnes of C&D waste a year. A decade later, a report by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave the same estimate (see ‘Diverging estimates’). This is when, according to the McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm, the area under real estate grew by 6-7 per cent a year between 2001 and 2010. At this rate, shows CSE calculation, the country would have generated 531 million tonnes of C&D waste in 2013.

The Comptroller Auditor General of India recognises this discrepancy in its 2008 report. Government estimates on C&D waste are without a scientific base. No estimates or even guesstimates exist for construction and demolition waste, it notes.

One can think of only one reason for this incongruous government data: most of the C&D waste generated in the country is unaccounted for.

With landfills overflowing with garbage and in the absence of policy to regulate C&D waste disposal, developers, including government agencies, dump the waste in low-lying or watershed areas, roadsides and even on vacant plots and fields. In fact, disappearance of urban water bodies and wetlands in urban areas can be attributed to illegal dumping of C&D waste. In most cases, real estate developers deliberately do this to reclaim eco-sensitive areas for real estate. In Mumbai, builders dump C&D waste in the coastal mangroves and creeks. In Delhi, the Yamuna floodplain is the favourite dumping ground. Recently, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation faced the fury of the National Green Tribunal for choking the Yamuna floodplains with C&D waste.

The divergent government figures prompted Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to do its own calculation. It used data from three agencies. For calculating the amount of C&D waste generated in 2013, it used estimates by Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), a government of India agency. TIFAC says C&D waste generated during a new construction is 40-60 kg/square metre (sq m), during repairs is 40-50 kg/sq m and during demolition 300-500 kg/sq m.

For determining the built-up area, CSE used McKinsey & Company's report, which says the total built-up area in India in 2013 was 13.75 billion sq m. Of this, almost 1 billion sq m was constructed in 2013 alone. This would have generated 50 million tonnes of waste. Usually one-third of buildings get repaired every year. This would have added another 193 million tonnes of C&D waste. Assuming 5 per cent of buildings undergo large-scale restoration/demolition a year, these would generate 288 million tonnes of waste. The total adds up to 531 million tonnes. To estimate the area needed to dispose of this waste, CSE used calculations done by the Kasturirangan Task Force on Waste to Energy. The report says 400 hectares of landfill is needed to dispose of one million tonnes of waste. According to this formula, India would need a landfill of 8.65 million hectares by 2030 to dispose of its C&D waste.

The situation is equally worrisome in neighbouring Gurgaon which saw a private real estate boom in the 2000s that is continuing to this day. Developers regularly dump debris on vacant plots, water bodies (commonly known asjohars) and low-lying areas of the eco-sensitive Aravalli hills. Frustrated by the inaction of the municipal authority, Malba Hatao Group, a Gurgaon-based, citizen-driven initiative fighting for a comprehensive policy on debris and recycling of C&D waste, approached the National Green Tribunal in October 2013. A rap from the tribunal has elicited action from Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG). “The municipal authority has notified four villages for dumping C&D waste,” says Ruchika Sethi, member of the group. Sethi, who is steering the case in the tribunal and holding consultations with the corporation, says, “The authorities were planning to issue notification to penalise builders who fail to transfer their C&D waste to the dumping areas. They delayed it because of the 2014 general elections.” But dumping urban waste in villages may lead to protests by the residents and result in a Thiruvanantha- puram-like situation (see ‘Stench in my backyard, Down To Earth, September 15, 2012). The municipal body plans to set up a plant to recycle the waste in the Aravalli hills. This may do more harm than good to the environment.

Initiatives in India

In some cities, local authorities have tried to fix the problem. The Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh (MCC) is possibly the first urban local body in the country to have launched a scheme for C&D waste management. Under the decade-old scheme, residents can dial MCC’s helpline number for C&D waste removal and the debris gets collected within 48 hours. “We have identified four to five sites across the city where the malba (C&D waste) is dumped. We also use the inert waste to cover up the garbage in our landfills,” says Vivek Pratap Singh, commissioner of MCC. However, he admits that most of the C&Dwaste does not reach the designated dumping sites. Developers use the waste to reclaim low-lying areas around Chandigarh.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) framed the Construction & Demolition and Desilting Waste (Management and Disposal) Rules in 2006 after realising that more than one-third of the waste it was collecting was the C&D waste generated by its ever expanding real estate and infrastructure sectors. Poor implementation of the rules means illegal dumping of C&D waste continues unabated. Builders have even started charging customers for disposing of debris. “My contractor sends someone to collect malba,” says Kamini Baghchi of Andheri who is getting her house repaired. “He charges extra for that.”

Policy void

Proactive measures by these cities have failed because there is no policy at the national or state level to tackle the waste.

C&D waste finds only a brief mention in Schedule III of the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.MoUD’sManual on Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, offers a basic guideline on handling C&D waste. These guidelines are not binding on developers or government development agencies.

In 2009, MoEF constituted a Working Sub-Group on Construction & Demolition Waste to evolve a mechanism for management of solid waste. The sub-group made several recommendations, which include developing institutional mechanisms for waste collection, reusing and reprocessing the waste; segregation of C&D waste at source; imposing charges on waste generators; formulating standards for C&D waste and amending the Municipal Solid Waste Rules. MoEF’s proposed amendments in the rules in 2013 did not include the Working Sub-Group’s recommendations. Instead, it is now drafting separate rules for managing C&D waste, Construction and Demolition Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2014.

Is it really a waste?

Several countries have found ways to manage the C&D waste: they recycle the waste and reuse it in construction. Singapore, which generates 260 kg of C&D waste per person—India’s per capita C&D waste is 420 kg—recycles 98 per cent of it (see ‘Lessons from abroad’).


Of late, there have been sporadic initiatives in India to recycle C&D waste into aggregates for making ready-mix-concrete, pavement blocks and concrete bricks. In 2009, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, in collaboration with IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd (IEISL), set up a C&Dwaste recycling project in Burari. “The recycling plant has a capacity to recycle 500 tonnes of C&D waste a day, but it receives 1,200-1,400 tonnes daily,” says N B Mazumdar, technical advisor to IEISL.

A similar initiative was undertaken by Mumbai-based non-profit Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and the City and Industrial Development Corporation in 1999 in Navi Mumbai. Over 1,500 tonnes of C&D waste was recycled under the project during 2002-06. These initiatives have, however, failed to take off. While the YUVA project ended in 2009, IEISL plant finds no takers for its blocks and pavers.

Complicated standards

Officials involved with the projects blame the failure on the construction products standards of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that do not mention recycled C&D waste as a “suitable building material”.

IS:383-1970, the BIS standard for aggregates (sand and stone used for making concrete), stipulates that concrete can be made only with “naturally accessed material”. Construction agencies cite this rule to avoid using recycled waste. “The interpretation is inaccurate,” says Sunil Soni, director general of BIS, adding that BIS permits the use of aggregates, other than natural aggregates, in concrete under the standard IS:456-2000.

The text of IS:456-2000 code, however, does not include the word “recycled”, which dissuades developers from using recycling C&D waste. In fact, though it allows using “broken brickbats”, a major component of C&D waste, builders play safe and prefer buying fresh bricks and then break them to make brickbats. Some experts say there is an urgent need to set standards for C&D waste. But Soni says framing new standards is a long process and will take time. Since BIS does not prohibit using any new material in the absence of standards, he suggests that authorities can take the initiative and permit recycled material. “This is allowed under the National Building Code,” he says.


The Central Public Works Department (CPWD), for instance,can revise its schedule of rate (SOR is a document that determines the price of construction materials used by government agencies) to incorporate recycled C&D waste in the list of building materials. Since CPWD’s SOR serves as the base document for state SORs, any change in the CPWD document will getreadily incorporated in state SORs. CPWD, however, has been sceptical about recycled C&D waste and does not allow its use in construction. Early this year, it informed Parliament that “C&D waste having no salvage value is disposed of at approved dumping sites as per municipal rules”. It has also not responded to appeals by the Environment Pollution Control Authority for suggesting how to promote the use of recycled C&D waste.

To eliminate scepticism regarding the suitability of C&D waste, BIS has gone out of its way and constituted a panel to formulate a list of aggregatesfrom other than natural sources. “The panel aims at addressing the dual problems of waste disposal and shortage of construction material,” says Jose Kurian, convener of the panel. Based on the trend world over, the panel is exploring different kinds of recycled industrial wastes, including C&D waste. It has already held two meetings within three months this year, something unheard of in BIS where technical meetings are usually held once a year. To avoid delays, BIS has decided to incorporate provisions allowing recycled C&D waste as aggregates under IS:383-1970. “The amendment would automatically allow the use of recycled C&D waste in all products made out of concrete and reduce the need of subsequent amendments in other standards,” says Kurian. “To check unrestricted use of these options, the amendments would spell out limitations in terms of the type or grade or application of such products.” BIS is considering allowing up to 20 per cent recycled concrete aggregatesas replacement of natural aggregates. The percentage of replacement could be increased in future as and when new research data becomes available.

To determine these checks, BIS requires technical studies by government agencies on suitability of recycled C&D waste as replacement of natural aggregates in concrete. These studies need to be independently carried out by multiple agencies to avoid biases or flaws. But BIS’ efforts so far have been hampered due to an acute shortage of such studies. IEILS, the sole C&D waste recycler in the country, has not undertaken any studies. Though a few studies are under way, they cannot be used by BIS till they are complete (see ‘Gauging feasibility’ ).

Gauging feasibility
Indian institutions are assessing durability of products made from C&D debris

National COUNCIL FOR CEMENT AND BUILDING MATERIALS, a premium government R&D facility based at Ballabgarh, has carried out studies that say fine aggregate from recycled C&D waste could be considered for use as part replacement of natural fine aggregates (sand). But durability studies will take at least one more year to conclude

CENTRAL BUILDING RESEARCH INSTITUTE, based in Roorkee, says the quality of aggregate would depend on the quality of source. Tests on 10 beams, with 100 per cent recycled concrete aggregate have shown promising results. Further research is under way to establish the optimum percentage of replacement

CENTRAL ROAD RESEARCH INSTITUTE, based in Delhi, has conducted multiple studies and is upbeat about the prospect of using recycled C&D waste in making concrete roads. It is willing to provide guidelines for use of C&D waste in road construction

Once the amendment is in force, the government would need to ensure proper segregation of C&D waste because it will have a direct impact on the quality of the recycled product. So, BIS will initially permit the use of recycled waste only from sites being redeveloped and not from deleterious structures such as abandoned chemical factories or a 100-year-old building, says Kurian.

Fixing the gaps

At a time when sand is becoming scarce and bricks expensive, fixing standards of C&D waste will tilt the market dynamics in its favour. But its potential cannot be fully tapped until the country expands its capacity to recycle the waste and introduces a comprehensive management policy. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the only municipality in the country to have a recycling C&D waste plant, has not been able to set up more recycling plants. Since 2011, the Gurgaon municipal authority has been claiming on its website that the city will have two to three C&D recycling plants. “We have been pursuing the authority for more than a year to act on its resolution but the authorities are reluctant to allot municipal land for this purpose,” says Sethi.

Maybe, they can learn from land-constrained Hong Kong which has stringent rules for C&D waste. It charges builders for generating C&D waste. Even if a builder utilises 100 per cent of C&D waste, he has to pay HK $27 (Rs 126) per tonne. The charges spike up to HK $125 (Rs 1,000) per tonne if the developer sends 50 per cent of the waste generated to landfill. The generation C&D waste reduced by 60 per cent in the first year of implementation of the rule in 2006. The government uses the revenue to run, maintain and subsidise C&D waste recycling centres. Instead of demolishing structures, builders now dismantle them to salvage the construction material (see ‘Dismantle, not demolish’).

To make this possible in India, MoEF also needs to hasten the formulation of Construction and Demolition Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2014. It needs to set up a system to support cities in collecting and recycling C&D waste. Given the magnitude of environmental destruction associated with construction material, promotion of alternatives and recycling of waste is not a matter of choice but necessity.

Dismantle, not demolish
Courts have Ebecome stern in tackling illegal constructions. Courts have been ordering demolition instead of the old practice of legalisation on payment of a penalty. Demolition orders for illegal towers built at Campa Cola compound in Mumbai and for the twin 40-storey towers in Noida are cases in point. But instead of demolishing, it would be better to dismantle them to recover building material, say experts. Dismantling can be defined as construction in reverse, but it is a time-consuming process. It facilitates reuse of building materials which is different from recycling which involves reprocessing of waste into new products. The process of dismantling structures is an ancient activity that has been internationally revived by the growing field of sustainable method of building.

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