Punit Makharia argues focussing on zero-waste technologies may prove beneficial for developing economies

It was through the onslaught of industrial revolution that mankind realised the staggering boost every industry on earth would receive through the multifold benefits of technology. However, in just about a 100 years, human beings have gone on to remove about 30 per cent of the world’s wildlife through their industrial activities. Over the past year itself, the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet, was severely damaged through wildfires and Australia faced a huge environmental crisis.

Studies show that billions of tonnes of waste are produced each year, damaging the very planet that has sustained life for more than four billion years. As we have progressed further into the new millennium and are 20 years into this new era, it has become clearer that the environment needs our help. There is only one way to go for businesses around the globe, and that is to become environment-friendly.

In today’s world, the chemical industry is an extremely important component of the economy, as it is responsible for producing all kinds of raw materials for manufacturing every industrial product we use. While it is an indispensable asset in most major industries in the world, it also creates a vast amount of industrial residue hazardous to the environment. Even in the most advanced countries, a major concern relates to waste recycling. In 2019, the total waste generated in the European Union (EU)-28 by all economic activities and households amounted to about 3,000 million tonnes, indicating a serious need to counter this.

Most countries have realised the importance of the issue and have taken significant steps, enacting legislations to deal with the problem of industrial waste. However, strictness and compliance regimes vary as enforcement is always a big variable for most economies. It has become paramount to establish a plausible, and environmental solution, in the form of zero waste, not just as a requirement, but also as an utmost priority for the industry.

Zero waste plants challenge badly-designed business systems that use too many resources to make only a limited amount of products, which is a serious mismanagement of resources with minimal chances of reuse. It provides not just an ethical and environment-friendly method of production, but also a completely practical and marketable business model to implement.

Going zero waste is not just an environmental step, but also an extremely economical and pragmatic business idea, which can not only cuts costs but also speeds up production and boosts efficiency. According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, a zero waste economy can completely revolutionise the industry and revive the world economy. Its role in reusing, recycling and reducing waste can create ten times more jobs as opposed to waste disposal, the normal procedure for any chemical plant.

According to market research by McKinsey, opportunities to build a new and profitable branch of the industry based on recycled plastics might represent a profit pool of nearly €50 billion per year worldwide by 2030. This can lend a huge hand to the chemical industry, as it can play a key role in supporting the plastic waste management sector, which is a critical aspect of its day-to-day operations. Even in industries like aluminum and paper, where recycling has become a crucial step,

producers do play an important role in getting recycling established, including making investments in and providing materials for recycling infrastructure. The chemical industry can spearhead the same owing to its residual wastes that can boost these industries and further create opportunities for the economy.

In developed countries, the industry tends to have high costs due to small scale and lack of efficient collection and sorting processes, with very limited application. However, in countries like India and China and other emerging economies, plastic waste is typically processed through informal systems like individual workers picking through waste dumps or hand sorting at landfill sites, representing a processing structure that can be utilised to further segregate and use for smaller upcoming industrial units. 

Although the non-domestic recycling rate decreased from 76 per cent to 74 per cent in 2018, developing economies can be market leaders in this segment and can utilise their mode of working to further establish and ensure zero waste methods for the chemical industry. They can also significantly boost the purchase of sustainable products and produce recycled materials using less energy and save more trees as opposed to generating raw materials from scratch.

About the AuthorPunit Makharia is chairman and managing director of Shree Pushkar Chemicals and Fertilisers Ltd.