Voices Tuesday, June 30, 2015 - 05:30
  By Dharmesh Shah and Shweta Narayan  Albert Einstein once said, “if I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” We are in a hyper-problem-solving age where solution seeking and making has become an assembly line phenomenon. For every problem that emerges, we have a surplus of scientists, experts and consultants on standby to “solve it”. Solutions that are thus evolved create more problems than they set out to solve. The recent Maggi controversy is a classic manifestation of this trend. Nestle suffered a significant setback as a brand, and product recall was only a logical goodwill gesture. According to news reports, over 27000 tonnes or 400 million packets were recalled across the country. However, the solution proposed by Nestle to deal with this huge waste problem got scant coverage (here is the TNM report on it) and remains un-debated. The company has proposed to destroy the waste in one of the country’s largest cement manufacturing facility at Wadi in Karnataka. Referred to as co-incineration, cement plants are increasingly being becoming a preferred end of the pipeline solution for our waste woes. In 2010, Indian Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released the “Guidelines on Co-processing in Cement/Power/Steel Industry” which gave an official sanction for co-incineration of industrial and municipal wastes in cement plants. This directive effectively allowed cement plants across India to incinerate a range of hazardous, post-production waste like toxic sludge, tar, pesticides, spent chemicals and a variety of post consumer waste like used tyres, plastic, municipal waste etc. Nestlé’s decision followed in the footsteps of others like Unilever and Colgate-Pamolive who regularly engage cement facilities to destroy their post-processing and post-consumer waste. What is wrong with that, one may ask? Firstly, on the issue of emissions, Indian cement plants are known to be highly polluting. A series of ambient dust samples taken in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu between 2008 and 2010 found high levels of fine particulate pollution and toxic heavy metal contamination around cement plants. A follow-up study undertaken by Chennai based environmental groups (between 2012 and 2013) in the states of Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat also found excessive levels of PM 2.5 and heavy metals in the emissions. In fact, when compared with the US Environment Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Air Quality Index (AQI), the levels of Particulate Matter (PM) in the vicinity of the ACC Jamul/Holcim Cement Plant in Chhattisgarh (430.7µg/m3) and ACC Cement (346.1µg/m3) and JayPee Cement plant in Himachal Pradesh (311.7µg/m3), were hazardous enough to trigger “health warnings of emergency conditions where the entire population is more likely to be affected". In India where cities like Delhi are battling much worse, these may not be shocking numbers. Nevertheless, the fact that this aggravates the situation should be concerning. Another crucial concern, from the perspective of public health, is linked to the cement that comes out of such facilities. However, due to the scarcity of research on this aspect, fewer regulatory checks exist to monitor the sale of such cement. Heavy metals like lead and mercury are impossible to destroy and persist throughout the production process. Hence, the lead in the Maggie and the cocktail of other metals in the plastic packaging would be transferred to the cement and not be destroyed as actually intended. A few studies have found that the highly toxic substances released during the waste destruction process stick to the cement/clinker and end up in the finished product. Thirdly, cement kiln co-incineration has to be seen in the larger context of sustainability. Like waste incineration, cement kiln co-incineration is an end of the pipeline solution. Instead of addressing the issue of waste management through long term policy measures like waste reduction, recycling and clean production, co-incineration offers a “lazy” way out. Such policy interventions divert focus away from regulation, stifle innovation and better practices, and worse give thumbs-up to poisoning our planet.   Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability for the same.