Tracing India’s Environmental Footprints with EIA 2020

EIA 2020 will have to re-assess its impact on India’s ecological balance even as the country’s aspires for its dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy.

A drop in seismic noise—the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust” due to Covid 19 restrictions is just another discernible marker of the environmental impact of global industrialisation amidst a population exceeding 7 billion people. Even as carbon credits (Fig. 1) are traded worldwide, attempts were afoot to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius as ratified by 189 countries in the 2016 Paris Agreement. In India, the draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) 2020 has recently concluded its public discourse after agitated and contentious feedback from a majority of 17 lakh respondents against the dilution of the EIA process, particularly the exclusion of public consultation for many projects which could adversely impact the environment.

United Nations Carbon Offsets
United Nations Carbon Offsets | Source: United Nations Environment Programme

The inaugural EIA Notification in 1994 required public consultation for ‘all projects requiring environmental clearance from the Central Government’ as listed under 30 categories of its Schedule I. However, the due diligence involved in assessing environmental impact was skewed for “site specific projects such as mining, hydro-power, major irrigation projects, ports and harbours, prospecting and exploration of major minerals in areas above 500 hectares.” According to EIA (1994), the “decision regarding suitability or otherwise of the proposed site” had to be conveyed “within a maximum period of thirty days by the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests.” This was probably to quash the misgivings of people like Medha Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan which caused the withdrawal of World Bank funding for the Sardar Sarovar Dam in 1993

As governments in independent India have forged ahead to improve the country’s economy after centuries of British plunder, a commitment to environmental impact assessment has largely been influenced by external factors such as the enactment of Environmental Protection Act (1986) after the Bhopal Gas tragedy; or even Indira Gandhi’s establishment of the National Committee for Environmental Planning and Coordination (NCEPC) in April 1972 in preparation of the first environmental conference held in Stockholm in June 1972. But the skewed balance of economic growth and environmental conservation/protection is just as evident in the EIA Notification (2020). 

With the Modi government’s push to support economic growth at the grassroots level, the focus has been India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), growing from 6.33 crore MSMEs reported in the “MSME Ministry’s FY19 annual report.” According to the recent notification by the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, MSMEs are categorized by investment in Plant and Machinery or Equipment and turnover; ranging from INR 1 crore and INR 5 crore for a micro enterprise, to INR 10 crores and INR 50 crores for a small enterprise, extending to “investment in Plant and Machinery or Equipment not exceeding INR 50 crores and turnover less than/equal to INR 250 crores.” Even as the debate about public consultation continues, what is particularly disconcerting is that the government in its attempt to bolster Indian MSMEs has exempted many projects from prior-Environmental Clearance (pEC) or prior-Environmental Permission (pEP) such as  – 

Manufacturing of Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulphonic Acid (LABSA) from LAB; Chemical processing of ores/ concentrate; Manufacturing of Acids; Petroleum products and petrochemical based processing; and Manufacturing of paints, varnishes, pigments, intermediates (excluding blending / mixing).

Waste Management & Soil Contamination Image
Waste Management & Soil Contamination | Source: Memuco

The decentralization effected by EIA 2006 included a segregation of projects not requiring an “Environment Impact Assessment report” (Category ‘B2’). In EIA 2006, projects categorised as B2 did not require public consultation, similar to EIA 2020. However, the lack of accountability afforded to MSMEs in EIA 2020 is astounding considering the environmental impact of exempted projects. The unfettered manufacturing of products like LABSA, acids, paints, and petroleum/ petrochemical derivatives is especially alarming considering many of these processes are listed as generating hazardous waste in Schedule I of the Hazardous Waste Rules 2016. This undetected contamination by environmental pollutants is exacerbated by the fact that violation reporting is no longer the purview of Indian citizenry. 

According to Traverso-Soto, González-Mazo, and Lara-Martín, “the major fraction of synthetic surfactants are disposed down the drain to sewers… and sludges are also a potential source of contamination for soils, groundwater and adjacent rivers as they tend to contain high concentrations of organic contaminants and are often used in agriculture after anaerobic digestion.” Combined with an increase in EIA validity periods and reduced frequency of compliance reporting, the ambiguous jurisprudence of EIA 2020 is debatably unequitable in its attempt at environmental conservation and preservation. Although the shift to renewable energy is evident in the exemption from pEC or pEP for projects like “Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) Power projects, Solar Thermal Power Plants and development of Solar Parks,” the EIA 2020 will have to re-assess its impact on India’s ecological balance even as the country’s aspires for its dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy.

Cover Image: Supriti Malhotra

 

Gift Wrapping Our Way Out of Existence

‘Your delivery is scheduled to arrive today’, says the message on your phone. There was a time when you would have been excited after reading this but now it doesn’t matter. Ting Tong, the doorbell rings. The delivery guy brings your order in a white plastic bubble wrap envelope. Congratulations you have a new toy and a complimentary I-will-still-stick-around-way-beyond your-extinction envelope that lands straight in your dustbin, without even a goodbye.

Packaging products, right from bubble wrap envelopes to water bottles, form a major part of the solid waste – their quantity was estimated to be about 77.9 million tons in 2015. (29.7 percent of total generation)

 

But hey how is this your fault? It’s just the way it is, right?

 

The envelope is trashed and what you hold in your hand is probably a book. You can tell even if it’s wrapped in an average looking gift paper. It’s wrapped because it’s supposed to be your birthday gift. You tear it apart and find the exact book you had asked your friends to get. Surprise. Surprise. A temporary smile lands on your face. The book lands on your shelf. Gift paper lands in the dustbin. Again without even a goodbye.

 

Rude, a tree died for this bro!

 

Why do gifts even need to be wrapped? I wonder. Although the practice of gift wrapping can be traced back to 2nd century BCE China, modern gift wrapping practice only became mainstream after it was popularized by Hallmark back in 1917. It was an accident. They ran out of traditional tissues so they started selling colourful envelope liners from France instead. It was a hit. America loved it and eventually, it made it to the rest of the world too.

The psychology behind Gift wrapping says that it influences the recipient to rate their gifts more positively. The short-lived suspense of not knowing what exactly is your gift somehow seems to excite you. As you unwrap the gift, you wonder what’s inside. This curiosity feels good. But is it really worth it? Just a few seconds of our unnecessary pleasure sits on the planet for hundreds of years, asphyxiating anything that comes in its way.

 

Sure avoiding plastic packaging and switching to paper may be a good start but paper isn’t as environment-friendly as you would believe it to be. The problem begins where the paper begins. Wood. Deforestation. Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion. Reduced water quality. And this is just the beginning.

We move on to manufacturing. Here come the chemicals, which seep into our water bodies through a poor waste disposal system. Chlorine, mercury, halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, caustic soda – each of these chemicals used in making paper, damages the environment differently. And next is the disposal. Tonnes of paper make it to landfills every day and when they decompose, they release methane – one of the major greenhouse gases.

Paper manufacturing is also water and energy-intensive process. In India, the national norm of water consumption per tonne of paper is 200-250 kiloliter in large paper sectors.

 

That’s equivalent to a lifetime water supply for a family of four!

 

As water shortage becomes more commonplace, it’s going to get harder to manufacture paper. A technology upgrade is necessary. It is possible to make the paper-making process more eco-friendly. The technology is available to reduce water consumption, at least to half. The question is – how important is it? And do the decision-makers realise that?

So we can’t use plastic. We can’t use paper. What can we use?

 

The Three Rs.

 

1. Reduce

Our consumption is a major burden on the planet. And our demand is only growing. We don’t have any other habitable planet known to us. Even if we did, we have no technology to shift 7.7 billion people to a faraway planet. We talk about our end but our civilization has actually only begun. There are so many things that we haven’t discovered yet. There are so many things that we haven’t even seen. And we are already losing our only home?

We must act. We must act now. Big or small doesn’t matter. If it takes a gift wrapper, gift wrapper it is. Ask yourself – do you need it? Do you really need it? If the answer is no then you know what to do.

Okay, so if we are not buying new stuff, what are we replacing it with?

Stuff we already have!
Welcome to the second R –

2. Reuse

Newspapers. Brown bags. Shoe boxes. Pieces of clothes, our options are endless. Are you willing to be creative enough to use them? The Internet can always help.

Our last R brings us to –

3. Recycle

Fact is that we are drowning in our own trash. Fact is also that we are importing more and more waste paper from western countries. Special thanks to China for closing its gate, now all the western garbage comes our way.

We are not in any shortage of waste paper. India produces 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Paper makes a huge part of it. What we are in shortage of is an efficient collection and segregation system. We need better waste management and recycling facilities.

Although paper is one of the easiest things to recycle, there is a limit to that too. After repeated processing, the fibres become too short to produce new paper. In that case, virgin fibres have to be used. Ultimately, even with recycling, there’s no escaping cutting more trees, polluting our rivers and trashing our land.

 

Unless, and until, we start caring.

 

The gifting season is almost gone, gift wrappers have already been used, but when it returns which it inevitably will, I hope you choose to care.

No plastic gift wrappers and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can. And when it comes to online shopping, avoid it until sustainable packaging becomes their priority. They may not hear your voice alone, but they can’t avoid us if we all start speaking. Our planet, our only home, is worth it.

 

 

 

References:

repository.upenn.edu/
fespa.com/en/news-media/
icontrolpollution.com/articles
downtoearth.org.in/interviews
intechopen.com/books/
indiatoday.in/india/story/
bbc.com/news/
mapsofindia.com/my-india/
wiki/Paper_recycling
bustle.com/articles/
wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_wrapping
wikipedia.org/wiki/Packaging_waste

E-Waste Scrapyard in China | Source: Greenpeace

The Modern Junkyard – Electronic Waste and the Right to Repair

44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in the modern junkyard and 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the oceans ANNUALLY! That’s a lot of waste management each year.

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

Mapping out E-waste | Source: World Economic Forum

With the global economy expected to be flush with 25- 50 billion electrical goods by 2020, it’s not surprising that policymakers worldwide are focused on waste management solutions. Considering that even solar energy’s photo-voltaic (PV) modules are likely to leave behind 90 million metric tons of waste by 2050 each year, the hazardous impact to environment and health is, as yet, not adequately discernible.

 

Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace
Woman Washing Clothes in Chinese River | Source: Greenpeace

The concomitant environmental degradation is subject to measurable scrutiny, but nearly 80% of e-waste presently remains unaccounted for. Meanwhile, millions of tonnes are being shipped off to developing countries in Asia and Africa in a centre-periphery model that has existed for centuries. The Agbogbloshie dump near Ghana’s capital, Accra and Guiyu in China’s Guangdong Province are among the largest e-waste dumps in the world, with the Giuyu waste junkyard spanning 52 sq. km and more than 5000 family-run recycling workshops. In India, northern Delhi’s Seelampur is locked in a battle of noxious fumes in a city with the highest air pollution in the world.

 

Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace
Harmful Effects of e-Waste Dumping | Source: Greenpeace

Although “67 countries have enacted legislation to deal with the e-waste they generate” including India’s E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016, an increasingly developed world is characterized by new gadgets that are cheaper to purchase than repair. According to leading Right to Repair activist, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the trend is going to continue –  “Because the cost of manufacturing will drive those changes. People are competing on price at the retail level. So, you know, speaker A is a hundred dollars and speaker B is $200, and you can fix speaker B, but not A, Well, if you’re like everybody else, you could buy the cheaper one, right? Which is probably assembled with a lot more glue and a lot less mechanical fasteners, just because of the cost of manufacturing.”

 

With annual e-waste “equivalent to almost 4,500 Eiffel Towers,” the burgeoning Right to Repair movement is offering an alternative. While modern consumer culture engenders product disposability, 1,653 Repair Café groups held nearly 20000 meetings in 2018, repairing “more than 350,000 products” while preventing “around 350,000 kilograms of waste.” In India, the first Repair Café was organised in September 2015 by Purna Sarkar and Antara Mukherjee at Rangoli Metro Art Centre on MG Road, Bengaluru. According to graphic designer, Antara, “It’s a hands-on approach. Volunteers will help you with the repair, will tell you what could go wrong. Basically, get people interested… A direct way to apply your intellect.”

While the Indian Repair Café has not yet ventured into high-end electronic repair such as cameras, printers, and mobile phones, their 39 workshops have a 90% repair rate, with a landfill diversion of nearly 4300 kg. Most of the 1010 items at the Bengaluru workshops include kitchen equipment such as “mixies, grinders, hand blenders” and household items including “radios, cordless landline phones, and mosquito rackets.”

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

The Right to Repair Movement | Source: Great Lakes Electronic Corporation

 

India is ranked as the 5th highest generator worldwide for its yearly e-waste of 2 million tonnes which is expected to grow at a rate of 30% annually. Despite 178 registered e-waste recyclers in India, the informal sector forms an unorganized industry within this circular economy in clusters such as Shastri park, Seelampur, Mustafabad in Delhi, and Moradabad in UP. Open burning and acid stripping are involved in e-waste recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) such as PCBs (Printed Circuit Board).

 

 

As part of India’s e-waste strategy, “the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has developed indigenous technology at C-MET and Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET) for recovery of precious metals and plastics from e-waste respectively,” and implemented an awareness programme involving “more than 3 lakh participants during 600 workshops and activities.”

 

E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher
E-Waste Dismantling in Sangrampur | Source: Sean Gallagher

 

E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore
E-waste As a Resource | Source: Umicore

 

“More than 100 million computers are thrown away annually in the United States, with China discarding 160 million electronic devices a year,” according to The Energy and Resources Institute. Despite the Basel Ban Amendment for banning export of hazardous wastes becoming international law, countries that have not yet ratified the amendment include “Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the global leader in waste per-capita, the United States.” Simultaneously, the European Union recently passed legislation requiring manufacturers to adhere to ‘Right to Repair’ standards based on its ‘Energy efficiency first’ principle, while activists battle for similar legislation in the United States. For Gay Gordon-Byrne, “Legislation just takes a long time. That’s the number one challenge.”

 

While the Right to Repair movement gathers momentum worldwide, it is crucial that effective implementation of waste management legislation is as integrated as the global digital economy, very least, if there is to be any hope of reversing global environmental degradation and the resultant climate change tide!