Green engineering has pioneered many discoveries for continuous improvement of the environment we live in. Their benefits extend across a spectrum of fields including, but not limited to, disposal and treatment of waste, ensuring efficient energy sources and use and processes directed to reducing emissions.

However, green engineering and innovations related to the field are not restricted to the experts in the field of environmental engineering. Yes, it would be great if everyone could own a hi-tech composting machine to manage their food wastes but it may not be the most practical solution to expect everyone to invest in one. It isn’t just about the mammoth engineering marvels—under the green engineering umbrella, the smaller feats of engineering sciences are included too. These could be new innovations directed to a specific issue or ‘recycling’ an idea to solve a problem. It could be a suggestion to alter a building’s plumbing to recycle water in addition to maintaining their rainwater harvesting system. It could include switching to a digital system of storing your documents instead of printing and wasting paper and electricity. Anything that keeps trash from piling up in the landfills, using simple engineering at the grassroot level to boost waste management systems is also green engineering.

The goal of green engineering as a discipline is to create cost-effective and feasible technologies and processes aimed towards reducing pollution, reducing hazard to human populations, improved energy use, all while being economically viable.

With the Swachh Bharat mission underway since 2014, there has been a small but palpable change in the way waste management has been handled. There have been a number of innovations in the field of waste management in our country. Based on the efforts, these companies and their innovations have been categorized as such:

  1. Converting wastes into a source of energy

-       Green Fuel for Cement Production

The Indian government and the Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA) started an initiative to use waste that would have made its way to landfills to produce a green fuel to replace fossil fuel derived energy in the cement manufacturing process. An approximate 75 million tonnes of waste has been already redirected to create this green fuel which has a significantly lower carbon impact as compared to fossil fuels.

-       POLYCRACK Indian Railways waste to energy plant

In January 2020, the Indian Railways commissioned a waste-to-energy plant employing a patented heterogeneous catalytic process technology called POLYCRACK which is a self-reliant system to convert waste to energy.

The wastes could include all types of unsegregated Municipal Solid Waste of up to 50% moisture content, plastics, e-waste, organic waste and even petroleum sludge. Its closed-loop mechanism prevents the escape of hazardous pollutants. The end products are hydrocarbon liquid fuels, gas, carbon and water, all of which can be used to generate energy.

-       Durogreen

Durogreen works on the mantra of converting waste to zero waste. Their end-to-end waste management service begins with creating an awareness of waste treatment, training manpower regarding waste treatment and manufacturing composting machines at affordable rates to convert wet waste to manur too.

2. Making the most of your trash

-       Gem Enviro Management

GEM is an end-to-end waste management company which facilitates the recycling of packaged wastes- right from their collection and aggregation from pan-India sources to recycling, marketing and branding the goods created of the recycled materials. Their range of recycled green goods include t-shirts, bags, toys and blankets to name a few.

-       Wealth out of Waste (WOW), Ahmedabad

WOW starts their process off with door-to-door dry recyclable trash collection and segregation. They function as modern-day kabadiwalas (junk dealers) offering value to your waste. One man’s waste, another man’s treasure- but here, you get to pocket your profits!

3. An innovative collection and disposal technology

-       Floating Trash Barrier from AlphaMERS

Water pollution is a big problem worldwide- and add to that the sheer abundance of single-use plastics! The Floating Trash Barrier made of high tensile strength steel and aluminium from AlphaMERS is designed to control trash found in water bodies. They are more cost-effective to operate than skimmer systems already in existence too!

-       E-Waste Bins

Another category of wastes that proves to be potentially problematic is electronic wastes. The use-and-throw lifestyle that we are accustomed to now creates larger volumes of e-wastes than ever before. They get dumped in landfills which is problematic given that they are non-biodegradable and a potential source of toxic effluxes.

E-waste bins installed by Saahas and Ensyde in Bengaluru allow people to deposit their electronic goods which are of no use to them any longer to be recycled, thereby preventing it from ending up in the landfills.

What waste management system do we have in place in India, at the moment?

Starting from the source—is the waste being efficiently segregated, to begin with? Whether it is to separate recyclable wastes or recover resources from the waste, this is a crucial step that we seem to be overlooking. This is something that must be stressed upon: households or other units need to learn to segregate their own waste before putting it out for collection.

Enter India’s informal garbage segregation and recycling sector. A breath of fresh air in this entire foul-smelling, failing process is the informal recycling sector that seems to exist, surprisingly pan-India. These include the garbage pickers and collectors who rid homes and offices of their waste (for measly sums of money) only to pick out what can be recycled and sold. However, lacking formal training and education on waste segregation as well as personal protective equipment, they are often exposed to disease and harm.

Post-segregation, all waste should be stored in a safe manner before being collected formally and transported to a centre where it can be aptly treated. This would mostly be concealed bins to maintain a level of hygiene. However, it has been observed that the numbers of bins do not match the population residing in an area resulting in an overflow of garbage. This becomes even more of an issue during the monsoon when trash plays its part in blocking and littering rainwater outlets.

Yes, most municipal authorities have solid waste management collection systems in place but where this waste gets eventually dumped is a question that remains unasked. Most of the waste (a lot of which may actually be recyclable) gets dumped into landfills, which happen to be hotspots of toxins and greenhouse gases. India is soon running out of land for landfills too. Is this entire system of waste disposal, collection and management in India perfect? Far from. But with the small innovations and feats of green engineering, we’re taking steps towards the right path.

Transporting wastes, usually in trucks, follow a pretty efficient system in most cities. However, in a few other places, these trucks collecting trash are often open resulting in trash falling out easily and littering the streets even more, defeating its very purpose.

Given the innovations in the fields of green engineering and the advancements in a more environmentally-friendly approach to waste management, a zero-waste future could be a possible reality for India not too long from now.