Waste to Resource: Briefing note CSE warns cities are choking on and because of their own construction and demolition (C&D) waste with serious environmental consequences


  • CSE calls for immediate solutions to recycle and reuse this waste to substitute material mined from nature and prevent damage to water bodies, land, public spaces and green areas

  • Sustainable Building experts at CSE ask why there are no provisions explicitly dealing with C&D waste management in the draft Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2013, even when 2010 Working Committee Report on Municipal Solid Waste Management recommended to address the C&D waste for its collection, utilisation  and safe disposal in MSWM Rules, 2000  amendments?

  • The government must immediately notify standards for this material; use legal provisions on use of alternative material in the interim; make developers responsible for good construction practices, onsite segregation of waste, reuse and disposal; and impose waste tax to minimize waste generation

New Delhi, December 23, 2013: While construction necessitates enormous amount of construction material that accounts for about half of all materials used, it is also responsible for generating about half of the solid waste that degrades the land and environment. Given the fact that 70 per cent of the buildings that will stand in India in 2030 are yet to be built, this environmental cost will only compound with the anticipated construction boom unless immediate steps are taken to recycle and reuse construction waste and turn it  into a resource.

This message came out strongly and overarchingly at the daylong conference on “Waste to Resource” jointly organised by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) and Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi today. This meeting brought together the key stakeholders including the Union ministry of urban development (MoUD), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), National Council for Cement and Building Materials (NCCBM), Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), leading municipalities from different cities, experts and members of civil society. The discussions focused on the environmental challenges and solutions associated with construction and demolition of buildings. 

The highlights of the discussions are as follow: 

i. Building material crisis and environmental concern: The recent controversy over sand mining has put the spotlight on the need to recycle, reuse and substitute naturally sourced building material to reduce demand for it.  

Indiscriminate sand mining has caused extensive damage to the environment, scarred rivers and made many areas susceptible to floods. The crucial recharge zone that holds water to slowly seep it out into the surroundings for use has been destroyed. This disturbs the ecology and destroys fish habitats. In 2012, the Supreme Court asked state governments to amend the rules to regulate mining of minor minerals and to ensure environmental management. In August 5, 2013 the National Green Tribunal (NGT) declared sand mining without environmental clearance illegal. 

The Union Ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation alerted the Rajya Sabha in 2012 about the shortage of building material especially for aggregates and concrete owing to mining bans/restrictions on environmental grounds. The shortage has been so severe that several civic projects in India are facing delays. This is aggravating the housing crisis and affecting the construction of roads, bridges, canals, etc. If sand mining and other naturally sourced material have to be restricted and regulated, other strategies must be put in place to reduce demand.  

ii. How much C&D waste does India generate? CSE reveals gross underestimation: There is no systematic data base on C&D waste. There are bulk generators and small generators which include demolished structures, renovations in the real estate sector as well as construction and repair of roads, flyovers, bridges, etc. There are also small household and commercial enterprises. In addition to this is enormous debris generated as a result of disasters related destruction as witnessed during the Uttarakhand floods or the Bhuj earthquake in the past. 

In India way back in 2001, Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) in its report on C&D waste stated that the quantum of solid waste generation in India is about 48 million tonnes per annum of which waste from the construction industry accounts for 25 per cent or 12 –14.7 million tonnes per annum. Oddly, this estimate done in 2000 has not changed in the official documents. The Union MoUD in 2000 estimates 10-12 million tonnes of C&D waste annually which also finds mention in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) report of 2010. However, the Performance Audit of “Management of Waste in India” by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2008 noted, “No estimates or even guesstimates exist for construction and demolition waste” in the country. According to CSE, managing a problem of unknown magnitude will be even more challenging. 

CSE appraisal shows gross underestimation of C&D waste in the country: According to CSE estimates, since 2005 India has newly constructed 5.75 billion square metres (sqm) of additional floor space, with almost 1 billion sqm in 2013 itself. 

If according to TIFAC’s thumb rule, a new construction generates 40-60 kg of C&D waste per sqm, then supposing an average of 50 kg per sqm, India must have generated 50 million tonnes of C&D waste this year alone and about 287 million tonnes over the last 8 years. This will continue to increase at the same rate without regulations. This estimate only accounts for new construction. Demolition and renovation/repair work related waste of the older stock generates additional waste and waste generated per sqm of demolition is 10 times the waste generated due to construction. 

Assuming that the entire existing building stock underwent some sort of repair or renovation, if not complete demolition (that generates in 300-500 kg of waste per sqm), then according to the TIFAC thumb rule of 40-50 kg per sqm of waste generation for repair, India must have generated an average of 576 million tonnes of C&D waste in 2013. Thus, the total C&D waste generated by buildings alone in 2013 amounts to 626 million tonnes, 52 times higher than official estimate. If C&D waste generated by infrastructure projects like road, dams, etc. is also added, then India is already drowning in its C&D waste, This is more than nine times the estimated municipal solid waste generated by urban India. 

Where is the bulk of this C&D waste going? A lot of this waste is being used by land sharks to illegally fill up water bodies and wetlands around urban centres for real estate development or is just being dumped in rivers and open spaces. 

iii. Can we transform this waste into a resource? There is global evidence that C&D waste can be recycled and reused to large extent in the construction process itself and environmental degradation and pressure on land can be minimised. Mature technologies are also available. Even in India, small steps have been taken to start this process but on a very limited scale in Delhi and Mumbai.  

• The Delhi experience: Delhi is estimated to generate about 4600 tonnes per day (TPD) of C&D waste. In collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), a pilot project has been developed by IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd (IEISL) to demonstrate the potential of collection and recycling of C&D waste at Burari in Delhi. 

IEISL is collecting 500 TPD of C&D waste from three designated zones of the Delhi—. Karol Bagh, Sadar Paharganj Zone and City. This is recycled into aggregates which are converted to Ready Mix Concrete (RMC), pavement blocks, kerb stones and concrete bricks. The products have been tested in various laboratories and found to be suitable for the specific purposes. These products are being sold. Due to the heterogeneous nature of the incoming C&D waste, IEISL had to constantly fine tune the production process as well as the technology adopted for recycling. IEISL collected approximately 4.5 lakhs tonnes of C&D waste during 2010-12.

However, the products manufactured by the recycling plant are finding no takers due to lack of information and the absence of Indian Standards.  

• The Mumbai experience: Way back in 1999, a decentralised solution for debris management was promoted by the Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) in Navi Mumbai and was support by City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO). The collaboration led to the recycling of over 1,500 tonnes of waste during 2002-06. But the Cidco Yuva Building Centre (CYBC) was forced to shut down in 2012 as it failed to receive policy or market support. 

iv. Policy roadblocks

Recycling and reuse of C&D waste has remained a limited in scope and economically nonviable in India because of a policy muddle. 

Extremely weak national laws on C&D waste: C&D waste finds a brief mention in the Schedule III of the rule for separate collection in the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) (MSWM) Rules, 2000. This is extremely inadequate and needs immediate amendment. Additionally there is only a ‘‘Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management’’ of the Union MoUD, 2000 that includes a chapter on C&D waste, that gives basic guideline on its handling

The Working Sub-Group on Construction & Demolition Waste was constituted by the Union MoEF committee to evolve a roadmap for management of solid waste. It recommended in 2010 it is necessary to generate data on C&D Waste, segregate C&D waste at source, develop institutional mechanisms for waste collection, reuse and reprocess, impose charges on C&D waste generators, formulate standards for C&D waste, amend MSWM Rules, 2000 to address the C&D waste for its collection, utilisation  and safe disposal. However, these recommendations are ignored in the draft Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules of 2013 by the MoEF. 

No legal framework for reuse of C&D waste: Though a number of innovative cost-effective recycled building materials, components and construction techniques have been developed through extensive research and are available in market, the Indian housing and building agencies have not adopted them in their construction practices because of policy hurdles. Lack of standardisation, not listing these techniques and material in Indian Standard Codes and/or Schedule of Rates, poor policy push and lack of awareness are the key barriers. 

Indian laws permit use of only “naturally sourced” building material: The IS: 323-1970, Indian standard specification related to aggregates for concrete states that these should be from natural sources or as it states “naturally sourced”. Thus only virgin materials (sand, aggregate) mined directly from nature can be used. This does not allow the use of recycled or reused components. Thus, any use of recycled aggregate becomes illegal’.  CSE calls for urgent amendment of the standard.

Use of alternative material is possible based on studies by designated authorities: There are other avenues to absorb these alternative products.  For instance, the BMTPC, an apex body that promotes development and use of innovative building materials and technologies, has an innovative scheme called “Performance Appraisal Certification Scheme” (PACS). The products manufactured using recycled waste can be certified for use under this scheme. . The notification by the Union Ministry of urban development & poverty alleviation under PACS notes that any new product, system or technique not covered so far by BIS Code may be certified after detailed evaluation. It has used its power to certify new construction material based on scientific studies, as in the case of products made out of bamboo. 

Leverage technical studies of designated agencies to speed up certification: For standardisation of alternative material, BIS requires designated agencies like CBRI, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), NCCBM, etc to carry out studies according to their criteria to assess suitability of the material. Such studies have been carried out but these have not yet led to policy action. 

For instance, CBRI research has advanced to establish compliance with the IS codes. Other premium institutions like IITs have also carried our research and found recycled material fall within the range of IS norms. According to CSE experts, it is important to leverage these findings quickly and develop a roadmap for use of recycled material.  

Explore revision of schedule of rates of material for procurement by state construction agencies to facilitate uptake of recycled material: There is precedence of use of alternative new material like insulation products, by including them in the schedule of rates of products of the user agencies, based on the available test studies of other non-government agencies. In this manner Central Public Works Department (CPWD) has adopted new insulation material based on an available study. This was done as no BIS standard was available. It is important to explore to what extent it is possible to adopt such a mechanism for recycled material for non- structural construction. 

There is a precedent set by the induction of exception clauses for the use of fly ash during the manufacturing of building materials. Though this process took almost 30 years, it has greatly benefited the environment. According to CSE, adoption for recycled C&D waste will have to be done quicker and it is essential to find a quick legal solution. 

Need proactive municipal action in cities: There is enormous scope for the municipalities to play a proactive role. For instance, the Solid Waste management cell of Government of Maharashtra has included C&D waste in their action plan. The plan includes a provision on separate collection of debris and bulk waste. 

Each city needs to have its own system for collection and disposal of waste from bulk waste producers and construction debris. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) came out with the Construction & Demolition & De-silting waste (Management & Disposal) Rules 2006, one of its kind in India. Pune also followed suit. However, implementation  remains a challenge. CSE experts say Greater Mumbai and Pune have set the precedent for municipalities across the country to be proactive in framing regulation and these measures in an aggressive fashion as done globally. And now is the need to follow up and aggressively implement these measures.

v. Global best practices show the way

Globally cities have employed the legal process to maximise reuse of C&D waste in construction. 

The CSE review of global best practices is as follows:. 

• Hong Kong which has serious land constraints and therefore cannot afford landfills has very stringent controls over C&D waste. Hong Kong imposes construction waste charge on developers. The system has lowered the quantity of C&D waste needing disposal at landfill by 60 per cent. 

• Rates have been structured to to incentivise on-site recycling and reuse. 100 per cent waste utilisation is charged at $27 (HKD) per tonne while more than 50 per cent waste needing landfill disposal is charged at $125 per tonne. Revenue generated is used to maintain and subsidise C&D waste recycling centres. This has created incentives for reuse and also for very efficient construction practices that minimise the generation of construction debris. Instead of demolishing structures, they dismantle systematically. It also offers tax concession to the C&D recycling centres. 

• Singapore yet another land constrained country that recycles 98 per cent of its C&D waste.

• South Korea has one of the most extensive and the oldest recycling policy for C&D waste. C&D waste management is part of their Low Carbon Green Growth strategies. The country has a law on Acceleration of C&D waste reuse/recycling 2005 that provides for step-bystep demolition, utilisation of recycled aggregates. They have adopted separate building codes for recycled asphalt concrete aggregates , recycled concrete aggregates, and road pavements. The Architectural Institute of Korea Standard Building Construction Specifications recommends increased use of recycled C&D material. Effective recycling rate in Korea is 36 per cent with a target of increasing this to 45 per cent by 2016. 

• In the European Union there are clear rules regarding the use of recycled material in buildings. EU 2004 regulations in the form of European Standards for Aggregates explicitly provides for “aggregates from natural, recycled, and manufactured material”. It focuses on fitness of use and does not discriminate between resources. While it is not used in the structural and foundation frame, but are extensively used in non-structural frameworks. Some member countries have reported that over 20 per cent of their national consumption is from recycled material. 

• United Kingdom: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has published “The Quality Protocol for the Production of Aggregates from Inert Waste in 2004”. This helped promote use of recycled and secondary aggregates. Almost 280 million tonnes of aggregates are used every year which is 28 per cent of the C&D waste. 

• In the US, New York City has stringent measures for C&D waste as it is land locked and has limited space for its disposal. Its disposal practices are more efficient than the rest of the US. It forces the developers to segregate waste at site, dismantle and not demolish in addition to other measures. .   

In fact the review of the global best practice by the MoEF appointed committee in 2010 shows that in Scotland about 63 per cent was recycled in 2000. Denmark and Netherlands have an aggressive strategy to reuse C&D waste. The Netherlands has found that 80 per cent of its C&D waste is bricks and concrete that can be recycled to minimise pressure on land. 

In Japan, way back in 2000, about 95 per cent of waste concrete was crushed and reused as roadbed and backfilling material, 98 per cent of asphalt and concrete and 35 per cent of sludge was recycled. 

Creative steps in India: Even though legal reform is taking long in India, several creative architects have taken steps to reuse waste in their buildings. For instance, there is the example of a school building in Rajkot designed by Ahmedabad based architect Surya Kakani that has been built from the debris of Bhuj earthquake. The  Institute of Rural Research and Development (IRRAD) building in Gurgaon has innovatively recycled and utilised its own construction waste in the building itself. But these are limited steps and CSE recommends that they will have to be encouraged with policy and fiscal support.

This is particularly relevant for the infrastructure necessary for development like roads, flyovers, pavements, etc. In fact, the attempt to use recycled material from the Burari centre in New Delhi during the Commonwealth Games faced opposition as these materials are not backed by standards as yet. This mindset will have to change urgently. Globally, the strength these materials has been proven, it meets other other requirements and is being used extensively. There is no reason why India cannot follow suit. 

Way forward in India according to CSE

Amend BIS code to include both “naturally sourced” as well as recycled material: The terminology “naturally sourced” needs to change to include recycled material as well. The precedent has already been set up by induction of exception clauses for fly ash usage into manufacturing of building materials. Research and development is already in advanced stages in nation’s premier institutes. These researches should be leveraged quickly to formulate standards and hasten the process. 

Promote alternative material in buildings: In the interim, devise BMTPC’s innovative scheme such as PACS that allows new product, system or technique related to housing/building not covered so far by BIS to be certified after detailed evaluation. Construction agency or authority may include a material in their schedule of rates if backed by a test study based on BIS criteria. Promote alternative material for non structural use as an interim measure till the time standards are in place. 

Revise CPWD SOR to include products made out of recycled C&D waste: Using publicly available scientific study by premium institutes like Indian Institute of Technology - Kanpur CPWD should revise its SOR to allow use of products like paver blocks and flooring tiles made out of recycled C&D waste immediately. This will ensure market development for the recycled products making it economically viable for recyclers and reduce subsidy burden on civic bodies.

Include explicit provision on collection, disposal, and reuse of C&D waste in the draft Municipal Solid Waste and Management Rules of 2013

Promote efficient construction management practices to minimise waste: National regulations and municipal rules need to push for optimised use of building space and materials, waste prevention, use of recycled content, on-site segregation, collection and disposal system. BIS is currently developing Indian Standard Guidelines for Construction Project Management. Expedite the process for implementation. 

Promote use of alternative material in other infrastructure: Experiments by CRRI have shown that it is possible to use C&D waste for road and embankment construction and pavements. This must be included in the roadmap of all infrastructure construction agencies. 

Set up a system and infrastructure for collection and disposal of C&D waste and recycling centres with appropriate technologies

Need tax policies for waste generation and reuse to minimise waste and prevent unsafe disposal: ,Introduce taxation for waste generation to create incentive for waste minimisation. 

India needs urgent intervention to protect its land, water, public space and environment from the egregious construction expected to explode with the urban boom. Policy delay is no longer an option. 


For more details, please get in touch Avikal Somvanshi, Sustainable Buildings Team at avikal@cseindia.org/09871933410. For interview requests, please contact Sheeba Madan, Media Resource Centre at sheeba@cseindia.org/08860659190