What rubbish, it’s money down the drain!

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS,

New Delhi : Rubbish is not rubbish, it’s just money being thrown away, says Colin Drummond, an entrepreneur from Britain who made his millions managing waste and generating electricity out of it.

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Drummond, who recently led a group of British experts in this field to India, said here that his company Viridor Waste is now making a profit of 45 million pounds ($88 million) on a 350- million pound annual turnover, by managing 87 cubic metres of landfill and generating 75 MW of energy from it, among other projects.

“Profit has grown by over 20 percent each year since 2000 and the market value (of the firm) has grown from 200 million pounds to over a billion pounds,” Drummond told a group of would-be entrepreneurs from around India.

If you ask the average Indian what the country’s biggest environmental problem is, he/she is likely to point to a garbage dump. The edge of every human settlement in India is strewn with solid waste. While others hold their noses, Drummond and his colleagues can smell money there.

“Of course there are some pre-requisites,” Drummond told IANS. “The waste has to be segregated. The landfill has to be lined.”

Once the segregation is done, the amount of garbage sent to a landfill decreases automatically. Britain reduced it from around 16 million tonnes in 2001 to less than 12 million tonnes in 2007 and aims to reduce it to five million tonnes by 2020.

At the same time, household recycling and composting rate in Britain has grown from 10 percent in 2001 and 26 percent in 2006 and the plan is to increase it to 50 percent by 2020, Drummond said.

Once the landfill gets segregated waste, it can generate energy both by conventional methods and by new ones such as pyrolysis and gasification, he added.

Power generation from landfill gas has increased six-fold in Britain to 4,424 Gigawatt Hours, said Drummond. “It represents 24 percent of total UK renewables, with energy from waste combustion a further six percent and anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge another three percent. And there is a corresponding reduction in methane emissions to the atmosphere.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Methane’s contribution to climate change is still relatively unstudied.

Other entrepreneurs in the British delegation were as enthusiastic about business in India as Drummond was.

Helen Fairfield would like to reiterate the benefits of compost with a little innovation. The firm she works for has developed a compact composting unit that can handle all the fruit and vegetable waste from Manchester’s wholesale market on the spot, something that would be very handy in the major markets spread around India, she pointed out.

Shantanu Banerjee, who works in Britain-based firm Enviros, has designed landfills that can provide energy and clean water in Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Africa. He would now like to do the same in the land of his birth and says he now knows the special problems of designing landfills in the tropics.

“Every sizeable landfill site in the UK generates power. There is no reason why a similar success story cannot happen in India,” Banerjee said.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])