Interviews

In waste management, we grew from 300 tonne...

September 2012
Dr Irfan Furniturewala, Chief Promoter, Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt Ltd

Its mission is simple: recycle, reuse and reduce! In a country like India, where about 141,000 tonne of waste is generated and collected everyday across 459 cities, Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt Ltd handles about 10,000 tonne in 20 cities. Supporting this activity is a unique technology and an eight-year background in converting municipal solid waste (MSW) into organic compost, green fuel, sand and plastic ingots.

In fact, the company recently received the Golden Peacock Award 2012 for 'Eco-Innovation in Waste Management and Recycling'. Dr Irfan Furniturewala, Chief Promoter of the company discusses its activities in Tier-II and -III cities and benefits to townships in conversation with Shriyal Sethumadhavan

Traditionally, you were involved in real estate and leasing of multiplexes in malls as well as textiles. What led you to Hanjer?
Our textile business dealt with short fibres and kitty dust of about 10 tonne per day was generated; we would pay people to dispose it off. We began to see this as an opportunity and conducted a trial to convert the dust; it resulted in good quality compost. But then, it was a homogenous raw material of kitty dust, whereas now we process heterogeneous raw material in garbage. Then, the question was: where we will get this waste for free? The answer was garbage. Around the same time, in 2000, the government introduced the MSW rules with which a defined method and guidelines were introduced to mandatorily manage MSW in cities. After analysing and understanding where all the country's waste is going, we eventually initiated this company.

What are your offerings?
We recycle waste made up of four fractions. The first is the wet organic fraction, which is food waste and goes into making manure or organic fertiliser. This is sold to fertiliser companies as a complementing product of urea. The second is the dry organic fraction, which is converted into green RDF for heating boilers by industrial companies. The green RDF is further processed by gasification technology to improve its calorific value and reduce moisture content thereby making a higher quality fuel to replace conventional fossils fuel in boilers like imported coal and used for renewable applications. This replaces lignite and Indian coal in a big way. Thirdly, plastic is separated and recycled to liquid RDF and ingots. And lastly, with cities being largely in the development stage, incomplete paving leads to a lot of construction debris becoming waste. The processed remnant material is further treated (in current operating plants) to extract any other form of recyclables such as sand. This can be used to supplement dredged sand used in construction.

Tell us about your green technology.
With the primary objective to reduce, we have modified the global hierarchy of 'reduce, reuse and recycle' to 'recycle, reuse and reduce'. We generate useful products that can be reused in different applications, and therefore reduce the landfill to below 20 per cent. Automatic segregation techniques are used for separating different fractions and modified technologies that suit Indian waste conditions are further applied to compost and RDF. However, the composting technique for wet organic waste is a 100-year-old European technology that cannot be applied to Indian waste as their waste category is completely different to ours. Hence, we use green technologies to recycle, wherein we do not burn to diminish, but collect through the resource, separate it and offer a value product.

As you do not charge the municipality, how do you benefit?
In cities like Delhi, the cost of waste amounts to Rs 700 per tonne per day. If added, this works out to close to Rs 50 lakh per day in Delhi. But we do not charge the municipal corporation because we want to treat it as a sustainable business and not depend on revenues from corporations. Therefore, we focus more on getting recyclables of saleable quality.

How much waste is generated in a city in India?
Ideally, a city with a population of 1 million will have around 300 tonne per day and an average of 315 gram is the Indian standard. This waste is delivered to our site and we minimise it by recycling. Eventually, what remains is below 10 per cent biodegradable content, of which 20 per cent is waste.

Your activities also benefit the construction industry...
We can be very suitable for townships. Today, all the waste from townships – being built within the city limits or on the periphery – goes to the municipal corporation. Hence, in a way, we are already handling it. But, like we do in cities, we are looking at making smaller plants. So, big townships at the outskirts can adopt smaller versions of our plants to maintain their waste in a more environment-friendly manner. Fertilisers for green zones, fuel for running small power units based on the generator, etc, can be generated. But the township will have to incur the expenses of operating it jointly. As the minimum economic size is 150 tonne per day, it is most suitable for a population of 5 lakh. Hence, even putting up a plant for a population of 10,000 would be at a cost of infrastructure for the builder.

How affordable is this for a developer?
If you aim at getting a green building registration for a complex and want to buy organic food, you should be aware of its expenses and be prepared accordingly. So once that kind of an understanding comes in, it is not very expensive.

You also have plans to generate green power...
We believe in producing renewable energy from waste such as dry organic fraction, the burning of which does not create any environment hazard. At present, we are developing a 15 MW, RDF-based power plant in Gujarat. It will be operational around September to December 2013, and we are expecting a further reduction in landfill to below 10 per cent. Currently, the green RDF manufactured in our processing plants in Surat, Bhavnagar and Baroda is sold to boilers in the open market. This will eventually be consolidated and put in this power plant. The energy generated will go to power distribution companies and the state of Gujarat. This will definitely help Gujarat fulfil its renewable energy obligation.

What is your current reach?
Despite working out of 10 states and 20 cities, we have been able to distribute our products in over 16 states. We work with the municipal corporations of Amritsar, Shimla, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gwalior, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Vadodara, Surat, Asansol, Shakarpur, Gulbarga, Salem, etc.

Tier-II and -III cities seem to be your target...
We initially selected Rajkot considering the waste generated depending on the population. We travelled across India to know of similar initiatives and realised that attempts were made for 20 tonne to 2,000 tonne per day. This did not seem viable and we zeroed at 300 tonne per day as a sizeable amount to handle. Also, the municipal corporation needed a solution but did not have the money. It was a simple business model and Tier-II and -III cities had limited resources to be deployed at the most essential services for the city. They required companies to provide such plants at the earliest, but at no cost. Hence, we decided to operate in them.

How do you see the company's growth rate in FY12?
We have already started foraying into the metros with cities such as Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. In terms of waste management, we grew from 300 tonne in 2006 to 9,000 tonne per day in 2011. We intend to grow at about 2,000 tonne a year, which will include organic growth of our own cities as well as newer cities.

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