Q&A: Indian Summer

Norman Grundon, chairman of Grundon Waste Management, and Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, recently returned from a fact-finding mission to India, where they sought opportunities to share Grundon’s knowledge and technology within the waste sector. Neil tells us more…

Q. What attracted you to India in the first place?

A. It’s no secret that at Grundon we have ambitions on the wider global stage so, when we were given the chance to visit India and tour the JCB India factory, we jumped at the chance. The Indian Government is making great strides in terms of transforming the country into a world-class manufacturing hub and JCB is one of the companies at the forefront of that growth. To be able to visit and see how they make it work successfully was too good an opportunity to miss.

Q. What did you learn from the way JCB operate there?

A. JCB has been in India since 1979, first with a joint venture agreement before taking full control of its operations in 2003. Now it is India’s market leader for construction equipment and is doing a great deal to develop both the Indian home market and the wider Asian market.

We were very impressed with how the operation is run, it is very autonomous and puts a great deal of investment not just into the factory and operating systems, but also its workforce.

Inward investment has clearly been very important and that has created both jobs in India and in the UK as employees from the various functions in each country have been able to share ideas and work together to support each other.

We could also see how important JCB’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) role is, investing in schools, education and diversity programmes, apprenticeships and healthcare for its employees and their families. These are all values which Grundon shares and it was very encouraging to see the results in action.

Q. Tell us about the waste industry in India. What did you find out?

A. The biggest surprise was just how little waste there was per person. In 2015, the country’s population was 1.3 billion people, and because most items have a recycling value, literally very little goes to waste. Put simply, if something is worth money, then someone will be there to collect it, sell it on or make it into something else. That’s a lesson we could certainly learn from in our more throwaway society.

Q. So what does go to waste?

A. Interestingly, a lot of organic waste is discarded – things like vegetable matter, coconut husks and leaves – and also plastic bags and bottles, which seem to be a real scourge. There is a ‘clean street’ policy, which is good on the one hand, but the problem is that shopkeepers employ people to sweep their shopfront and, because those things have no perceived value, they are usually burnt. Uncontrolled burning was probably the greatest issue that we came across, creating air pollution and likely contamination of groundwater, so it is a serious health risk.

As the population grows and land and resources become more scarce, the problem needs to be taken care of.

Q. What is the alternative and how would it work?

A. The most obvious answer would be to persuade people that there is a value to the items they are burning, and the best way to do that is to encourage them to take the items to landfill and be rewarded for their efforts. By monetising landfill disposal, you would be building a value chain and help to stop the indiscriminate burning.

I see digital technology, social media and mobile phones as a way to spread that message. In time, I think it could also start to include deposit systems for items, such as the way our sister company GreenRedeem works in rewarding those who recycle glass and plastic cans and bottles etc.

Q. Aren’t landfills a backward step? What about Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities or similar?

A. We have extensive knowledge and expertise in landfill management and we’re keen to share that information. The key is creating the value chain from landfill disposal back to the street, as well as introducing the firm regulation on the uncontrolled burning of waste.

If we can export our skills and introduce positive change to the local market, for example by supporting and encouraging the teams of street cleaners to charge for the disposal, as well as the removal of the waste they take to landfill, that has to be a step in the right direction for the environment, and helps to raise awareness of Grundon’s branding and expertise.

As to EfWs, from our initial trip, we think that currently it would be quite difficult to find land which is close enough to urban areas but also easy to reach through such busy roads. It might be very difficult to be able to generate and transport the sheer volume of waste that you need to put through these facilities to make them viable.

However, we think that in such a fast-paced and dynamic economy such as India, as infrastructure develops, so zoning for future EfW facilities should be considered.

It’s not about imposing ideas and facilities, but about understanding what works best for a local market, and at present, that looks like landfills, it’s just a question of utilising them more productively.

Q. What other opportunities do you see?

A. I think there are several – the first of which would be to look more closely at hazardous and clinical waste disposal and the potential impact of current disposal methods on the environment. Having our own Hazardous Waste Transfer Station means we have a great deal of expertise in terms of disposing of all types of hazardous, chemical, healthcare and industrial waste, and we would be very interested to understand more about opportunities to share our innovative ideas and knowledge in the local market.

For example, we recently opened a new £3 million state-of-the-art aerosol recycling plant which enables us to recycle all the component parts of an aerosol. It’s attracted a great deal of interest from some of the major pharmaceutical companies and by next year, we’ll also have installed an on-site power generator to use the recovered propellant from those aerosols. That’s the sort of innovative idea we hope would be well received.

We are also experts at legislation compliance and, such time as new rules on disposal are introduced, we are well placed to advise companies on the measures they need to take.

Elsewhere, I see waste collection vehicles as another area of opportunity. Any business which could come up with an India-specific dustcart, which is both small and nimble enough to get around the very crowded roads; powered by clean fuel, such as electricity or hydrogen, should do well.

Introducing a regional waste management collection system would then lead to economies of scale whereby equipment such as balers could be introduced, which would again push materials up the value chain.

Q. So what happens next?

A. We’re taking a team of eight to IFAT India in September in Mumbai. It’s the leading environmental trade fair for refuse and recycling, as well as water and sewage, and our goal is two-fold.

We want to showcase our expertise and promote the Grundon brand, but we also see it as a platform to meet possible Indian business partners who we can talk to and see how we may be able to work together.

Having seen how well it works for JCB, it could mean anything from manufacturing equipment in India to sharing our skills, and bringing new ideas back to the UK. Clearly there is a great deal of research to be done, but we are very excited about it.

Q. How would you sum up this first visit?

A. Phenomenal and with great potential. The standard of the hospitality and service was outstanding, we came away filled with ideas and enthusiasm and can’t wait to return to find out more.

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