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From Rubble to Riches: Unlocking the Hidden Value of C&D Waste in India

With India undergoing rapid economic development, the infrastructure industry in the country is experiencing a phenomenal boom. This growth, while bringing undeniable progress, is coming at a cost. Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste is a major environmental concern associated with infrastructure projects. India generates about 150 million tonnes of C&D waste annually, alone accounting for 35%-40% of the global C&D waste. What’s worse is that only 1% of the C&D waste produced is recycled with the rest ending up in landfills or in plain sight, contributing to air and water pollution. There is a clear need for EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) companies to address this environmental hazard. If done smartly, CXOs of EPC companies might even end up unlocking a new stream of opportunities while also bolstering the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) credentials of their businesses.

The Challenge: C&D Waste - A Looming Crisis

India is constructing its future at a great speed. In line with the country’s urbanisation demands and ambitions to be a developed nation by 2047, India needs to add 700-900 million square metres of commercial and residential space every year till 2030. This is going to lead to unprecedented levels of waste generation which, if left unchecked, can have devastating consequences for India’s ecological landscape. Unfortunately, India is already facing significant challenges in dealing with C&D waste.

  • Lack of Documentation: Information regarding waste generation is often not collected or stored electronically. Offline, fragmented datasets make it difficult to obtain a holistic picture.
  • Limited Awareness: Stakeholders often lack awareness of the need for monitoring C&D waste and its environmental impact. This leads to underestimation and inefficient management practices.
  • Policy Gaps: Policies are often based on inaccurate waste generation figures, hindering the development of a robust regulatory framework for C&D waste management.
  • Unauthorized Practices: Illegal dumping and burning of C&D waste are prevalent, posing environmental and health hazards.

A Wasteful Gap: Global Benchmarks and Where India Stands

Developed nations like Japan generate 780kg of C&D waste per capita annually. A significant amount, but far less than the staggering 190kg C&D waste per capita generated by Chennai alone. This stark comparison paints a troubling picture of India's C&D waste management practices.

The gap widens further when we look at recycling infrastructure. Netherlands has 120 C&D waste recycling facilities for its population of just 1.72 crore. Contrast that with India's mere 10 such facilities for a population of over 134 crore. 

This vast disparity between waste generation and recycling capacity brings to the fore a pressing need for action. By implementing innovative solutions, India can bridge this gap and unlock the immense potential hidden within C&D waste.

The Opportunity: Value in Every Tonne

C&D waste is not just a problem; it's a hidden opportunity.  By employing C&D waste recycling, EPC companies can transform this debris into a valuable resource. Recycled aggregates, derived from crushed concrete and bricks, can partially replace virgin materials in concrete mixes, leading to significant cost savings. 

Furthermore, C&D waste recycling offers a significant boost to a company's ESG profile. Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions associated with concrete production – a major contributor to a project's carbon footprint – can be considerably reduced. Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from a source) are lowered due to decreased production activity. Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions from purchased energy) come down as less energy is required to produce concrete using recycled aggregates. Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions from the entire supply chain) are also minimized as transportation needs for virgin materials are reduced.

In today's environmentally conscious world, a strong ESG profile is no longer just a feel-good metric; it's a business imperative. Investors increasingly prioritize sustainable practices, and adhering to ESG principles can unlock new funding opportunities and partnerships. A commitment to sustainability also resonates with clients who are increasingly seeking eco-friendly construction partners.

Building a Sustainable Future: A Roadmap for Success

The high cost of C&D waste recycling in India remains the biggest barrier, with simply collection of C&D waste accounting for 53% of total costs.

The average total cost is Rs 563.88/tonne, while revenue stands at a much lower Rs 300/tonne. This creates a significant gap of Rs 263/tonne, hindering profitability and discouraging investment in C&D waste recycling.

Thus, a pan-India C&D waste supply chain is needed that optimizes the total cost of ownership. Here’s how that can be made a reality.

  • Digital Data Lake: Enrolling infrastructure projects in a centralized digital platform can create a comprehensive database for C&D waste estimation. This data can be used for informed decision-making and resource allocation.
  • District-wise Classification: Marking districts based on C&D waste generation (high, moderate, low) allows for targeted resource allocation. Areas with high generation can benefit from dedicated infrastructure and manpower.
  • Hub-Spoke Model: Implementing a hub-spoke model for C&D waste collection in high-generation districts can improve efficiency and reduce transportation costs. Smaller collection centers serving as spokes can feed into a central processing hub.
  • Co-location with User Groups: Strategically co-locating C&D waste recycling plants with user groups such as sand & aggregates, mining & mineral ores, and wastewater management facilities can create a closed-loop system. Recycled materials can be directly utilized by these industries, minimizing transportation costs and environmental impact.
  • Site Aggregation: Aggregating multiple C&D waste collection and processing plants at a single site can lead to economies of scale and shared infrastructure, reducing operational costs.
  • Renewable Energy Integration: Installing utility-scale solar energy plants and storage systems at C&D waste recycling plants can significantly reduce reliance on grid power and ensure a sustainable operation.

There is reason to be hopeful that a robust roadmap such as this can actually drive results. Solid waste management can be looked at as a proxy in this regard. Solid waste processing in India has witnessed a significant rise from a mere 17% in 2014 to more than 77% in 2024. This goes to show that capabilities exist for better waste management in the country. It’s just a case of better planning and implementation.


C&D waste recycling presents a win-win proposition for EPC companies in India. By embracing this approach, companies can not only reduce costs and enhance their ESG profile but also contribute to building a more sustainable future for the construction industry. The roadmap outlined above provides a clear path forward, empowering EPC companies to unlock the immense value hidden within C&D waste. The time to act is now. By taking the lead in C&D waste recycling, EPC companies can ensure their continued success while leaving a positive impact on the environment.

(This article is authored by Partha S. Dash, Managing Director of New Business and Growth, Moglix.)