An efficient waste management ecosystem is crucial to manage the huge waste generated in India’s new energy push

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An efficient waste management ecosystem is crucial to manage the huge waste generated in India’s new energy push

  • In the Budget speech this year, the Finance Minister emphasised the role of cleaner technologies such as solar energy and batteries in India’s future economic growth.
  • She also mentioned the importance of transitioning to a circular economy.

Market estimates

  • The call for a circular economy is significant since an efficient waste management ecosystem would be necessary to manage the enormous waste generated by renewable energy projects in the coming decades.
  • According to the IRENA, an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future the cumulative waste generated by India’s total installed solar capacity could be as high as 325 kilotonnes by 2030.
  • A circular economy could also partially insulate these industries from potential supply chain shocks triggered by extraneous developments.
  • A robust renewables waste management and recycling ecosystem could help people and India reduce environmental harm, provide energy security, and also create new jobs.

Steps to nurture a circular economy in the Indian renewable energy industry:

  • A clear framework: Policymakers should revise existing electronic waste management rules to bring various clean energy components under their ambit.
  • It should clearly define the responsibilities of various stakeholders involved in the renewable energy value chain and provide annual targets for the collection and recycling of waste.
  • Current rules are based on extended producer responsibility that identifies component producers as responsible entities to manage their waste products.
  • The Indian renewable energy industry has a complex structure that comprises various manufacturers, assemblers, importers and distributors.
  • The dumping and burning of different components should be banned.
  • Currently, in the absence of any regulation, landfilling is the cheapest and most common practice to manage renewable energy waste.
  • However, it is not environmentally sustainable.
  • All clean energy technologies thrive on metals and non-metals with different levels of toxicity.
  • If the waste equipment is dumped in the open, then these elements could leach into the environment and enter the food chain.
  • Further, burning the polymeric encapsulant layer in solar photovoltaic modules releases toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide and some volatile organic compounds.

R&D is essential

  • Recycling is a multistep process that includes dismantling, disassembly, and extraction.
  • It is largely a manual process that is sometimes automated.
  • Disassembly can be done mechanically, thermally or chemically.
  • Besides these traditional methods, investments in research and development could help discover new ways of recycling that result in higher efficiency and a less environmentally damaging footprint.
  • Industries should also explore technology transfers with global recycling firms for establishing domestic waste recycling facilities.

Focus on finance, quality

  • Innovative financing: Access to finance is a major roadblock for players in the recycling ecosystem.
  • The central government should nudge public and private sector banks to charge lower interest rates on loans disbursed for setting up renewable energy waste recycling facilities.
  • Assurance of a minimum waste quantum to run these facilities and issuing performance-based green certificates to recyclers that could be traded to raise money for waste management would also help ease the financial burden.
  • A market for recycled materials could also be created through mandatory procurement by renewable energy and other relevant manufacturing industries.
  • Improvement in product design and quality: renewable energy component manufacturers should find substitutes for toxic metals such as cadmium and lead used in their products and simplify product designs to reduce recycling steps.
  • Such improvements in process efficiencies could help in curbing waste creation at the source and its subsequent impact on the environment.
  • Stringent quality control standards for components: this will prevent premature end-of-life of components and consequent waste creation.
  • Substandard components generate considerable waste due to early life damage that is often irreplaceable, and the components often have to be discarded.
  • Quality enforcement could also position India’s renewable energy industry as a global supplier of quality products.

Way forward

  • The renewable energy recycling ecosystem has a complex structure where there are multiple actors involved, but it would be an integral part of our journey toward a sustainable future.
  • Beyond sustainability, it would also offer quality employment opportunities for future generations as new jobs would be created across the entire value chain of waste management and recycling.
  • Workers in the informal sector could access various socio-economic benefits and can have an improved quality of life.
  • The majority of India’s recycling sector is informal and workers have to work in unsafe environments without standardised wages.


  • Developing an efficient renewable energy waste management and circular ecosystem is imperative rather than a choice.
  • We can ignore this, but only at our own peril.