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Renewable energy in the Philippines

BURGOS, Ilocos Norte – Standing on an overlooking hilltop here in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, one can hear the northern wind blowing its loudest as it powers 50 wind turbines scattered all over a 600-hectare land that was once filled with snakes.

Welcome to the Burgos Wind Farm, a 150-megawatt new power plant that commenced operations in November last year and which is touted as one of the biggest wind farms in Southeast Asia.

It is owned and operated by Energy Development Corp. (EDC), a geothermal company led by the Lopez Group, a prominent Filipino family engaged in various businesses.

“This project underlines EDC’s strategy to be the country’s leading diversified renewable power company,” said EDC president Richard Tantoco, announcing the project.

The company said the project would not only provide 370 gigawatt-hours of electricity, which would power approximately two million households but could also displace an estimated 200,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.

Indeed, the air is crisp and fresh and there is no dark smoke or soot emitted anywhere in the wind farm. The difference is stark and telling, as say, if one would stand in the middle of a coal-fired power plant.

The people of Ilocos Norte could not be more proud.

“We are now the renewable energy capital of the Philippines, actually, not only in the Philippines but in Southeast Asia,” Ilocos Norte Governor Aimee Marcos told reporters in a recent briefing here.

Marcos welcomed the development of the Burgos Wind Farm in the province, saying that there is no substitute for clean energy.

The Burgos Wind Farm is not the only wind project in the province. Another wind farm is the Bangui Wind Farm, located in Bangui, another municipality in this province and constructed ahead of the Burgos Wind Farm.

Northwind Power Development Corp., a company controlled by Ayala Corp., a Filipino-owned conglomerate, operates this 33-MW wind farm in the province.

This project uses 20 wind turbines arranged on a single row and stretched along a nine-kilometer shoreline.

According to Northwind, this project is estimated to offset 57,000 tons of carbon emissions.

The wind farms in the province are just among the fast growing renewable energy (RE) projects in the Philippines, a country that is largely dependent on imported oil and whose main sources of power are coal-fired power plants.

RE in the Philippines

Indeed, over the last four years, the renewable energy sector in the Philippines has recorded tremendous growth and the excitement in the air is almost tangible.

More and more companies are eyeing the renewable energy sector and the Philippines is on the radar screen of foreign investors as well that are keen on investing in RE.

The policies of the administration of President Aquino are also contributing to the growth and development of RE.

One such policy, for instance, is the so-called feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme given by the government, which is a set of incentives to lure investors into the RE sector.

And signs of boom are evident not just in the windy provinces of the North and the Visayas but also in rooftops of buildings and malls across different cities and municipalities that are being powered by solar energy.

Indeed, a policy change introduced by Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla encouraged renewable energy companies to push through with their investments.

He said that when he came to office in 2012, there were the so- called flippers or those companies that did not seem seriously interested in developing renewable energies but use the sites only for speculation.

“At the beginning of his term, there were around 200 service contracts pending. As it turned out, these service contracts were not only pending because of the long and complicated permitting process but also because a considerable amount of applicants already sold their sites. Therefore, he decided on the one hand to streamline the permitting process in order to favor the serious players, and on the other hand to make sure that flippers are abandoned. His administration simplified the permitting process for RE plants and streamlined the requirements of the financial and technical assessments,” according to a December 2014 report prepared by GIZ, an international organization operated by the German government, on the success of RE in the Philippines.

Thus, he introduced the first-come, first served rule for FIT.

In a separate interview, Petilla said this rule for FIT was meant to weed out the non-serious developers or the flippers.

This approach proved to be efficient and successful, the Energy chief said.

Wind, Solar, Biogas

For instance, the Burgos Wind Power Project was built in a span of just six months.

Similarly, the San Carlos Energy Inc. (SaCaSol) successfully connected the first 22 MW of its solar plant in Negros in the southern Philippines in May last year and another 30 MW are under construction.

According to the company, the SaCaSol plant is expected to provide approximately 31,610,473 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity annually to the Visayas Grid, which is currently suffering from brownouts and low voltage problems.

Petilla said this regulation created confidence on the Philippine government as a reliable partner supporting serious RE developers.

In 2014, the government had started to reap the fruits of its labor.

SaCaSol was inaugurated in May and at the end of last year, the installed capacity of net metering solar PV rooftops was around 450 kWh, with total potential of 1 MW in solar rooftops estimated to be in the pipeline.

SaCaSol chairman Jose Maria Zabaleta, in a December 2014 symposium celebrating the success of RE in the Philippines, shared the success story of the SaCaSol project.

Zabaleta, originally a sugar farmer, said it was in 2012 when he talked about his plans to build a solar plant with the credit agency Thomas Lloyd, which in turn agreed to provide funding for the project.

He said that aside from providing clean energy, the construction of the solar plant also provide employment to the community.

The project employed 2,500 people and the unemployment rate went down close to zero percent.

Furthermore, since there is now stable power, a Japanese company has set up shop in the province and is now employing 1000 people.
SaCaSol is set to double its capacity and is exploring new areas, Zabaleta said.

Tetchi Capellan, president of the Philippine Solar Power Alliance (PSPA) said the development of the solar industry in the Philippines started in 2011, when a group of private sector representatives organized a business trip to Germany to learn how to develop a solar power market.

In 2012, the Asian Development Bank built a 520 kW solar system on their roof, marking the first break through in solar development in the country.

To support development of RE, solar developers pushed for the net metering rules as a support mechanism for solar rooftops.

The net metering system is provided under the Renewable Energy Law of 2008. It allows electricity end-users who are updated in the payment of their electricity bills to their distribution utility to engage in distribution generation

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), the power regulator, passed the implementing rules in June 2013.

Solar rooftops

Since then, the solar rooftop market has developed tremendously. While at the beginning of 2014, a capacity of only 200 kW were under the net metering scheme, this number increased already to almost 1 MW by the end of 2014.

Some of these solar rooftop installations and projects are the 22 MW SaCaSol project, the first solar farm in the Philippines and a solar panel rooftop in one of the branches of the SM Mall, the largest mall chain in the Philippines.

Launched in November last year by local firm Solar Philippines, the project involves 5,760 solar panels and 60 inverters installed over the mall’s parking building, covering 12,000 square meters.

The 1.5 MW plant will be able to augment the mall’s power requirements, or the equivalent of 2,000 Filipino homes. It is expected to operate for over 25 years and offset an estimated 40,000 tons of CO2, according to Solar Philippines.

Capellan said there are more solar rooftops and projects that would likely materialize this year, for both commercial and public buildings.

Solar Philippines, for instance, inaugurated on March 5 another solar rooftop project, this time at Robinson’s Place Palawan, another giant mall chain in the country.

Approximately 20 percent of the mall’s electricity consumption will be covered by the solar panels 1,100 tons of carbon emissions per year, the company said.

And it’s not only solar that has potential for growth in the country.

According to the Energy department, the Philippines has a total biomass potential of 4400 MW that remains to be fully tapped.

So far, the current installed biogas capacity in the country is only 11 MW and another 50 MW in the pipeline.

Indeed, Ditmar Gorges, chief executive officer of biogas company EnTech said the biogas industry is still starting to develop the market in the Philippines.

He said that biogas plants not only utilize industrial waste but also creates farm jobs.

Running a 1 MW plant employs around 120 farmworkers, Gorges said.
He said crucial to the establishment of a Philippine biomass market is capacity building and raising awareness for potential biomass investors.

Filipino-owned Cleangreen Energy Corporation (CEC) is another example of a company that is tapping the potential of biogas in the country.

The company is building a 12 MW biomass power plant in Bataan, a province in the north, to commence operations in 2017.

Indeed, wind, solar, biogas have huge potential in the Philippines. Hydropower and geothermal sources, meanwhile, already exist and have been providing power to the grid.

Generation Mix

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), as of 2011, the Philippines’ installed power capacity is divided as follows: coal has a 30 percent share, followed by natural gas at 18 percent percent and then oil-based plants at 19 percent. The share of renewable energy, meanwhile, is as follows: 11 percent for geothermal, 22 percent for hydro, and 0 percent for wind, solar and biomass. This was in 2011. Total installed capacity is 16,162 MW.

While there is no updated figure on this yet, the 2015 registered capacity at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), the country’s trading floor for electricity, may provide an indicator on how much capacity of renewable energy has increased.

The registered capacity at the WESM for 2015 is as follows” coal is at 36.55 percent, natural gas at 17.58 percent, oil-based at 15.50 percent, geothermal at 11.17 percent, hydro at 15.36 percent, wind at 2.44 percent, biomass at 0.87 percent, solar at 0.33 percent and small hydro at 0.19 percent.

Moving forward, energy players expressed optimism that the RE industry in the Philippines will continue to grow.

Ernesto Pantangco, chairman of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), a multi-sectoral body under the Department of Energy that aims to promote the RE sector, is very optimistic that the investments in RE will increase.

He said that NREB is working on an information campaign in order to make more companies aware of the feed-in tariff incentive.

Solutions to Power Crisis

Pantangco, who is also senior vice president of EDC, the owner of the Burgos Wind Farm, also believes that RE can be part of the solution to the looming energy crisis in the Philippines.

Solar power is definitely a part of the solution because solar PV plants produce just at the right time energy to provide peak power, he said.

He also said that even though wind power has its off-season during summer time, it would still produce around 20 percent output contributing to the power reserves.

Another official of the group that owns the wind farm agreed.
“Anytime the wind is blowing, (the wind farm) will generate up to 150 MW,” said Aloysius Santos, vice president of First Gen., the power generation company of the Lopez Group, said in a recent briefing with reporters.

He said even during the summer, there is a potential for the wind farm to generate 150 MW of power because there would still be windy days.

A power supply shortage is looming this summer for the Luzon grid, one of three grids in the country. The two other grids are the Visayas and Mindanao grids.

The supply shortage is at least 700 MW due to higher demand and insufficient supply because of the one-month maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project in offshore Palawan.

The Malampaya facility, which supplies 40 percent of Luzon grid’s requirements, is scheduled for a maintenance shutdown from March 15 to April 15.

Indeed, there are many advantages of RE aside from augmenting supply this summer.

And the Philippines, blessed with manifold renewable energy sources, can do well to maximize these resources.

According to GIZ, increasing fuel prices, high energy import dependence, ever increasing carbon emissions and unconsidered external costs of fossil fuels make renewable energies the superior alternative.

It said that electricity generation from renewable energy makes the country less dependent on energy imports.

“In 2013, indigenous energy sources saved the country energy imports in the amount of $2.7 billion. 56.75 percent of the Philippines energy demand is already covered by indigenous energy sources. Yet, the energy demand is expected to rise annually by four percent. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, are free of charge and can help to cover the additional demand keeping the Philippine import,” GIZ said in a report on RE.

RE can also cushion the economy from volatile prices of fossil fuels.

“The prices for fossil fuels like natural gas and steam coal are very volatile. This makes it difficult to predict the future costs for electricity generated from fossil fuels. Most renewable energies have no fuel costs that makes it easier to predict their costs,” GIZ said.

More importantly, it said that the use of renewable energies would significantly reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The replacement of 1 kWh coal generated electricity by 1 kWh RE generated electricity saves around 960gCO2,” it said.

Energy Revolution: Going Green

Environmental group Greenpeace also said that the Philippines could embrace an energy revolution and totally abandon coal.

“The Philippines can embrace an energy revolution, turn its back on coal, seize the moment and lead the way for renewables in Southeast Asia, capitalizing on its success in geothermal and in solar panel production,” Greenpeace said.

Furthermore, Greenpeace said that renewables ensure the country’s security of supply, help cope with rising demand and provide decarbonized energy.

“We all need electricity. It is vital. It powers our lives, runs our hospitals and schools – we need to for every aspect of our lives. But we need to be clean and sustainable. Embracing the energy revolution and harnessing renewables doesn’t mean bankruptcy and sacrifice. The facts show that it can bring us wealth, cost savings and employment,” the group said, adding that thousands of jobs can be created by the industry.

Moving Forward

For his part, Department of Energy director of Renewable Energy Management Bureau Mario Marasigan said in an interview that the goal is to increase the share of RE continuously.

“Our aim is to triple the capacity of RE by 2030. RE is clean so we need that,” Marasigan said.

The department he said, has the thrust to ensure energy security and at the same time, “climate proof” the future.

At the same time, he said the government needs the help of everyone in promoting RE because it cannot do it alone.

Going green and utilizing RE sources, indeed, will surely go a long way for the future of the Philippines as well as the health of its people and the environment.

Living with fear in the Everest region

Daki Sherpa remembers very well the flood that swept away everything from her. A glacier flood on September 3, 1977 in the Dudhkoshi River washed her home, took her pets and land. And most importantly, she couldn’t save her beloved father.

Imja is one of the 21 glacial lakes in Nepal that are potentially dangerous. 
Imja lies at an altitude of 5000m in the Everest region. 
Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal
A glacial lake outburst  in Imja could damage many infrastructures along the Everest trekking route, scientists warn. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal
Many people like Dil Kumari Tamang live near the Imja River. They say they are afraid of the river. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal A landslide caused by glacial lake outburst at Mt. Amadablam. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal Daki Sherpa, 55, showing the area affected by the flood due to the glacial lake outburst  on September 3, 1977 in Dudhkoshi River. The flood washed away her father, home, took her pets, and land. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal Daki is now married and lives with her husband in Manju. “I am still afraid of this river,” she said. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal Melting of glacier has turned out to be a regular phenomenon in the Everest region, the big thaw it leads to is even fearful to the locals. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal
World’s tallest mountain Mt. Everest (center). Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal A normal day in Jorsalle’s restaurants. The place was washed away by the flood due to the glacial lake outburst  in 1977. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal Chukung is the closest settlement from Imja Lake and it is four hours walk. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal Residents say they throw “purified rice” chanted with mantras by Buddhist Lamas on the bank of the river believing that the water level will not rise again. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal
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Daki Sherpa, 55, showing the area affected by the flood due to the glacial lake outburst on September 3, 1977 in Dudhkoshi River. The flood washed away her father, home, took her pets, and land. Photo by Rajneesh Bhandari/ Asia Climate Journal

“It came all of a sudden at around seven thirty in the evening, there were many porters staying in my home (hotel),” Daki Sherpa, 55, said with tears in her eyes.

“Me and my mother were able to run away to the top of the hills, but father was at home. He couldn’t survive.”

Daki comes from a middle-class well-to-do family in Jarsalle, a popular trekking route for the Everest climbers. They had a busy hotel with land and pets. She was left with nothing.

All she had were the clothes she and her mother were wearing and an open sky to live.“I just got 20,000 rupees as relief after the incident happened. I haven’t got anything more and nobody has ever come to support and help, neither from the government nor the media. You are the first journalist who came to inquire about the incident with me,” Daki said.

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Many years later Daki learned that flood was caused by an outburst in Nare Lake, located below the peak of Mt Ama Dablam.  Today, scientists  warn that the glacier could burst creating devastating floods and damage to major constructions and infrastructure in the Everest region.

This is a serious problem in Nepal since many of those who live close to the Dudhkoshi river in the Everest region are at risk of possible glacial lake outburst flooding as global warming causes glaciers to melt more rapidly. So, too, the whole trekking route to the Everest region could be affected.

Imja at risk

Nepal has 3,252 glaciers and more than 2,323 glacial lakes.

A report titled “Glacial Lakes and Glacial Lake Outbrust Floods in Nepal” published by ICIMOD in 2011 puts 21 lakes in Nepal as potentially dangerous. One of them is Imja in the Everest region. This lake is the headwater of the Imja River, which later joins many other rivers and is called Dudhkoshi.

Imja lies at an altitude of 5000m in Solukhumbu district of Sagarmatha Zone.

Records show that Imja lake started forming only in the 60s and 70s as small pond. The lake was 1.3 km and 0.5 km in the length and width respectively in 1992 and occupied an area of 0.60 km2. The lake, however expanded by 28 percent in 2002. Scientists have said that the expansion of the glacial lake provides some of the clearest evidence of climate change.

Imja River touches most of the trekking route in the Everest region.

Dingboche, Pangboche, Phunki, Jorsalle, Manjau, Phakding villages and the hotels and lodges along trekking routes to Chhukhung are the most vulnerable to possible glacial lake outburst flood from Imja.

Life by the riverside

After nearly three decades, hotels and restaurants have reopened at the same place in Jorsalle, just below the hanging bridge. Every day hundreds of trekkers in the Everest region pass through the area and use the services of the restaurants and hotels.

Sushila Shrestha, who runs a restaurant/lodge, isn’t afraid of the river. Sushila, who has been residing in the area for the last 16 years, started her own business some time ago. She said that the hotels and lodge near the river gives good views and therefore attracts more tourists. There are other hotels near the banks of the river.

She, however, is unaware of the potential danger of a glacial lake outburst.

“I am never afraid of anything in life, not even of river,” 25 year-old Sushila said.

Though scientists have warned that the burst of Imja lake will cause extensive damage along Imja Khola/Dudh Koshi river, there has been no any precautionary measures taken  by  the government.

“The government hasn’t said anything to us regarding the glacial lake outburst,” Sushila said. “We don’t have a warning system and we rely on the information provided by the trekking guides.”

Experts say there is also a lack of a governing policy regarding setting up residences or operating businesses near the river.

Efforts to reduce water level

Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP), a joint undertaking of the Government of Nepal, Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme is currently being implemented in Nepal to reduce the risk of GLOFs by promoting community-based risk reduction approaches. The project aims to undertake the lake lowering at Imja by reducing the lake level by at least 3 meters.

Pravin Raj Maskey, Senior Technical Advisor at the CFGORRP said that by the end of 2014 the project plans to prioritize on finalizing the preliminary design of Imja lake lowering and channel structures. In 2015 the project will be prioritizing on the full-fledge construction and installation of controlled drainage for Imja lake lowering.

Life full of fear

Nimayangi Sherpa, 30, operates a restaurant just at the bank of the river in Fungitanga. Originally from Khumjung she is here because it’s the major trekking route during the Everest climbing season.

“As the water level rises during summer,” she said. “I am afraid that it might flood and landslide.”

“I know there is glacier lake at the top,” she said. “But I don’t know about it’s potential danger.”

The river took away many of the Buddhist prayer wheels that were here four or five years ago.  When asked about any precaution measures, she said she has thrown “purified rice” by Buddhist Lamas on the bank of the river believing that the water level will not rise again.

Climbers and Sherpa trek through the banks of Dudhkoshi to the Mount Everest. They cross the river many times through the hanging bridge.

Daki was 13 year old and supporting her family’s hotel business when the flood touched her and her family. She had to leave her village Jorsalle, a major trekking route for climbers in the Everest and other peaks in the region. She and her mother started living in a nearby village.

Daki said her mother died because of the pain of losing her husband and family assets. She now lives with her husband in Monju, a village that is 15 minutes walk from Jorsalle. She said her land has been taken by others as she lost all the government documents during the flood.

“Every time I hear the sound of Dudkkoshi I am scared of it,” Daki said.   “I hope I get my land back someday.”
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India’s concrete jungles are choking its air

Gurgaon, India — First there were small mounds; then picturesque waves of ridges, like the ones in children’s landscape paintings; even the lone, tall tree died. Now it is just endless hills of broken concrete, bricks, tiles, marble, dried paint, soil, steel, wood, glass, iron and weeds sprouting up.

“The hills of debris have become higher than our eight-feet boundary wall, like a moat around a fort,” says Ruchika Sethi, a resident of Gurgaon.

She vividly remembers how in less than six years the vacant lot behind their 100-acre gated community, Nirvana Country — metamorphosed into a dumping ground of construction and demolition (C&D) waste. “Buildings were popping up everywhere in this land of developers and there was rampant and careless disposal of debris, with two to three trucks a day,” she says.

The gated communities boast of lush landscape, “non-native lollipop looking trees” but outside it is a graveyard, she says. “Like most children here, my daughter has to use nebulizer or inhaler 200 days a year to fight asthmatic allergic cough.” She is part of the citizens group Clean Gurgaon and they are campaigning for proper disposal of C&D waste in designates sites.

The underbelly of India’s construction upsurge is a haphazard labyrinth of high-rise apartments and commercial buildings, migrant laborers clamoring and giant cranes clawing: kicking plumes of dirt; stinking, choking clouds of dust and smog; trucks carrying raw materials and waste and cacophonous sounds.

India is building feverishly, often razing old structures yet more than 70 per cent of the buildings that will be standing in 2030 are yet to be constructed, according to Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

CSE estimates India will be producing 21,630 million tons of C&D waste between 2005 and 2030, requiring a landfill the size of the eastern state of West Bengal. For now, the waste is being dumped in rivers and open spaces, along street corners and used to fill up water bodies and wetlands — choking cities and aggravating pollution, jeopardising human and environmental health.

Avikal Somvanshi from CSE explains how C&D debris spawns air pollution. Almost 36 per cent of the C&D waste in India is fine particles, including soil, sand and gravel. This loose soil flies and spikes the particulate matter (PM) levels of air, thus affecting air quality. “It should be a localized problem affecting regions around the site of construction and or demolition, but transportation of this waste in open trucks and lorries for disposal spreads it all over,” Somvanshi says.

Yet, C&D waste continues to be grossly underreported in India. According to CSE estimates, in 2013 the C&D waste generated by buildings alone was 626 million — 52 times higher than the official estimate. “It is an inert waste, and until its quantum becomes unimaginable it doesn’t have any direct problem and inconvenience as municipal solid waste or industrial waste does. That’s why nobody bothers until it becomes impossible to ignore,” Somvanshi adds.

The unchecked and delinquent dumping of C&D debris is aggravating health risks, according to Sanjay Mehta, a doctor at Artemis Hospital. “We are seeing various types of dengue fever emerging in areas we never had dengue cases,” he says.

Mehta explains C&D waste creates small pools of fresh water, especially during monsoons, where mosquitoes breed in 24 hours. “Even a fistful of water is enough so imagine how much breeding space is provided by debris.” Exposure to dust is causing respiratory problems. The weeds growing among the debris releases spores leading to allergies.

“C&D waste blocks drainages, it leads to water borne disease such as diarrhea, typhoid. When your drainage spills on to the road, this water gets into ground water and reaches the kitchen and bathrooms,” Mehta says. Not all ground water is treated or filtered or equipped to deal with sewage water. Lead in house paints can seep into ground water and when ingested can lead to chronic anemia.

Globally C&D waste is often recycled and reused. Singapore recycles 98 per cent of its C&D waste, while 63 per cent was recycled in Scotland. But in India the recycling and reuse industry is struggling to attract takers. Avikal Somvanshi from CSE says, “Currently there is no model for managing this waste at the central or state level. Some municipalities have on their own started taking action as it started to become problematic for them.”

For example, the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh collects debris within 48 hours when residents call the waste hotline. Since 2011, the Gurgaon municipal authority has been claiming on its website the city will have two to three C&D recycling plants. But none to be found on ground,” he adds.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is the only one in country that operates a C&D waste recycling plant in partnership with Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS). According to Sandeep Malhotra, manager of IL&FS, Delhi generates nearly 5,000 tons of C&D waste per day and the recycling plant scientifically processes about 1,200 tons per day and has handled about 1.54 millions of tons of waste since its inception in 2009.

Malhotra says the recycled products are “very good in strength.” “The main thing is acceptability of the product in government sector and big builders. There are some BIS [Bureau of Indian standards] codes, which are to be revised, which says only fresh material should be used.” He adds that they can be used as material in the construction of footpaths, parking lots and non-load bearing sections.

“The products need government support,” he adds.