IT IS usually found piled up on construction sites, tucked below bridges and flyovers, swept to the side of newly built roads and highways. No one knows exactly how much it adds up to, although official estimates point to around 175 million tonnes in the cities alone. And yet, it presents one of the biggest hurdles in India's battle against waste and pollution - construction waste and debris.
Experts say what is needed is a comprehensive national initiative. But then, every small step counts. Like in Bathinda, where a group of municipal corporation officials have come together to recycle their construction waste to make bricks, manhole covers, sidewalks and plant holders.
And that's not all, the Municipal Corporation of Bathinda (MCB) is now planning to set up a tile-making unit on its three-acre premises in the city, using the debris that's still left over.
"On an average around 20 tonnes of debris is generated every day in the city. One part of it is the demolition waste, the rest is from repair work, such as broken manholes, and waste generated from the corporation's building projects," says Rishipal Singh Sidhu, MCB Commissioner, who launched this 'Best of Waste' initiative after taking charge last year.
"All of this was just waste earlier and a continuous source of pollution. Our initial efforts have gone well. The tile-making unit will be set up soon," he says.
The first step, says Sidhu, was taken under the central government's Swachh Survekshan initiative – Bhatinda is now ranked No.1 in Punjab and has jumped from 104 last year to 31 on the national index. "So far, we have been using only 2 tonnes per day of debris because of limited manpower. Now, the entire debris will be used in tile-making… earlier, we used to spend around Rs 4 crore every year to procure tiles for our work from private companies," says Sidhu.
At the heart of this effort is a seven-room store area of the MCB, where earlier tonnes of demolition waste and debris used to lie around for months. Today, there's a buzz of activity here with 10 workers segregating the debris into bricks, concrete, iron and plaster scrapings.
"The bricks and concrete go into making a construction mixture along with sand. This mixture is used to make plant holders, bricks, and manhole covers. We have moulds for all products, and we make around 40-50 bricks on a daily basis," says Sandeep Gupta, superintending engineer (building and roadways), MCB.
"Already, we have made nearly 500 holders that have been used for placing palm trees in different parts of the city. Over 100 manhole covers have been made. Our engineers are also getting hands-on training at the municipal infrastructure development company in Chandigarh. They will later train our skilled workforce," says Sidhu.
S S Mavi, a civil engineer and patron of the Ludhiana Builders Association, says "other corporations across India should now follow" this model. "Concrete waste is as bad as plastic when it comes to disposal. I have been involved in construction work for years… so far, we have never tried to recycle debris waste like this."
Dr H S Rai, a civil engineer and dean (consultancy), Guru Nanak Engineering College, Ludhiana, says what the municipal officials have come up with is "the need of the hour". "It has to be done. We are now conducting research on whether this debris can be recycled and used in making columns for new buildings," he says.