The Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) form the backbone of Indian economy. Their contribution is about 40% towards country s national income through three million units spread all over the country. In 1995-96, the annual turnover of SMEs was over Rs.400,000 crores and is growing at the rate of 20% per annum. SMEs also provide employment to about 16 million people in the country. On the export front, SMEs account for nearly 25% of India s total exports. However, the share of SMEs in the export market is gradually declining. Also, there is a growing incidence of sickness in SMEs, which has gone up from 3.2% of the total units in 79-89 to about 8% in 95-96. These are, perhaps, the warning signals of declining efficiency/productivity and therefore competitiveness of this sector.
On the environmental front, SMEs account for about 70% of the total industrial pollution. The Specific Waste Generation Factor in small units is relatively higher compared to large-scale industrial units. This is mainly due to batch operations, obsolete technology, poor operation and maintenance practices etc. being followed in the SMEs. Since the SMEs have grown up in clusters, the pollution problem has indeed become serious in these regions. With the increasing concern for environmental protection, the industries have to go in for pollution control through End of Pipe (EOP) treatment measures to meet the prescribed effluent and emission standards. But the concept of EOP has not been very effective as it does not bring any economic returns to the units and the industrialists consider it to be a dead investment. Moreover, the futility of the EOP measures has well been proven as it just changes the state of pollutants, i.e. from liquid to solid and solid to gas and does not provide a permanent solution to environmental protection.
In such a scenario, Waste Minimisation (WM) at source has come up as a sensible approach for sustainable industrial development. The concept of Waste Minimisation is a new and creative way of thinking about products and processes that make them. It is achieved by the continuous application of strategies to minimise the generation of waste and emissions as it reduces the resource consumption and the pollution control cost. This concept was introduced in the late 80 s and a number of case studies have proved that WM is an economically viable and environmentally desirable alternative. Waste Minimisation has built-in benefits such as conserving resources, improving the quality of the product, enhancing productivity and profitability or even the market image. Though WM is a well-proven and attractive proposition for pollution control, it has not picked up the desired momentum in the country. The major barriers identified are :
Waste Minimisation has been identified as a strategic tool in environmental policy and planning. Waste minimisation is the most attractive proposition to the small scale entrepreneurs.
Realising the importance of waste minimisation and in order to overcome the above barriers, the Ministry conceived the idea of Waste Minimisation Circles and initiated a project (Phase-I) on Waste Minimisation in Small and Medium Scale Industry - Waste Minimisation Circles during the year 1995-96, under the World Bank Assisted Industrial Pollution Prevention Project through National Productivity Council as Nodal Agency, aiming to launch a movement on Waste Minimisation in the country. A Waste Minimisation Circle is defined as "A small group of entrepreneurs in the small scale sector whose units manufacture similar products and employ the same processes, meeting periodically and regularly in the premises of each member unit one after another, to analyze the operation of the host unit to identify sources of waste generation and implement Waste Minimisation options leading to an increase in individual profitability and reduction in pollution load from the units".
The main objective of the project is to promote group efforts for demonstrating waste minimisation/cleaner production techniques and to provide opportunities for sharing views and knowledge on waste minimisation/pollution prevention.
During Phase-I of the project (1995-97), 15 Waste Minimisation Circles have been formulated in various parts of the country in the sectors of electro-plating, pulp and paper based on agricultural residues, hosiery, tannery and man-made textiles. About 300 waste minimisation measures have been identified by the Circle Members in these circles. Majority of them have been implemented. These measures have resulted in reduction of pollution load to the extent of 15 to 30 per cent. In addition, savings to the tune of Rs.150 lakhs per annum were expected.
With the progress achieved during the execution of the Ist Phase of the project and the response shown by the entrepreneurs, the Ministry has decided to further extend waste minimisation circles to 100 numbers in various sectors throughout the country. For this purpose, the Ministry has sponsored a Phase-II project - Waste Minimisation in Small Scale Industries to the National Productivity Council during the year 1997-98, under the World Bank Assisted Industrial Pollution Prevention Project.
The objective during the second phase of the project is aimed at increasing the awareness, interests and the confidence of Indian small and medium scale industries in adopting waste minimisation on a continued basis. It also aims at generating enough indigenous capacity to create an environment of self-help in waste minimisation in the industries.
Under the capacity building activity of this project, National Productivity Council is providing training to 80 external consultants in the field of waste minimisation who could be engaged as waste minimisation circles facilitators. These facilitators in turn will be assigned the task of establishing and running waste minimisation circles in clusters of small and medium scale industries of the same category. So far, 25 waste minimisation circles have been formed by some of the facilitators. These circles are in various stages of functioning. Many of them have formed the unit level teams and collected the base line data which is required for the circle meetings and for generation of waste minimisation options.
The small scale industries have been the beneficiary of the project in many ways. The industries have introduced systematic measuring and manufacturing procedure and implemented several waste minimisation options and gained economically, which has also resulted in improvement of environment.
Under this project, a cost effective strategy for launching country-wide awareness campaign on waste minimisation in the industry is being developed. Such strategy is expected to provide a nation-wide movement for adopting waste minimisation by the small and medium scale enterprises.