1.Super bacteria: Cleaning China’s factory waste (Live Mint)

2.Shifting focus toward Energy efficiency (General)


1.Super bacteria: Cleaning China’s factory waste (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how China is working toward developing sustainable methods to reduce factory waste. (GS paper III)


  • Researchers are working with TAL Apparel, one of the world’s biggest cloth maker, to improve its production process using a special ingredient i.e. bacteria.
  • Using bacteria instead of chemicals to digest organic compounds can cut the amount of waste sludge generated by as much as 80% and enables 100% of the water to be recycled in the plant.

Efforts to reduce factory waste

  • TAL Apparel Ltd., which has factories in mainland China and Southeast Asia, has teamed up with City University to identify bacteria that can clean up more efficiently the vast quantities of waste water the textile industry produces. It’s one of hundreds of efforts by China’s private and state-owned companies to fix a problem that could end up rewriting the playbook of the global fashion industry.

China’s waste problem

  • After decades of almost unbridled industrial growth that left China with a legacy of rampant pollution, shrinking aquifers and soaring water prices, the government is cracking down on big industrial users, and the textile industry is in the front line.
  • Cloth-making ranks third in China for the amount of waste water it discharges 3 billion tons a year after chemicals and paper, according to a 2015 report by New York-based non-profit group Natural Resources Defense Council, which has an office in Beijing.
  • The price of ensuring a sustainable water supply in China is yet another expense for factories that are already being squeezed by higher land and labour costs. And while automation and overseas production offer some respite, China’s companies are turning to other technologies to preserve operating margins that, even for major players such as Crystal International Group Ltd., can be less than 10%.
  • In 2015, the government released its Water Ten Plan, ushering in stricter waste-water regulations. It sets out 10 general measures to control pollution discharge, promote technology and strengthen water management, with a 2020 deadline to meet its goals. The stricter water rules are part of China’s actions to increase enforcement in environmental measures. Penalties for environmental violations by the country’s manufacturers rose 34% in 2015, from the previous year, according to China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organization focusing on disclosing risks related to China’s water resources.

Fast fashion

  • The clean-up goes to the heart of an industry that leveraged decades of cheap labour and capital, and a unique close-knit supply chain of cloth, dyeing, sewing, fasteners, trimmings, labels and logistics, to deliver so-called fast fashion rapidly shifting style from the catwalk to the mass market at prices that make garments almost a disposable commodity.
  • Customers are happy because clothes are even cheaper than a decade ago, and retailers can benefit from low costs. But the result is massive waste and the brands will need to pay for it in the future.
  • With that model coming under fire for its environmental record, top brands like H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Target Corp. and Gap Inc. have adopted water quality standards for their suppliers and monitor them to protect their reputation with consumers. Owners of brands including H&M, Zara, Nike and Adidas are among those that have committed to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in production by 2020.

Using dead bacteria

  • TAL, which opened its first factory in mainland China in 1994, had been buying bacteria from other labs to treat water used in washing cloth. Using bacteria instead of chemicals to digest organic compounds can cut the amount of waste sludge generated by as much as 80% and enables 100% of the water to be recycled in the plant.
  • During a production halt during the week-long Chinese New Year break this year, the bacteria in its system died, so TAL set up a research program that is using DNA sequencing to find a “superbacteria” that would be cheaper and more efficient, Lee said.
  • But researching and upgrading technology is expensive. For many smaller suppliers on wafer-thin margins, it’s money they don’t have. In a June-July survey of 85 Chinese textile manufacturers by China Water Risk, more than half those polled said they have invested at least ¥2 million to upgrade their factories equivalent to almost 40% of the average annual profit for a small textile company in 2012.
  • The big retail brands are also playing a part in trying to develop techniques that would cut costs and allow the industry to be less wasteful.

Question: What type of interventions are needed at the part of government to increase the reliance on sustainable methods to reduce industry waste in India?

2.Shifting focus toward Energy efficiency (General)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the need to preserve energy along with focusing on increasing the generation. (GS paper III)


  • The importance of energy efficiency has emerged from the various supply scenarios and is further underlined by rising energy prices.
  • It may be noted that a unit of energy saved by a user is greater than a unit produced as it saves on production, transmission and distribution losses. Hence, greater energy can ensure the all round development.

Energy situation in India

  • The primary energy demand in India has grown from about 450 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) in 2000 to about 770 million toe in 2012. This is expected to increase to about 1250 to 1500 million toe in 2030.
  • This growth is also reflective of the current very low level of energy supply in India: the average annual energy supply in India in 2011 was only 0.6 toe per capita; whereas the global average was 1.88 toe per capita. It may also be noted that no country in the world has been able to achieve a Human Development Index of 0.9 or more without an annual energy supply of at least 4 toe per capita.
  • Since energy efficiency schemes are often cost effective, it seems superfluous to create policy interventions to actually realise this saving potential.  But it may be noted that in actual practice there are several barriers that constrain the adoption of energy efficiency schemes including high transaction costs, lack of incentives to utilities who perceive energy efficiency schemes as a loss of market base, inadequate awareness.
  • Policy interventions are thus imperative to address these barriers. To promote energy efficiency and conservation we need to create an appropriate set of incentives through pricing and other policy measures.

Government’s efforts at energy efficiency

  • The 8thFive Year Plan made a provision of INR 1,000 crores for energy efficiency to provide targeted energy savings of 5,000 MW and 6 Mt in the electricity and petroleum sectors, respectively. There is no clear quantification of the actual costs and savings achieved.
  • The 9thFive Year Plan proposed the passing of the Energy Conservation Act and the setting up of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE)
  • The 10thFive Year Plan proposes benchmarking of the hydrocarbon sector against the rest in the world. The target for energy savings in the 10th Plan was 95,000 million units which was about 13 per cent of the estimated demand of 7,19,000 million units in the terminal year of the 10th 
  • The target for energy savings in the 12thPlan was 1,50,000 million units.
  • However, a study by Asian Development Bank (ADB, 2003) estimated an immediate market potential for energy saving of 54,500 million units.

Institutional framework 

  • Government of India has undertaken a two pronged approach to cater to the energy demand of its citizens while ensuring minimum growth in CO2 emissions.
  • On one hand, in the generation side, the Government is promoting greater use of renewable in the energy mix mainly through solar and wind and at the same time shifting towards supercritical technologies for coal based power plants.
  • On the other side, efforts are being made to efficiently use the energy in the demand side through various innovative policy measures under the overall ambit of Energy Conservation Act 2001.
  • The Energy Conservation Act (EC Act) was enacted in 2001 with the goal of reducing energy intensity of Indian economy. Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) was set up as the statutory body in 2002 at the central level to facilitate the implementation of the EC Act.

What more needs to be done?

  • National Building Codes should be revised to facilitate and encourage energy efficient buildings.
  • Instituting an efficient motors programme is an initiative that focusses on manufacturers/rewinding shops and target market transformation, by providing incentives to supply energy efficient motors
  • Reaping daylight savings by introducing two time zones in the country can save a lot of energy.
  • Promote urban mass transport by providing quality services which may be partially financed by imposing congestion, pollution and parking charges on those who use personalised motor transport.
  • Existing national energy efficiency organisations like the PCRA should be merged with BEE. This will ensure that BEE is responsible for energy efficiency for all sectors and end uses.
  • Truthful labelling must be enforced with major financial repercussions if equipment fails to deliver stated efficiencies. In extreme cases, one can resort to black listing errant suppliers at consumer information web sites and on government procurement rosters.
  • BEE should be an autonomous statutory body under the Energy Conservation Act and be independent of all the energy ministries. It should be funded by the Central Government.
  • Promote waterways as water transport is energy efficient. Make investment to provide the needed infrastructure to facilitate water transport
  • Increasing efficiency of coal based power plants require NTPC and SEBs to acquire technology to enhance the fuel conversion efficiency of the existing thermal power stations from an average of 30 to 35 per cent. No new thermal power plant should be allowed without a certified fuel conversion efficiency of at least 38 to 40 per cent.
  • Large scope exists to make buildings energy efficient. Construction materials are energy intensive and the use of appropriate materials and design can save energy also during use by occupants. Innovative and energy efficient building technologies should be widely publicised through an annual prize
  • Improving the efficiency of industrial, municipal and agricultural water pumping along with the adoption of shifting pumping load to off-peak hours can amply serve to save energy.

Way ahead

  • India faces an enormous challenge if it is to meet the energy requirement over the coming 25 years. This challenge can be met with a coherent approach which develops all available energy resources.
  • The path to sustainable energy security needs a broad policy framework and development of thrust areas to create a roadmap for implementations.
  • An aggressive campaign by roping in a dozen public heroes must be undertaken to drive the message home that there is no alternative to being energy efficient.

Question: Energy efficiency is far eco- friendly and far reaching than simply generating energy. Comment.