Under ideal conditions food industry should be able to manage the wastes generated within their manufacturing premises without causing nuisance to the environment. The wastes that can become logistical problem for any processing unit are of liquid, solid and gaseous types and industry continuously strives to generate economic benefits out of these wastes as far as possible. Recycling of waste water, generation of bio-gas, recovery of valuable economic products, co-generation of electricity etc are some possibilities for the food industry. Using factory wastes for landfill is a common practice in many countries in the West till a few years ago though environmental impact of such dumping forced many countries to clamp down on such activities. A zero waste industry can be a target but how this is achievable remains to be seen.
In a recent survey in the UK, it was brought out that the food and beverage industry in that country has adopted a zero waste policy which is being implemented voluntarily without any government compulsion. Of course national policies regulating land refills in many developed countries are becoming more and more stringent and probably industry may have few options but to drastically reduce the waste sent out of their premises. If the industry there is able to reduce its waste almost 90% as being claimed, such a signal achievement is praise worthy and the target of a zero waste economy seems to be within their reach. True, UK is a small country with less population and management of a few thousand tons of waste may not be such a formidable task but the determination to work for zero waste is no less admirable. Considering that many new technologies have emerged to treat wastes with minimum impact on the environment but installing such modern facilities calls for astronomical investments which cannot be afforded by most of the small enterprises with limited sparable resources.
Probably India has a good law on paper for waste disposal as many states give manufacturing licenses conditional to containment of waste within the premises of the manufacturer. But these regulations are not implemented in most of the cases and letting waste water into public streams and other similar cases of breach of the laws are very common. Considering that high investment is necessary to install waste processing facilities, many small scale industries find it extremely difficult to comply with strict control regimes and probably government will have to think of appropriate policies to help this sector. The food industrial estates which originated in early seventies in Karnataka state in India was a workable concept where each such functional but collective entity would have its own common waste processing facility for use by the member industries. How ever such far-sighted revolutionary programs could not be implemented due to many reasons.
Modern day Food Park programs, being promoted and supported by GOI has also provisions for internal waste disposal facilities though it is not known how strictly they are monitored by the local environmental authorities for compliance. Regarding the requirements of small and micro enterprises, the quantum of waste generated by them may not be high but still can pose problems for local community. Probably separately earmarked landfills, a few kilometers away from human habitation can be considered and local governments must be encouraged to set up such scientifically designed and managed facilities for which the manufacturers can be charged an affordable fee. Incidentally most municipalities have their own land refills for disposal of municipal wastes, presently eyesores in the country's landscape but if they can be reorganized, redesigned and efficiently managed, these facilities can be modified to receive food industry solid wastes also.
The adverse impact of landfills can include pollution to the environment, especially contamination of water or aquifers which can make water non-potable and dangerous. Soil contamination is another risk associated with such dumps while generation of methane, considered a green house gas, much more potent and dangerous to the environment than CO2 because of anaerobic digestion of organic matters, presents its own problems. Besides uncontrolled and unmanaged land fills can be serious health hazard because they can be breeding ground for many disease vectors like rodents, flees, birds, scavenging animals etc. Unbearable stink emanating from waste dumping areas can be nauseating and allergic to people nearby. Burning of plastic materials can generate toxic materials like dioxins, injurious to human health. Taking into consideration some of these issues, alternate options of "incentivization" of efforts by the industry for avoiding or minimizing waste generation, economic utilization of wastes and in-house disposal of wastes deserve attention.V.H.POTTY