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How India Can Clean Up Supply Chains By 2019

by Vikas Argod, Manager, Supply Chain Operations & Sivaram Murthy, Senior Consultant,
Integrated Demand and Supply Planning, Chainalytics

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Translated from Hindi, this phrase means “Clean India Mission” and it represents a massive campaign by India’s government to clean the country. The effort is sweeping, covering everything from roads and infrastructure to solid waste in more than 4,000 cities and towns. The goal is equally ambitious: Clean India by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday. That is 2 October, 2019, which gives the country less than three years to significantly reduce roadside litter and solid waste.

Even with the help of three million government employees and students, grassroots efforts and behavioural changes are unlikely to be effective without reforming, improving – and in some cases, creating for the very first time – waste management and infrastructure supply chains. Successfully meeting the goal of a cleaner India will require action from the government on three key fronts: packaging research, policy integration and establishing a supply chain centre of excellence.

Investing in less wasteful packaging

As the last step in the product cycle, packaging does not always enjoy as much attention as manufacturing or transportation – but it is the first step in the waste cycle. That makes it a great place to start for anyone looking for ways to boost sustainability and/or reduce waste. India’s government can achieve quick results by incentivising the private sector to use more biodegradable and recyclable packaging. One mechanism that can be used is to waive the Swachh Bharat Cess, India’s 0.5 per cent service tax, for companies that show year-overyear reductions in non-biodegradable and/ or non-recyclable packaging [in the GST world, when India gets there, a similar incentive scheme can be designed].

These incentives should be augmented by investing in the type of packaging improvement research that is better suited for the government than the private sector. Funding institutions, like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, National Institute of Design, and Indian Institute of Packaging, with grants will yield multiple solutions focused entirely on reducing waste.

Integrating policy with waste management

With such vast geography that includes mountains, deserts, coasts, and tropical rainforests India is also home to more than a billion people with tremendous cultural diversity. That makes a “one size fits all” approach to waste management problematic, which is why individual cities are addressing the issue on their own.

This is vital because the desert regions of India cannot implement water intensive operations to deal with solid waste, and for some areas, a hub and spoke model makes more sense than centralised waste processing. This need for solution independence also presents itself in national policy. For example, “Make In India,” Food and Safety Standards, and the National e-Governance Plan all use separate standards for waste management. It is better to integrate waste management into every existing and new policy than to create a unique department or policy for it. However, at the national level, every regulation and policy that needs a waste management component should have one integrated and make sure that it is compatible with the requirements that other departments are implementing.

Supply Chain Centre of Excellence for solution management

By creating a supply chain centre of excellence (CoE), India can reduce inefficiencies and prevent every state, city, and municipality from having to reinvent the wheel. A CoE can develop a successful, efficient, and repeatable solution that local officials can use in building solid waste supply chains. Everything, from process maps, technology options, organisational structures, and skilled resources, should be provided by this CoE. This provides a single repository of information that all of India’s cities can draw from, freeing them up to dedicate resources to planning and construction instead of development.

It also keeps the national government from having to get directly involved with waste management infrastructure at the local level. Setting up a think tank that gives both the private and public sector access to the best information empowers them to handle implementation. It also gives entrepreneurs the intelligence they need to build disruptive marketplaces that ultimately reduce transaction costs, organically bolstering efficiency. Solutions that are advised by research and best practices from a national government level, optimised by private entrepreneurs, and implemented by local authorities will serve waste management needs best.

If India invests in creating institutions and skillsets that promote “clean India” supply chains, it will realise a much better return than getting involved in directly managing those chains itself. We can expect a large percentage of effort from the government to focus on sewage and human waste streams because the most glaring problem that India wants to eliminate by its deadline is open defecation. That is a fairly simple goal to measure success on as opposed to the more ambiguous goal of “significantly reducing roadside litter and solid waste.”

However, the impact that the country can have on its environment by thinking about all of its supply chains and waste streams is large. Multinationals conducting business in India can also participate by introducing their own initiatives to reduce packaging waste, whether incentivised by the government or not.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” Closing that gap by investing in packaging research, integrating waste management policy, and creating a supply chain centre of excellence would be the best tribute the current administration could provide for his 150th birthday.

About the Authors

Vikas Argod is Manager of the Supply Chain Operations Competency at Chainalytics. Vikas specialises in warehouse operations, transformation programme management and service delivery processes in project-based business environments.

Sivaram Murthy brings experience in providing supply chain management, supply chain analytics, demand analytics, inventory management, product management and technology services and solutions to sectors including retail, manufacturing, financial services and education.

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