Remarks by Thomas L Vajda at Waste Management Innovation Conference, Mumbai

Hotel Trident Oberoi, Mumbai on April 17, 2017

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good morning everyone. I am very pleased to welcome you to the United States-India Conference on Waste Management Innovation.

I want to first extend a heartfelt thank you to our close partners in this endeavor—the Ohio State University and the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay. In particular, I want to thank Dr. Joseph Fiksel of Ohio State University and Dr. Sanjeev Chaudhari from IIT-Bombay for their vision in putting together this innovative conference. Drs. Fiksel and Chaudhari and their teams illustrate the bonds of friendship and cooperation that lie at the core of the U.S.-Indian partnership. What better way to showcase these bonds than by co-hosting this two-day event for Indians, Americans, and others to come together to explore creative waste management solutions that can green our economies. I also want to extend my thanks to Priya Kurle of Ohio State University’s Mumbai office for her hard work over the past months organizing the many logistics of this event. Thank you, Priya.

This morning I am honored to welcome Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai Ajoy Mehta and Additional Municipal Commissioner Sanjay Mukherjee. I also want to welcome the Director of the Smart Cities Council, India Pratap Padode. Also joining us here from the U.S. government is Mehnaz Ansari of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency who is based at our Embassy in New Delhi.

As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India have much in common, and our shared values and interests are increasing each year. Both our countries have expanding economies, growing populations, and increasing people-to-people ties in areas such as business, education, and tourism; student exchanges; and family connections. With increased growth, however, comes increased waste production. In the United States, we currently generate about 260 million tons of solid waste a year in our cities and towns. India is already producing some 960 million tons per year. When you consider the output of the world’s other 190-plus countries, it becomes clear that waste management is a global challenge. Paradoxically, it is our cities and local governments that are often on the front lines of this global issue. Waste management is a major challenge for cities, particularly for mega-cities such as Mumbai. As urbanization increases, so too will our need for creative and sustainable solutions.

The world is full of examples of the consequences of not treating waste properly. Here in Mumbai in 2016, for example, the city’s Deonar dumping ground caught fire and burned for several days, worsening the city’s already poor air quality. In my home state of Arizona, the city of Phoenix was once labeled “The World’s Least Sustainable City.” For decades, its outskirts were used by other nearby states as a dumping ground because the desert land was comparatively inexpensive. In recent years, however, Phoenix has begun to emerge from this toxic legacy by redeveloping its waste dumps. But among all these challenges there is also opportunity. That is the purpose of this gathering, and that is the message I want to stress this morning. American cities, businesses, and researchers have much experience finding and implementing innovative waste management solutions. Through the sharing of best practices from the United States, India, and elsewhere, these next two days will be a unique opportunity to explore innovations and to build collaborative networks focused on solutions.

Several major U.S. cities have made it a goal by 2040 of becoming “Zero Waste Cities.” Among them are New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas to name a few. To reach this responsible goal, these cities have become innovators. I’d like to share with you a few examples of ground-breaking ideas that have not only reduced waste but also provided multiplying benefits for local communities:

• In California, the Smart Riverside Program collects electronic waste and reuses it for hands-on education. There, low-income students learn how to refurbish the discarded computers. All members of the program receive eight hours of instruction and get to take home a refurbished computer complete with software. To date, the program has provided 5,000 computers to low-income families and kept thousands of pounds of electronic waste out of California landfills.

• In 2014, the city of New Orleans purchased 250 solar trash compactors and placed them in high-traffic public locations. This initiative saved time and land space as compacted trash requires fewer trips to the dump and less space for disposal. It had the added benefit of reducing the city’s rodent problem by reducing the waste that attracted vermin.

• In its bid to become the first “Zero Waste City,” San Francisco started recycling entire buildings. Since the sand and limestone used to make concrete are often mined, the city began recycling its obsolete buildings to prevent a huge amount of waste from being dumped and to reduce the need to mine for new materials.

• A few years ago, New York City underwent one of the largest composting experiments ever. Its North River Waste Water Treatment plant treats between 130 and 350 million gallons of wastewater a day. For decades, all of that sewage was dumped into the Hudson River completely untreated. After 1986, the raw sewage was dried, but the sludge continued to be dumped into the ocean about 100 miles off the coast. Today, the city reuses these bio-solids to make hundreds of tons of fertilizer, which makes its way to farms every day. As a result, municipal waste was eliminated, farming soil was rebuilt, and crop yields increased by one third. This is a perfect example of the kinds of innovation that can help make our economies circular and sustainable.

It is important to stress today the crucial role that technology can play in responsible waste management solutions. As just one illustration, in the United States today, there are more than 70 waste-to-energy plants located in 20 states. These plants generate 2.3 gigawatts of electricity—enough power to light more than 200 million LED light bulbs. All together in the United States, sustainable waste management efforts provide more than 400,000 jobs for our economy, and with further innovation fueled by technology, more will surely come.

Individual, community, and global responsibility are required to reach the next milestone towards a green and inclusive economy in the United States and here in India. As one small example, my family I were happy to be a part of the Green Ganesh movement the last two years, making eco-friendly idols for Ganesh Chaturthi. The U.S. Consulate currently recycles glass, plastic, metal, and paper, and we have also invested in a waste-water recycling plant on our property in BKC. We are now working to install compost bins for the food waste that we produce.

I look forward to learning of the innovative ideas and new partnerships that will emerge from this conference. I’m also pleased to report that to further incentivize your ideas, the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai has established a fund to provide small seed grants for the development of up to five innovative waste reduction or prevention technologies that stem from this event. Details of how to apply and what funds are available will be announced during the last session tomorrow.

The diverse and robust U.S.-Indian relationship can contribute so much to realizing a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable world. The work that the Indian and American peoples undertake daily in the private sector, academia, and other areas is laying the foundation for greater sustainability of our planet and a healthier future for our children. It is underpinned by our shared belief in the power of technology and innovation to achieve positive results. I hope this truth will inspire you all to maximize this opportunity over the coming days to find effective waste management strategies.

Thank you again for your participation. I wish you the very best during the conference.