Question Marks seminar examines how smart tech can promote sustainability

In this special India Week Question Marks seminar, Dr Vaibhav Gaikwad and Dr Komal Yenneti, both New Generation Network Scholars based at the University of New South Wales addressed the increasingly urgent question of how India’s environment can be cleaned.

Two decades of rapid economic growth and urbanisation have put unprecedented strain on India’s environment. Air and water pollution and a degraded natural environments are a threat to India’s future growth and prosperity. Increasing volumes of waste are being produced, yet in areas such as e-waste, recycling technologies and strategies are still in their infancy. Coupled with this, in the coming decades climate change will make India’s cities, towns, and villages hotter and harder for people to live within.

Dr Yenneti opened the discussion by providing insights into her work at UNSW, where she develops technological solutions to make cities cooler, such as new paints that reflect heat She spoke about how these products are already being deployed in Australia and India and that there is much potential for them to be used on a much larger scale to make Indian cities more liveable and resilient to a warming climate. You can read more about the innovative work that Dr Yenneti is doing here.

Next Dr Gaikwad spoke about his work on plastic and electronic waste recycling. He highlighted that, while India is producing increasing amounts of waste, there is enormous potential for smart low-tech recycling systems to be employed to turn this was into valuable materials. To learn more about the timely work that Dr Gaikwad is doing here.

In the second half of the seminar Dr Meenakshi Arora, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, and Professor Robin Jeffrey, Distinguished Fellow at the Australia India Institute, responded to Dr Yenneti and Dr Gaikwad. This conversation focused on how a key challenge with smart technological solutions to cooler cities is often a lack of water, and how new systems to recycle waste often fail when there is no commercial gain to be had in their deployment.

Professor Jeffrey, who recently co-authored the book Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India, spoke on how there is a long history of government’s seeking smart technological solutions to waste, which rarely work out as hoped. Prof. Jeffrey furthermore spoke about how his own research shows that a key challenge to waste in India is that local governments, who are tasked with dealing with waste, are not adequately resourced in terms of money or manpower. The conversation ended with a reflection on some of the low-tech solutions that might be necessary alongside high tech solutions to deal with India’s environmental challenges.