The Financial Express

Eco-friendly brick making

Eco-friendly brick making

Among the many man-made environmental hazards, the one going unabated despite alarm raised by the environmentalists and conscious quarters in the country is the conventional method of brick making. The toxic smoke-emitting brick kilns are a well known havoc to the environment and farmlands all over the country.

 The number of brick kilns irrespective of locations has been on the rise for decades, facilitated largely by the absence of any enforceable actions. This is not to say there is no law governing brick making. The Brick Burning (control) Act 1989 had its inadequacies to dictate terms in the first place, and besides, lacuna in the enforcement of some of the compliance issues made things worse. Consequently, the practice of setting up brick plants at any location went unopposed.

According to the Department of Environment, there are about 6,500 brickfields in the country. Environmentalists, however, claim the number to be as high as around 10,000 and half of them are located around the capital. According to a report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) sometime ago, the country produces 22.71 billion pieces of bricks annually. In doing so, a World Bank report says, the brick kiln sector consumes 3.5 million tonnes of coal and 1.9 million tonnes of firewood, emitting 9.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas annually.

From what observers and environmentalists point out, one of the grim realities is that brick fields across the country are getting increasingly invasive in grabbing the country's less than sufficient arable lands. More dangerous is the threat that comes in terms of affecting neighbourhood lands under cultivation because of the heat, caustic smoke and dust generated by the brick making plants. The law mentioned above stipulated certain strict restrictions on brick making--- meaning how brick makers are to conduct themselves. This, as things stand now, did not work, mainly because of the highly demand-driven nature of the construction sector and lack of enforcement.

Years ago, the government enacted a law on brick production. The purpose was to check widespread environment pollution as well as save arable land and forest. Subsequently, another law on brick manufacturing titled Brick Making and Brickfield Establishment (Control) Act got enacted in 2013.  The previous law, the Brick Burning (control) Act 1989 was amended twice in 1992 and 2001, before it was finally replaced by the new law with stricter measures. The new law has introduced tougher regulations for brick production, including the provision of trial for offences under the penal code. Previously, offences were tried in the environment court. However, it appears that so far the law has not been able to prevail on those defying it. According to experts the law is more or less a comprehensive one in addressing all aspects of brick making, specifying also the locations that should be free from brick plants. It is not understood with the law in place for a while, what is it that prevents its compliance. Except for occasional reports in newspapers of demolition of brick plants, there is no major move so far to bring the law in practice.

 Is it the demand-driven factor that dissuades enforcement in favour of leniency? If so, the authorities have to look for alternatives.

 In this context, it is important to note that the innovation of alternative brick as a departure from bricks produced in traditional kilns is a laudable initiative to meet the requirement of bricks. And this also serves to justify the government policy to gradually phase out traditional brick making.   Clean bricks or green bricks, as they are called, are being used in many countries not only as a substitute for kiln-baked bricks but also as a cost-effective material for construction. A local daily has recently reported on the use of compressed earth blocks made of soil and cement as an alternative to bricks produced in the kilns. Beside being environment-friendly, use of these bricks is believed to reduce construction cost by around 25-30 per cent, according to experts

The government's Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI), according to the report, has initiated the move by demonstrating the beneficial effects that can be had from the green bricks. These bricks made from mixing cement and soil dredged out of rivers is produced without baking in kilns thus reducing pollution and harm to arable lands.

The HBRI has been in the process of producing the alternative brick for some years now and some government and private organisations have already started using these bricks. The important thing about these bricks is that in the production process there is no use of topsoil and firewood, and hence these are pollution-free.

Now, with green technology at hand, things are different. At least, it offers the scope for eco-friendly brick manufacturing and because of the superior technology and cost-effectiveness, chances are high that the alternative brick will gain popularity. The initial cost of the technology is reportedly high. But keeping in view its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, high scale of production and above all emission-free mechanism, it is highly imperative that the government gradually phase out the traditional kilns and provide necessary support by way of soft-term financing to encourage the green technology. Simultaneously, incorporation of a provision for use of green bricks in the National Building Code may serve well to encourage application of the new technology.


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