you can find the world in a person's diary who thinks He's the world

Feb 25, 2014

Most appropriate solution

A city or a community with a problem will not choose a solution just because it is the most appropriate solution. By appropriate, I mean the most environmentally friendly, economically viable and easily implementable. There's more than that to all decisions in this world.

This is probably the first time I'm writing an account of my work, but here's an example of what I mean.

For recovering energy from post-recycled waste, plasma gasification is not the best solution. Mainly because it is neither economically viable nor technically feasible at scale. One day, as part of my work, I came across a municipality which was calling for bids to build a plasma gasification plant to reduce the volume of their waste. Is that the best use for the technology or is that the best solution for the problem they were facing? It might be if it worked.

Since I have been analyzing various technologies from around the world as part of my education and work, I went to educate that municipality about plasma gasification to change their minds. I showed them many examples, and enormous amount of research on it. The guy I was talking to seemed to understand most of what I was talking. He was a chemical engineer too and we talked in our lingo. When you try to persuade someone, there will be a moment when they think "what does this guy get by doing this?" and you'll know that moment by observing their eyes. I got that look too, for a moment. Somehow, I did end up convincing him towards the end. But, nothing changed.

Nothing changed because some person higher up heard from somewhere about plasma gasification and thought it would be really "cool" to be the first municipality to do such a technology in the country. That person who was higher up could not be reached by the deadline to submit proposals. I don't think the municipality got enough proposals to go ahead at that time. I haven't followed up later. But, you get the point, cities don't choose technologies just because they're the most appropriate.

Another example from Kerala. I wrote about waste management in this state in my previous publications. They were in absolute crisis - youngsters in a village adjoining a dump were unable to get married. Guess what happened with them? They took many measures to make the situation better. One of them was to go for gasification. Gasification is more technically viable than than plasma gasification, but still not good for a developing economy, which cannot experiment with its public health or environment or for that matter with money. If they conducted a proper analysis of the situation, they would have gone with other solutions. But, they were talked in to gasification by a fly-by-night company, the management of which has set up numerous companies before closing them down a few months later. Last week, I read a slew of reports about how the entire project failed. Again, a decision made not just because a solution is appropriate.

I don't know if its me, but when I analyze these project failures (I worked a project analyzing waste management failures from around the world), I somehow always deduce failures happen due to a general lack of understanding about waste. I know situations where politics were a bigger reason for failure than education. But, by increasing awareness about waste solutions, we can create a level playing ground for politics and other factors, which are avoidable in the light of good information.

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