Featured: The Raw Material that is Waste
It is estimated that every Indian consumes approximately 8 kgs of plastic a year. If even 20% of the total plastic consumed gets into the waste cycle, that equals over a billion kilograms of plastic waste that will be generated in India just this year alone. The per capita figure usage has gone up from 4 Kgs per Indian in 2006 and is expected to grow to 25 Kgs of plastic used by every Indian per year by 2020. Imagine how much plastic waste we will be dealing with by 2020? Seriously alarming. Remember the film Wall E? *sigh*..
The United Nation’s Environment Program published an excellent study about Converting Waste Plastics into a Resource (PDF Download here). Describing the pathways for Waste Plastic, the report traces most routes, which invaribly lead to a dumping site or a land fill.
If India alone is producing over a billion kilograms of plastic waste each year – the global figures are huge. While the world tries to figure out how to use less plastic – an equally important focus for Innovation will need to be: What to do with all the plastic that is already in the dumping grounds?
At Rs 85,000 crore, the Plastic Industry in India is expected to grow at an average of 10 percent a year. Any benefits of rules that ban using plastic bags, containers and packaging will have little impact, considering the size at which the problem is growing. Even the most environmentally conscious urban dweller will find it difficult to completely abstain from using plastic. We have come to accept that banning plastic completely may be somewhat unrealistic. So the problem now isn’t only how to stop consuming plastic but also how to get the most use from waste plastic. What is possible?
A Mumbai based firm called STEPS (Sustainable Technologies and Environmental Projects) is setting up a plant to turn plastic into fuel.
The Pune Municipal Corporation has also run a pilot project that uses fuel made from plastic in generators. The technology behind creating fuel from plastic has already evolved significantly and Indian firms like STEPS have expressed an interest in pursuing this idea to scale.
K K Plastics in Bangalore demonstrates one of the most functional uses of waste pastic. K K Plastics started off as a plastic manufacturer in the 80’s but after manufacturing restrictions laws were passed in 1999 the two brothers, Ahmed and Rasool Khan realised the harmful impact plastic has on the environment and decided to be a part of the solution. Mr Rasool Khan, along with the Central Road Research Institute in New Delhi conducted an in-depth study on how one could use scrap plastic to create a new material for building roads. K K Plastics supplied the raw material and CRRI conducted the research at Bangalore University.
The findings were remarkable; the new compound used plastic mixed with asphalt at a high temperature and created a compound called polymerized bitumen. This new compound when used in roads increases the strength and durability of the material. Roads made out of regular tar last about 3-4 years under ideal conditions but adding scrap plastic to the mix increases the life span by 2 -3 years. Scrap plastic has very little use unless it is broken down and converted into another substance; this means roads made from polymerized bitumen are one of the best ways to put an otherwise waste material like scrap plastic to use.
An innovation like this has the potential to create a tremendous impact in India; waste plastic that would otherwise litter streets and clog up drains has been put to use in a very useful, functional manner and road longevity has increased. The process even has the potential to generate employment as waste pickers and sorters would be required to source the scrap plastic.
Mr Rasool estimates that the raw material to build one km of road requires 1.6 tonnes of shredded, scrap plastic. The Indian Road Congress estimates that there is approximately 42.3 million kilometers of paved road in India. That means Indian could potentially have a use for 67.68 million tonnes of plastic every 4-6 years.
Yet after 10 years of completing the study, K K Plastics has managed to pave only about 1200 km of road with polymerized bitumen. Even with breakthrough technology and knowledge of the environmental and livelihood benefits, plastic roads are not being adopted on a large scale.
A strong need for policy backed, large-scale adoption. In the case of roads for instance, the only real customer for plastic roads in India is the Government; K K Plastics only produces as much road as the Government is willing to pay for. The only way for this technology to have a significant impact on the environment is if it is mandatory for roads in India to be made of polymerized bitumen. The Government is currently more focused on reducing plastic consumption than finding alternate uses for the material. A shift in mindset needs to be triggered – where plastic (especially scrap plastic) is viewed as a raw material and not as a waste product.
New policies in waste management will need to source and understand these interesting innovations and support them through large scale adoption, encouraged by enabling policies, facilitating citizens to adopt. Till all that happens, we need to continue supporting and working with such entrepreneurs, helping them find ways to breakthrough the adoption cycle for their innovative and high-impact work.
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Blog Post Research & Compilation: Mansi Reddy, April 2012