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  Plastic recycling moves ahead

Even as a modernising India roars ahead, it is leaving a trail of plastic waste everywhere. Bottles, bags, buckets, shoes and garments are thrown away by the rich and the poor. Luckily,India has already exhausted that reflex reaction of shallow thinkers: ‘ban plastics!’ And even more luckily, some sober minds are focused on creative solutions to the problem. In March this year GoodNewsIndia reported on a few promising developments in recycling research. Now, happily two of those initiatives have moved out of the labs.

Prof Vasudevan in Madurai, Tamil Nadu had proposed blending plastic waste with bitumen and rock aggregate used in paving roads. He said this improves bonding and make the roads survive the monsoons better. A small stretch of road was paved early this year to prove the concept. Now there is news that the practice may be spreading. The Hindu reported on Oct 17, 2003, that a 1.2 km stretch of country road was formed near Kancheepuram using plastic waste blended with bitumen.

While that approach has to do with disposal, Alka Zadgaonkar’s is do with reuse. An academic and a researcher in Nagpur, she has gained a WIPO patent for her process to convert all manner of plastic wastes into petrochemicals. For eight years she and her husband Umesh have worked on perfecting the process. They then demonstrated it to many critical audiences. And now news comes that their doggedness may be paying off. Indian Oil Corporation [IOC] has signed a deal with her.

First off, a 15 tonne pilot plant will be built within the next six months in Nagpur. IOC has given her Rs. 6 million to build this plant. Once perfected, the idea is to dot the country with such small units. Her process accepts all type of plastics in all forms and produces petrol grade fuel at an estimated cost of Rs.12 per litre. So there is much promise in that development.

An additional satisfaction for GoodNewsIndia is that its convictions are reinforced by the Zadgaonkar story. She is of a middle income stock, lives in a joint family which believed in its daughter-in-law’s abilities and sold some property to finance her experiments. Her husband stood by her throughout. And when the time came, a state behemoth like IOC pitched in to help. Pick the keywords: frontier research, woman, joint family, middle income group, WIPO patent, state support… Can India lose with sets of cards like that?