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Alka Zadgaonkar wrings plastic waste for profit

Alka's is the world's first continuous process for all manner of waste plastics

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It is strange to hear Alka Zadgaonkar say, "Plastics are useful to our lives. We can't deny that."

Were she a spokeswomen for the dishonest, self-serving plastic industry lobby, that statement would be understandable. Were she a legislator we could say she was evading the issue. Her statement will likely infuriate many of us agonising over the plastic litter all around us.

But hold your breath. Alka loves plastics for an exciting reason; she is the inventor of a process that has the potential to clear our environment of plastic waste, create a million jobs in waste management, add useful, profitable products to our economy and make India a technology leader in taming plastics. Her work is breathtaking good news for this planet's environment.

Pie on the table:

We are not talking of a pie in the sky idea that is still in the laboratory. Alka and her husband Umesh, are buying in 5 tonnes of plastic waste everyday in Nagpur at prices attractive to rag pickers. They are wringing fuel oil out of that unsightly pile and selling it to industries in the Butibori Industrial Estate, on Wardha Road out of Nagpur. Production from their plant, Unique Plastic Waste Management & Research Co Pvt Ltd is sold out for the next year.

They are making money right now, and are about to scale up and buy in 25 tonnes of plastic waste a day. That production too is booked. As Nagpur generates only 35 TPD of plastic waste, they will shortly run out of raw material to grow bigger. So, a plant based on their technology may soon be playing in your town, at a factory near you.

All your questions:

Too good to be true? Let us at once address some of the questions that are already popping up in your mind. Zadgaonkar's is not a demo plant running on some government grant or subsidy. They took a commercial loan from the State Bank of India in 2005 and have already begun paying back. In fact, the government let them down and Zadgaonkars decided to flex the great Indian entrepreneurial muscle. [On that, more later.]

The process invented and patented by Alka Zadgaonkar is capable of accepting all tribes and castes of plastic waste as input: carry bags, broken buckets and chairs, PVC pipes, CDs, computer keyboards and other eWaste, the horrible, aluminized crinkly bags of the kind that pack crisps, expanded polystyrene [the abominable 'thermocole'], PET bottles- are these and others are all given equal opportunity to contribute to Zadgaonkars' profits. No sorting or picking is done.

No preparatory cleaning is necessary either, except shredding that helps economic transport of bulky waste. All solids and metal fines settle down in the melting process or are converted to ash.

Chlorinated plastics like PVC are particularly hazardous to burn because they emit dioxins. In the Alka Zadgaonkar process, the entire shredded mixture is melted at a low temperature and led to a de-gasification stage. Here chlorine is led away to harmlessly bubble through water, producing hydrochlorous acid.

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