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Innovation

Jul 01, 2004
Plastics recycling is out in the streets

Mr K Ahmed Khan has the perfect solution to end the growing menace of plastic litter in our public spaces. And in the process, he has proved how receptive and encouraging, official India can be.

He is talking of mixing plastics with bitumen to lay roads. As a concept, you may have heard of it, but read on. What he has achieved takes the idea way down—well—the road. He has 40 km and 18 months of proof to show for the efficacy of his solution. He has a patent and a great business model that will make it a sustainable activity. He has the endorsement of the academic world. He has the officialdom convinced and committed. And most of all, he has a contract to lay 800 km of roads in Bangalore.

Plastic litter is a public hazard which has drawn many activists. Irate citizens want laws to ban the use of plastics. Many abjure their use voluntarily and hope the world will follow their example. Environmentalists are against any solution that will involve incineration. Technologists point out that many of the recycling solutions like recovering liquid fuels from waste plastic, yield less in energy terms than what was put into the process. The huge plastics industry lobby puts out advertisements that extoll the virtues of plastics—which no one is questioning— and piously counsels that we must use them with care.These ‘solutions’ have only divided all those ranged against the problem. Khan has now produced what seems a flawless solution that will satisfy all critics.

56 year old Ahmed Khan—with his brother K Rasool Khan— has been running KK Polyflex for 20 years, producing plastic sacks. About 8 years ago he realised that the anti-plastics lobby had a point that the plastics industry was ignoring at its own peril. He rolled up his sleeves to create an opportunity out of the situation.

He has spent time and money on his carefully co-ordinated strategy. Roping in his nephew Amjad Khan, who is a chemical engineer, KK Polyflex developed the KK Polyblend, a fine powder of recycled plastic with a few proprietory additives. He then enlisted the help of Prof C E G Justo of Bangalore University, who in turn got students of R V College of Engineering to experiment with various blends of bitumen and KK Polyblend. Findings pointed to a clear promise.

Armed with that, Khan turned from technology and research, to marketing. The Khan brothers founded KK Waste Management Pvt Ltd [KKWM]. In 2002, the city corporation, Bangalore Mahanagara Palike laid about 40 km of roads using KK Polyblend in 12 different areas of the city. These have been observed through the seasons for over 18 months now—that included two monsoons. The results are in public view. KK Polyblend appears to have strengthened roads by enhancing bitumen’s bonding ability, and made the roads longer lasting by rendering them more impervious to water. Prof Justo and his colleague, Dr A Veeraraghavan have estimated that Polyblend can increase road life by a factor of three. When that is reckoned with, the extra cost of Polyblend is more than offset.

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