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Dec 07, 2005
Surveying the recycling scene

In 2004 Nippon Steel installed a blast furnace for Tata Steel in India, which is capable of using plastic waste. Innovating on the Japanese idea, Veena Sahajwalla in Australia has extended the use of plastic waste in elctric-steel making also. Typically while blast furnaces use coal and iron ore, arc furnaces use electricity and steel scrap. So the time may be ripe for an entrepreneur to implement the Garthe idea across the country to build a profitable supply chain.

Ahmed Khan's idea of mixing pulverised plastic waste with bitumen to lay roads is making good, if slow progress. Since we reported that development, he has received orders to help lay over 500 km of roads within Bangalore city limits. At 2 tonnes of waste required per km of road, this can help clear litter fast. But to do that, he needs encouragement from the National Highways Authority of India. It is puzzling why that isn't forthcoming, considering Khan and Central Road Research Institute have been granted a patent for their process and the 40 km of test roads he laid in Bangalore have proved themselves over last two years. Khan dreams of setting up his pulverising units all over the country. If that dream comes through our loveable rag-picker, who will get Rs.6 per kilo of waste, will clean up our spaces in quick time.

The final approach is to make plastics biodegradable. This would need industry level persuasion but it should not be hard, given that the industry can sell greater volumes. BioMax by DuPont is not just bio-degradable but can even be composted. According to the company, weak spots are created in the polymer chain "making them susceptible through hydrolysis. Moisture cleaves the large polymer molecules into smaller ones, which are then consumed by naturally occurring microbes to carbon dioxide and water." Oh, for picnic plates and cups that will be dissolved in rain. There are many similar products available around the world, some made even from corn.

Given the extent of the menace one may be confident that the problem will be solved in the near future. If that wait makes you despondent, here's a delightful recycling success, though not of plastics.

It appears India generates 12,000 tonnes of currency notes every year. The Reserve Bank of India sells this at between Rs.0.40 to Rs.1.50 a kg. While the waste may be burnt, it may not be recycled into paper. Probably the Bank dreads counterfeiters. Rajratan Technique and Technology in Indore has worked out a great opportunity from this situation: it turns old notes into sheets, doors and furniture. Read the story here.

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