Poly-fuel and paving roads: turning non-recyclable plastic into a resource
A lot of our attention is focused on reducing plastic waste, but what can we do with the huge amount of plastic waste we already have? Two innovative Indian companies have come up with creative solutions: they are transforming plastic waste into fuel or using it to build roads. Read More
A lot of our attention is focused on reducing plastic waste, but what can we do with the huge amount of plastic waste we already have? Two innovative Indian companies have come up with creative solutions: they are transforming plastic waste into fuel or using it to build roads.
Plastic bans, resource-efficient production processes and the introduction of viable alternatives to plastic are all contributing to reducing the use of plastics around the world. But what can we do with the mounds of plastic already clogging the planet?
Finding innovative ways of reusing plastic is crucial, especially in countries with insufficient waste management systems, such as India. An estimated 16.5 million tons of plastic are used in India each year, according to a report in Down to Earth that cites data provided by NGO network PlastIndia Foundation. Despite the recent pledge to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, India’s annual plastic consumption is expected to exceed 20 million tons by 2020. According to India’s Central Pollution Control Board, around
25,940 tons of plastic waste go uncollected every day. Most ends up in landfills, rivers and ultimately the ocean, or pollutes the air when burned in open fields. With a growing population of more than 1.3 billion people, India is under huge pressure to deal with these growing mounds of plastic waste. Indian companies have taken up the mission to reduce non-recyclable plastic waste by transforming it into a resource: Here are two examples of how to tackle the problem.
Eco-friendly technology transforms plastic waste into fuel
Based in the city of Pune, Rudra Environmental Solutions is transforming plastic waste into fuel. The company was established in 2009 and has perfected a process known as thermo catalytic depolymerization (TCD), a patented technology that converts plastic waste into poly-fuel by reversing the plastic production process. The technology can disintegrate of all kinds of plastic waste, including bottles, bags, packaging, cable covers and old tires.
The first step involves cleaning the plastic waste in order to remove contaminants like paper and food particles. This increases the efficiency of the process and the quality of the fuel. The plastic is then shredded and loaded into a heated sealed reactor where it undergoes ‘depolymerization’ – the process of breaking larger molecules down into smaller ones. The long chains of polymers are split in the absence of oxygen, which produces hydrocarbon vapors. The condensed vapors serve as fuel and synthetic gas. The synthetic gas is used as an energy source to keep the reactor running. The fuel passes through a filtration system before being collected, while the non-plastic material and non-depolymerized plastic settles at the bottom of the reactor, where it can easily be removed afterwards.
Each ton of plastic produces approximately 600 to 650 liters of poly-fuel, as well as synthetic gas, moisture and residual char that can be used in road construction. The fuel produced is a mixture of kerosene and petrol that can be burnt in kerosene stoves, boilers and furnaces, or used to generate electricity. It is sold to people in the villages around Pune at a cheaper price than conventional fuel or diesel. The technology is pollution-free, since no harmful gas and effluents are generated and no water is contaminated during the process.
While in the beginning the founders picked up plastic waste themselves from their friends, by 2014 they decided to focus raising awareness of the people of Pune. They started asking people to put their waste into recycled plastic bags, which the team would collect at regular intervals. Today, vans go out to collect plastic waste in the nearby communities every week. So far, the company has collected more than 250 metric tons of waste plastic from about 15,000 households, hotels and businesses around Pune.
Paving durable roads with old plastic
Another innovative company has found a way to use plastic waste to pave roads. K K Plastic Waste Management Ltd, a Bangalore-based company, has been reusing plastic waste in the asphalting of roads since 2002. “The city’s waste is segregated into wet and dry waste. Wet waste is used for composting while [waste] like wood, paper and glass gets sold quite fast. What remains is multilayer plastic,” says Ahmed Khan, the Managing Director of K K Plastic Waste Management. “We collect such plastic and make it usable for building the city’s roads.” The company’s recycling plant can process up to 30 metric tons of plastics per day.
K K Plastic Waste Management has patented the technology that turns plastic into Poly Blend, a binding agent for bitumen. In the hot mix plant, the Poly Blend is sprayed on the aggregate and then coated with bitumen, thereby enhancing the bonding strength of the aggregate and bitumen.
The company has helped lay about 3,500 km of roads to date and reused about 10,000 tons of plastic. According to several studies, adding 8 percent Poly Blend to the concrete mix not only cuts down on plastic pollution; it also enhances the durability of roads by 2 to 3 times compared to plastic-free roads. Plastic also prevents pothole formation, as molten plastic fills the space between the aggregate and bitumen, preventing water from seeping in.
Apart from the environmental impact, the company also aims to have a socio-economic impact by creating jobs and additional revenue for those gathering plastic waste. It therefore entered into a public private partnership with nine dry waste collection centers in Bangalore. These centers collect and buy dry waste from individuals and contractors for fixed prices. The company also offers to collect plastic and dry waste from gated communities, schools, institutions and commercial establishments and will pick up any load of 250 kg or more for free.