She Found a Way to Make Plastic Waste Useful
by Chandana Banerjee (Christian Science Monitor) In 60 cities in India, 16,876 tons of plastic waste are generated each day, according to data from the country’s Central Pollution Control Board. Multiply that by 365, and you have more than 6 million tons of plastic that end up in landfills a year.
Such figures were keeping Medha Tadpatrikar awake at night. She was also deeply troubled by an incident she had witnessed on a safari in India – a deer choking on a plastic packet that it had swallowed. “I realized how big this plastic problem is and how every creature on this earth is affected by it,” she says of the incident.
So Dr. Tadpatrikar resolved to find a way to make plastic waste useful. She and Shirish Phadtare started experimenting in Tadpatrikar’s kitchen, trying to “cook” plastic in a pressure cooker to create a practical fuel. “Plastic is made of crude oil, and we wanted to reverse the process to get usable oil,” Tadpatrikar explains.
After lots of kitchen R&D, some trial and error, and help from engineer friends, this experimenting duo has come up with an operation in the Pune, India, area that benefits the environment in several ways. They are indeed producing fuel, using a process that doesn’t emit toxic gases. And by pressing plastic waste into service, they’re reducing the amount of plastic headed toward landfills. Moreover, the oil itself is eco-friendly – a better choice than some of the other fuels that villagers living near Pune use. And when these villagers opt for the plastic-derived fuel, it means they aren’t depleting precious resources that are needed for other fuels.
“Much cheaper than any other fuel in the market, this one is used in cooking stoves, in generators, and even to run tractors,” explains Tadpatrikar, adding that it doesn’t contain sulfur.
“Our two new machines, one that we launched in 2013 and the other in 2015, use up every bit of the byproducts, including the gases,” says Tadpatrikar, noting that even the leftover sludge can be mixed with bitumen to create roads.
One of the machines that Rudra now operates tackles 220 pounds of plastic at a time, while the other can work with substantially more – 2,645 pounds. The plastic waste is heated to about 300 degrees F., at which point gas is released. The gas is then cleaned and used as an energy source to keep the machines working. At 570 to 660 degrees, fuel is created in the form of condensation.
The fuel churned out by the two machines is carefully collected in bottles, and it’s sold to people in 122 villages around Pune at a subsidized rate of 38 rupees (53 cents) per liter. It’s a boon for villagers like Nanda Shinde, who can’t afford to buy any other fuel. READ MORE