Wasting an opportunity What they say… madurai matters

R. Vasudevan, Dean, TCE: “We are working on alternative uses of waste plastic, like block making”

R. Vasudevan, Dean, TCE: “We are working on alternative uses of waste plastic, like block making”  

S. Annamalai

Waste plastic can be better utilised to relay roads

MADURAI: It is omnipresent — at home; on the roads; in water bodies; and in places of public congregation. It is (waste) plastic, plastic everywhere and not a will to recycle. Though thin in nature, the problem posed by waste plastic is mammoth. It is the bane of every civic administration despite the fact that waste plastic constitutes only 0.2 to 2 per cent of municipal solid waste in most places. And only 60 per cent of waste plastic is found in municipal solid waste. Madurai is no exception.

Several initiatives have been put on stream by many agencies ever since a cry for ban on plastic use was heard. Despite the fact that India is recycling 65 per cent of virgin plastic, the roads are strewn with waste plastic which also chokes water bodies and drains, besides emitting harmful gases if burnt.

According to a study, the per capita consumption of plastic in the country is one kg per annum, which works out to 1,000 carry bags. Madurai, according to a rough estimate, throws 10 to 15 tonnes of waste plastic on its roads in the form of materials of daily use and carry bags.

K. Sekar, former president, Tamil Nadu Plastic Manufacturers’ Association, says waste plastic comes predominantly with goods of public consumption. Industrial plastic waste is recycled as different products. It is possible to recycle virgin plastic seven to eight times. Virgin plastic retains 60 per cent of its strength during first recycling, 40 per cent in second and 30 to 25 per cent in subsequent processes. When it loses almost all its strength, it comes to the road, says Mr. Sekar.

How it is cleared

Waste plastic is cleared in the city mainly by rag pickers who deposit their collections at several places with traders in waste plastic. The traders segregate the waste and send them to recycling units, depending on their nature. The recycling units either melt the waste, after further segregation, for reuse by manufacturers of plastic products or shred it for applications such as coating stone aggregate in road laying.

N. Viswanathan, an MBA graduate, who runs a plastic recycling unit at Nilayur, says that low quality products are made from waste plastic. The waste is fed into a machine that gives out cakes used for manufacturing plastic products of low end use. Shredded plastic is sold to at Rs. 13 to Rs. 15 a kg. Mr. Viswanathan processes three to four tonnes of waste plastic a month.

Not many units

Not many recycling units have come up in Madurai as the demand is not high for waste plastic, says Mr. Sekar.

It will be a miracle if waste plastic goes off the roads. Is it possible? Yes, it is, says R. Vasudevan, Dean, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, who has patented a technology for laying roads with the application of waste plastic. “We require 10 lakh carry bags to lay a road to a stretch of one km,” he says. According to his estimate, plastic consumption in the country is bound to touch 12 million tonnes this year. Dr. Vasudevan points out that it is difficult to recycle certain packaging materials that come with a combination of plastic and metal (aluminium and polyester). When they are burnt they are sure to emit harmful gases. Even these materials can be used for road laying. The flex boards, for which Madurai is becoming famous every year, cannot be recycled as there is nylon used along with polyvinyl chloride for reinforcement.

Madurai district has National Highways running to a distance of 58.8 km; State Highways: 102.8 km; corporation and municipal roads: 307.11 km; and panchayat roads 1,024.52 km. If waste plastic is utilised to relay these roads, the demand would certainly exceed supply, feel plastic manufacturers.

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