New Delhi: Right from our smartphones and wallets to homes, cars and daily use items like carry bags, water bottles and other single-use plastics, there is a bit of plastic everywhere. And the worst part is – users have the tendency to casually litter it around, without considering about it hazardous affects on the environment. This is the reason that plastic waste has become an increasingly pressing problem in India, which on a daily basis generates over 15,000 tonnes of plastic and manages to recycle only 60 percent of it. But if experts are to be believed, recycling plastic waste can create more jobs in India. And on the other side, the scientists at IIT Madras have developed a solar powered system to convert non-recyclable plastic into fuel.
According to the researchers, the technology – which consists of a mobile unit that can collect and process waste – currently yields around 0.7 litres of fuel oil per kilogramme of plastic. And this fuel can substitute diesel used in generators, furnaces, diesel-powered engines and agricultural pumps.
India produces approximately 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste in a day. Centralised systems for plastic waste management cannot work to effectively deal with this much plastic waste on a daily basis, said Ramya Selvaraj, a research student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras in Tamil Nadu.
We thought that if the plastic can’t come to the industry, let the industry come to the plastic, Mr Selvaraj said. The team showcased its project in New Delhi on the occasion of the World Environment Day, for which this year’s theme was “Beat Plastic Pollution”.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the occasion of World Environment Day, stated that the plastic waste threatens to become a menace to humanity and urged the citizens to protect the environment by shunning the use of single-use plastics.
A lot of it doesn’t make it to recycling plants and lot of it is also non-biodegradable, and it has a deadly impact on our marine ecosystem. Declining fish, warming oceans and vanishing habitats are results of plastic waste, PM Modi added.
The conversion of plastic to fuel involves a process called pyrolysis – a thermochemical treatment that exposes the material to high temperature in the absence of oxygen, leading it to go through physical and chemical changes. This creates a low-density fuel oil by breaking down the polymer chain of plastic at the temperature of 350- 500 degrees Celsius. This oil can be used as a substitute for diesel to power generators, furnaces and engines.
Our major proposition was instead of taking technology to waste, taking all the waste to a decentralised technology which is a very complex model in solid waste management, said Aravind E S, another research student at IIT Madras.
“We found that the current plastic waste management systems were not working because of the logistics involved; there were cost and space requirements that could not be met,” Mr Selvaraj added.
The team was led by Divya Priya, and assisted by technical guide Professor Indumathi Nambi of IIT Madras, and industrial mentor Sriram Narasimhan of Samridhi Foundation, a Chennai based NGO.
They won the Zero Carbon Challenge-2018, pioneered by IIT Madras, bagging an initial funding of five lakhs for the development of the prototype, and another 10 lakhs for incubating the idea.
We have approached the government and municipal corporations in multiple cities in Tamil Nadu to put up the small recovery units at the material faculty in all the wards for waste collection and management. This can reduce costs involved in transportation, dumping sites and increase the efficiency with which the waste is dealt, Selvaraj added
The current Union government’s focus on waste management via Swachh Bharat Abhiyan also addresses the issue of plastic waste and ways with which the problem could be dealt with. The technologies that are being developed to convert plastic waste to fuel will help in addressing the growing issue of India’s plastic waste.
(With inputs from PTI)