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Posted by
on August 04, 2016 at 06:01 PM

Dr. R. Vasudevan is a man on a mission to clean India off its plastic waste. With the view of changing the way plastic is treated in the country, in the year 2002, Dean and head of the Chemistry Department of Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Dr. Vasudevan innovated a technique of making roads using plastic waste. Soon after he patented the technology and could have earned a buck load by selling it off to private companies. Instead he chose to share it with the government of India for free. While the world is struggling with a method to dispose plastic, Vasudevan, with his persisting experiments, has cracked the code on this global issue!

© Courtesy of internet Sources

It is safe to say that use of plastic in our day to day life is almost inevitable. Owing to its inherent properties like being weightless, unbreakable, durable make it a convenient option for everyday use like carry bags, packaging material, bottles, cups etc. No matter how much one tries to minimize the use of plastic, one cannot eliminate its use completely. More usage unfortunately also means more the wastage. As a result, we see a rise in the plastic waste generated in our country. In fact, Central Pollution Control Board says more than 15,000 tons of plastic waste is generated daily. The supreme court of India describes the situation as “sitting on a time bomb”.

The problem with plastic wastage which also happens to be its greatest shortcoming is that it does not decompose. Recycling plastic is possible only thrice, or at the most four times and burning plastic releases toxic flames into the atmosphere. Plastic waste forms 5 per cent of municipal solid waste. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development states that 40 percent of that remains uncollected and out of the waste collected, none is recycled. Accumulation of plastic waste can cause major environmental hazards. It percolates into the soil, contaminates groundwater, prevents rainwater absorption, chokes drains causing floods and stagnant water leads to spread of diseases.

Dr. Vasudevan had a different approach towards plastic. While most environmentalists talk about putting a ban on plastic and replacing it with other materials, Vasudevan describe it as ‘poor man’s friend’. He presented an argument in favour of use of plastic stating its advantages. Some of them include chemical inertness, unbreakable, good packaging material, waterproof, compact and easy to transport, lower energy consumption and comparatively cost less. Instead of replacing the material completely, his approach was to deal with the waste generated in a better way. This idea led him to conduct experiments and come up with a technology to lay roads utilizing plastic waste productively.

So how does he exactly utilize plastic waste? It’s a very easy process that can be adopted by anybody and it doesn’t even require any additional heavy machinery. First plastic is shredded to a particular size. Aggregate mix and bitumen are heated separately to a temperature of 165 degrees and 160 degrees respectively. Shredded plastic is added to aggregate mix and it takes a minute for the plastic to get coated over the aggregate uniformly. This mix is then added to hot bitumen and used for road construction. It is an eco-friendly process producing no extra toxins. Fly ash can also be added to increase the road strength.

A question in everyone’s mind would be How did the plastic road fair against traditional roads? Tests prove that there is an increase in the road strength as plastic has good binding properties and increases the bond of the mix. They can withstand more load. They are water resistant and don’t have potholes or stripping. Life of the road is increased substantially and maintenance cost is decreased. It has proven to be a very good technique of road construction. 

One might wonder exactly how much waste is utilized in this process? The answer is 1 tonne of plastic waste and 9 tonne of bitumen for a 1km road (3.75m wide). If plastic waste is not used, then 10 tonnes of bitumen is used for the same road. So we are saving a tonne of bitumen which costs roughly 50,000 INR. One tonne of plastic waste would equal 10 lack carry bags. It is a complete win-win. Not only are we getting rid of plastic waste effectively, but we also get superior quality roads.

The technique was first used to make a road inside the very campus of the Thiagarajar College of Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Vasudevan's guidance. This was just the beginning and soon after it has been adopted by many towns and cities all across the country like Kovilpatti, Salem, Wellington, Chennai, Puducherry, Hindpur (Andhra Pradesh), Kolkata, Goa, Shimla, Thiruvananthapuram, Vadakara, Calicut, Kothamangalam, Madurai, Jamshedpur and Kochi. In Tamil Nadu, the District Rural Development Agency laid 1,200 km of plastic roads in 29 districts across the state. Now metro cities Mumbai and Hyderabad also plan to lay longer stretches of tar-polymer roads. In fact, in 2015 Government of India has made it a rule for road developers to utilize plastic waste in road construction within 50km radius of any city with a population over 5 lakh.

However, this is not the end of Dr Vasudevan’s work. His team is now working on a process that uses cold emulsion instead of hot bitumen. They even have the interest of Widener University, Philadelphia as this process could be useful in colder regions. With this innovation, if executed extensively, Dr Vasudevan has managed to successfully solve the problem of plastic pollution. “It serves the twin purpose of increasing quality of roads and also solves the problem of plastic disposal. The vision should be to eventually replace all existing roads and lay every new road with this technology,” says the professor. His efforts have been recognised all over the country and he even received the Safai Giri award by India Today from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Only he could view plastic as a resource and a blessing.

Hats off to the man rightly called ‘Plastic man of India’!

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