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Waste to Wealth

Researchers Turn Plastic Waste into Fuel

| Author / Editor: Ashok Sharma / Dominik Stephan

Creating a smartly tailored process design can ensure 100 per cent conversion of waste into a desired mix of fuels without leaving any scope for secondary pollution
Creating a smartly tailored process design can ensure 100 per cent conversion of waste into a desired mix of fuels without leaving any scope for secondary pollution (Picture: design by Snehal Shanmugum Pillai; published in PROCESS India November 2013)

From landfills to the Pacific Garbage Patch: Plastic waste is a major environmental and public health problem. India alone consumes 11 million tonnes of plastic per year out of which 5.6 million tonnes turns into waste. Now, a new technology from India could help to convert these waste amounts of waste into valueable high-indemand fuels virtually without causing any secondary pollution in the process...

Waste management has always been a serious concern in most industries. Specifically, industrial plastic waste disposal poses difficult challenges:

  • Non-biodegradable: Plastic waste is non-biodegradable, and thus takes thousands of years to photodegrade into smaller pieces. Eventually, it ends up contaminating soil and water resources and consequently, the food chain.
  • Volume: As mentioned above, India generates about 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. This high volume of waste coupled with inappropriate methods of processing it compound the problem of plastic waste management. The automobile industry contributes quite significantly to plastic waste generation. Globally, over 50 million vehicles are scrapped every year and from a ton of automobile scrap, about 250 kg mix of polymers - plastics, rubber, and polyurethane foam is recovered. There are several other sectors of industry that continuously and staggeringly contribute to the massive plastic waste volume.
  • Recycling: In India, backyard recycling techniques are used to recycle over 40 per cent of the plastic manufactured annually. This involves manual sorting, grinding and extrusion. However, the whole recycling process itself is not green and thus results in producing lower-quality recycled products that leach out toxic additives into the immediate environment.
  • Current disposal methods: Disposal is the last stage of plastic life cycle. In India, urban municipal bodies dump them in landfills, burn them in incinerators or let them litter, which leads to serious ecological problems.

Innovative solution

Noting these problems, a suitable technological solution had to be thought of that would successfully address the challenges of effective plastic waste management... read more about the challenge for the engineers on page two!

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