Friday, October 23, 2009


- Prof. P. C. Menon
Plastic is an indispensible material in the modern world. It is an industry involving millions of crores of Rupees all over the world. India alone produces and exports plastic materials worth millions of Rupees, providing employment and job opportunities to crores of people. All other industries are in some way or other dependent on plastic products. Any idea of closing down the industry or banning its production and distribution is nothing short of suicide.
The Indian plastic industry exports in 2008-09 was worth about $3.7 billion, according to Plastindia Foundation President Arvind Mehta. The per capita consumption of plastics in India is 6 kgs against the world average of 27 kgs. India's consumption is set to double by 2012 and we need improved manufacturing technology to cater to our growing demand, he said. India is projected to become the third-largest consumer of plastics by 2012 with sectors like packaging, electronics, telecom, infrastructure, healthcare and consumer durables set to witness surge in plastic consumption, Mehta added.
The plastic processing sector comprises of over 30,000 units involved in producing a variety of items through injection moulding, blow moulding, extrusion and calendaring. The capacities built in most segments of this industry coupled with inherent capabilities have made us capable of servicing the overseas markets. The economic reforms launched in India since 1991, have added further fillip to the Indian plastics industry. Joint ventures, foreign investments, easier access to technology from developed countries etc. have opened up new vistas to further facilitate the growth of this industry.
It is impossible to find a suitable substitute in the near future. The reason why the use of plastic is so popular and wide spread is the convenience of use, the protection it gives to otherwise perishable materials and the safety it renders in packaging. Plastic carry-bags come in handy at stores and vegetable shops, eliminating the need to carry bags when you go shopping. It is practically impossible to carry enough number of cloth bags unless you are certain about the quantum of things you plan to buy. Therefore, it is better to believe that the world cannot think of Life without Plastic.
What we require is a regimen to dispose of used plastic properly. We have learned to handle much more hazardous things like electricity, cooking gas, etc. most effectively. Of course, a well planned awareness program is inevitable, but a total ban on the production and use of plastic materials is both unwise and impractical. Instead, we have to start thinking on the lines of how used plastic can be re-used, recycled and disposed of in a healthy way. Though it is advisable to use more of bio-degradable plastic, it is not a feasible solution in the immediate future. Some ways to tackle this problem are:
  1. Recycling of plastics in an environmentally sound manner. This involves selection, segregation and processing.
  2. Build roads using Plastics Waste. Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai has made extensive studies on this and has proved that such roads are much better than bitumen coated roads.
  3. Plastics Waste Disposal through Plasma Pyrolysis Technology (PPT). This is a state of the art technology that integrates the thermochemical properties of plasma with pyrolysis process.
  4. Conversion of Plastics Waste into liquid fuel. A research-cum-demonstration plant was set up at Nagpur, Maharashtra for conversion of waste plastics into liquid fuel.
  5. Thermalysis : Thermalysis is process whereby scrap and waste plastics are converted into liquid hydrocarbons that can be used as fuels (diesel, gasoline etc.).
  6. Re-use of plastic wastes as binders : Waste plastics, made up of Polyethylene, or Polystyrene softens after heating around temp 130-135 degree C. A study using thermogravimetric analysis has shown that there is no gas evolution in the temperature range 130-135 degree C.The softened plastic has binding property; these molten plastics material can be used as binder. It is found to be a good blend with bitumen for block making, modified light roofing, plastic flooring and polymer reinforced concrete etc. A pilot study has been successfully completed in the the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai.
  7. Use of plastic shredders. A company named Cecon Pollutech Systems Pvt. Ltd. Has produced machines that can shred used plastic into re-usable materials. The shredder shreds all kinds of waste like syringes, needles, glucose bottles, pet bottles of mineral water, plastic lumps, pellets, wood paper, cardboard etc. This can be widely used in Finishing & Producing Industry, Hospitals / Nursing homes, Bio – Medical Waste, Laboratories, Catering Industry, Supermarkets, Municipal Authorities, Pharmaceutical Industry, Plastic Industry, and Card Board Industry.
A compactor is a machine or mechanism used to reduce the size of waste material or soil through compaction. A trash compactor is often used by homes and businesses to reduce the volume of trash.
Normally powered by hydraulics, compactors take many shapes and sizes. A large bulldozer with spiked wheels called a landfill compactor is used to drive over waste deposited by waste collection vehicles (WCVs). WCVs themselves incorporate a compacting mechanism which is used to increase the payload of the vehicle and reduce the number of times it has to empty. This usually takes the form of hydraulically-powered sliding plates which sweep out the collection hopper and compress the material into what has already been loaded.
a. Commercial use
Many retail and service businesses, such as fast food, restaurants, and hotels, use compactors to reduce the volume of non-recycleable waste as well as curb nuisance such as rodents and smell. In the hospitality industry tolerance for such nuisances is particularly low. These compactors typically come in electric and hydraulic operation, with quite a few loading configurations, like Ground-Access, Walk-On and Secured Indoor Chute.
These compactors are almost exclusively of welded steel construction for two reasons: durability under pressure and exposure to the elements, as compactors are installed either completely outdoors or sometimes under a covered loading dock.
b. Residential use
There are also trash compactors designed for residential use which, likewise, reduces the volume, smell, and rodent problems of garbage. This can be especially valuable for households which regularly dispose of items such as disposable-diaper boxes or the non-edible portions of vegetables from a large garden. Related to this, there are frequently limits to the number of trash bags/receptacles that can be left outside for residential pickup, which further renders such compactors beneficial to such households.
c. Municipal use
In addition to the waste vehicle and landfill use, there are solar-powered trash compactors that can hold the equivalent of 200 gallons of trash before they need to be emptied.
Types of Compactors
  1. Portable, static and skip compactors for plastics and waste materials
There is a wide range of waste compactors to suit individual requirements to considerably reduce the volume of waste materials and associated waste disposal / landfill costs. Compactors provide an economical and satisfactory solution to the problems faced by large waste producers such as food manufacturers, hotels, shopping centres, hospitals and leisure facilities. These machines are designed to ensure maximum compaction, thus cutting uplift and transportation costs and occupying much less of valuable waste storage space.
  1. The benefits of using waste compactors
They help to keep the workplace clean and tidy, significantly reduce pollution, leaks and spillage, minimize storage space, reduce smells and fire risks, prevent insect and vermin infestation, improve site hygiene, and enable real and immediate savings in the costs of waste management. One such Compactor is RR-PC10 Portable Waste Compactor.
  1. Compacting Project at Mumbai Central Station, Western Railway.
In October 2001, ICPE (Indian Centre for Plastics in Environment) set up a compactor machine made at a cost of about Rs 1.75 lakhs with a capacity of 6 – 8 bales of PET bottles per hour at the Mumbai Central station. The compactor has been operating at the Mumbai Central since October with good success. Contract workers collect bottles from various parts of the station; bring the bottles to the storage bins at the compaction site. At the moment the collection rate is around 1000 – 1500 bottles a day. The compacted bales are taken away by the recycler appointed by ICPE and transported to the recycling units.
What is being practiced in Mumbai can be a lesson in practice for all Local Self-government Bodies.
In Mumbai, the Dry and Wet waste is separated at the source itself, so that the Dry wastes could be further segregated and sent for recycling, resulting in lesser load to the landfill sites. The wet waste is processed through vermiculture or similar process to generate compost.
ICPE has joined hands with some NGO's and BMC to propagate the Proper Solid Waste Management culture among the citizens. BMC has given a secured area and a shed for segregation of dry waste, two one- tonner vans to move in the locality for 8 hours to collect dry wastes from households, Identity badges to the rag pickers, who accompany the BMC vans and collect dry wastes from door steps of the households/society buildings and bring them to the sheds for segregation. The dry wastes are product-wise segregated into paper, plastics, metal and others. These segregated dry wastes are stored in the secured sheds for disposal. Scrap dealers come and buy the scraps. The amount thus collected is distributed among the rag-pickers.

The wet wastes are collected by separate BMC vans from the household localities for composting, resulting into zero garbage concept.

ICPE has provided collection bins, hand gloves, aprons, masks, etc. to the rag pickers, and promotional literature to the society members. ICPE also co-ordinates with BMC, NGO's and others, provides training to rag-pickers and conducts awareness programmes to the general public, school children, members of the housing societies etc.
The invention of Plastic and the materials made out of it have revolutionized the consumer industry to such an extent that a blanket ban on the production and use of Plastic is unwise. Instead, it is time to think of the above mentioned ways to handle used plasic.
What is possible in a big metropolitan city like Mumbai should certainly be possible in the Corporations, Municipalities and Panchayaths in Kerala. But what we essentially require is a definite change in the mindset. We believe that dirt in our house is decoration in the street. We freely throw out the waste from our house over the walls on to the roads, and blame the government as irresponsible for not clearing the rubbish.
Still, there is some hope for us. The valuable service done by Kudumbasree in many respects tells us that something is possible in our State. A further extension of this, with ample help and guidance from the State and Local Self-governments, can go a long way in Waste Management with the involvement of the enlightened public of Kerala.