Plastic is a misplaced resource and unrecognized wealth. It has always been looked upon as something atrocious for the planet, which might be true, to some extent, but it is so just because even in the 21st century, we humans have not been able to utilise it to its full potential.
The world is developing at a rapid pace, especially a 3rd world country like India. The waste management by our country, however, is not able to keep up with this pace. The Central Pollution Control Board states that about 15,000 tons of plastic waste is released every day in the nation, and India’s per capita consumption of plastic is expected to double in the coming five years. The majority of plastic waste is produced in urban parts of the nation. This waste is often seen near an empty plot or colony gate. Plastic waste, unlike organic matter, does not decompose in a short time. It takes hundreds of years to decompose. So, in the long run, dumping plastic waste is not an option. The only possible option is to recycle it. For a long time though, the technology was not as good as to make recycling plastic a profitable option. But the times are changing, today, recycling plastic is becoming a viable option.
As production of plastic is cheap, money-making potential in this field is tremendous with the latest technology. The new state of the art technology has enabled us to lay down roads made up of recycled plastic. As unbelievable as it may sound, it is happening. The man behind this break-through technology is Rajagopalan Vasudevan, the Plastic Man of India. Not only do these roads require less maintenance but also, they don’t need new types of machinery. Not to mention it is environment friendly. It isn’t the only example of how the latest developments in technology are helping us with sustainable development. The US-based start-up BioCellection develops plastic recycling technology using chemical processes to convert post-consumer plastics into the building blocks for synthetic chemistry and synthetic biology: succinic acid, glutaric acid, and adipic acid. Their innovation can potentially use plastic waste to replace fossil fuel as a resource for sustainable supply chains. In some of the cases, people are coming up with innovative ideas to reuse plastics. Dutch start-up The Good Plastic Company develops plastic recycling technology that is capable of recycling 90% of existing plastic types by turning plastic waste into beautiful decorative panels of 1x1m and thickness ranging between 5mm to 30mm. Easily portable, their equipment allows easy recycling of plastic waste right at its source, in any part of the world. Because of the sturdiness of bricks made-up by using plastics, scientists are advocating their use in building army bunkers. These people are making handsome money with what we think as wastes! It is only possible because they recognize the tremendous potential in plastics.
While these technologies may sound exciting, they lure us into believing that all is good. Honestly, these are not the finished products or models, and they themselves agree that they still require improvement. It would have been perfect if the reality of recycling plastic was as godly as it seemed on the recycle plastic posters. Only a small fraction of plastic is recyclable, and even a smaller fraction of it is recycled. In the case of plastic, it is not ‘recycling’ it is actually ‘downcycling’, because the quality of plastic degrades drastically after being recycled unless more raw material is added, which makes profit even more marginalised in this process. Therefore, recycling is not the best option to deal with plastic waste, so alternatives are a must. With humanity getting more and more advanced every second, ideas are turning into reality, the tag of ‘a curse’ is being removed from plastic, as new technologies that recognize its potential are coming up. Sustainable development using these technologies while creating a booming and profitable industry seems like a distant dream. So, this again brings us to the question, how to deal with the plastic waste we produce?
The best solution for the time being lies in the present set-up of things. The only need is to improve the system and not a complete overhaul of it. The government and local administration have always advocated putting your waste away in two separate dustbins, the green one for bio-degradable wastes and the blue one for others. It will ensure that the plastics, after separation from other wastes, could be directly supplied to these upcoming start-ups. For this, a collaboration between the government and these companies is necessary. Also, allocating funds for research and development in this sector, for refinement of their technologies, is a must. Dumping plastics in wastelands and oceans should be a strict no-no. Not only on humanitarian grounds but also looking at economic aspects, improving the lives of rag-pickers should be the priority as they are the foot soldiers in this mission. They should receive training and education on how to deal with wastes. They should also be taught the importance of hygiene. Behaviour change is also needed. Unemployed people can be employed as there is a shortage of people in the recycling sector. It will improve their financial status as well as social status.
By following these, plastic waste management in India will be taken care of and a profitable industry in this sector, wouldn’t remain a dream. Unemployment will not be a major concern. Plastic will not be called a curse. It will be a giving hand for many. And when the aforesaid innovations will reach their peak in a few years, the boom in this industry will leave everyone in awe. Plastic will be called one of human’s greatest inventions, at least till a better alternative arises.