An ingenious sustainability initiative developed by two brothers is a proactive approach to tackling the growing issue of waste faced throughout India.
As India’s population continues to grow, so does the amount of waste it produces. Compared to other major economies, which have well established waste management channels, India’s take on recycling has long been to dump it in any space that’s available. Everywhere you look, there’s rubbish. Plastics, metals, organics and glass all dumped indiscriminately, often burnt in small roadside fires by local residents.
Brothers Ahmed and Rasool Khan could see the waste their city of Bangalore was creating and the wasteful approach to dealing with it. Another major issue the city faces is its deteriorating roads, so in the late 1990s the brothers had an idea to recycle the waste plastic to build roads.
Their initial research found that plastic contributes to ten per cent of the city’s daily waste. The majority of waste was either being burnt openly in the streets or sent to the overfilled landfills. The two knew they could do something positive with the waste, so recruited the expertise of Rasool’s son, Amjad, a chemical engineering graduate.
Throughout the 2000s the three developed the right mixture of recycled plastic, bitumen and aggregate and tested it on over 600 potholes in the city. The mixture proved to be longer lasting than the pre-existing roads themselves.
The brothers called their mixture WPMB (Waste Plastic Modified Bitumen). The process in which it’s made aims to lessen the impact on the surrounding environment: instead of washing the plastic with water that would then create huge amounts of contaminated water, high-velocity air blowers clean and chip the plastic into flakes. The flakes are then mixed with asphalt and the result is WPMB. For every kilometre of road laid, one and a half to two tonnes of waste plastic is recycled to create WPMB.
Today, over 1,500 km of road has been laid throughout Bangalore using WPMB which means over 2,500 tonnes of plastic has been recycled.
As well as recycling plastic, the initiative has brought about an emergence of an informal market of plastic gatherers who collect plastics and sells them on for a profit.
Slow and steady
Although the initiative has experienced good growth throughout Bangalore, many other major cities have been slow on the uptake, despite the plastic roads costing the same as conventional roads, lowering the impact on the environment, supporting the economy and lasting between four to five times longer. Other major cities, such as Mumbai and New Delhi have only paved a few kilometres of plastic road.
Rasool believes there are bureaucratic influences at play and the only way to progress is to overcome them. He’s positive about the potential of WPMB and the growing environmental awareness in India is big motivator for change.
Progression is inevitable and in 2013, Intergen, an energy company based in Delhi, bought a 50 per cent share in the brothers’ company KK Plastics. Rasool is proud of their accomplishments, “Every day I am very proud when I go driving and see our roads, today we are not dumping plastic into landfills; we are dumping plastic into road construction.”
Information for this story came from the May edition of Geographical Magazine (UK).