If there is such an object which is as ubiquitous and omnipresent as God Almighty it is that translucent bag that has superpowers in the form of durability, resilience and an undying nature. From clogging drainage systems, to asphyxiating unsuspecting cattle folk, plastic has been helping humankind in quickening the destruction of planet earth. And yet, every day it is the embodiment of the same word that peeks out of every nook and corner of our homes.
According to the country’s Central Pollution Control Board we are guilty of dumping more than 15,000 tons of plastic waste daily!
Omnipotent and indestructible, you would think it was a creation of none other than Satan himself.
The Supreme court of India rightly noted sometime back that we are inching closer to a cataclysm carved out of plastic.
But it is not all gloomy. Amidst the cacophony of the roadside junkyard there lies an army of people headed by a man who has decided to tame the devil. A professor by profession and a bibliophile by choice – Dr. R. Vasudevan-a chemistry professor at the Thiagarajar College, Madurai devised a novel solution to the plastic menace – blending common plastic waste with heated bitumen in asphalt.
Dr. Vasudevan’s idea took shape at the time of the growing debate on the hazards of plastic on the environment. While the majority of the voices were in favor of banning plastics, he knew that Indians cannot let go of plastic, and plastic would endure unless it is wiped out completely, so he decided to come up with an alternative that would utilize the same evils of plastic into building something constructive and at the same time be sustainable for the environment.
The process involves shredding the plastic waste to the size of 2.5 mm to 4.36 mm and then heating the stone aggregate at 170 degrees, the shredded plastic is then sprayed on the heated aggregate which results in a plastic coated aggregate. This is then mixed with bitumen heated at 160 degrees.
While the government agencies were apprehensive of his idea of converting plastic into a component for roads, his idea found favors with both national and international organizations.
After a chance meeting with Dr. APJ Kalam, who was visiting his college in 2001 his theory was getting closer to fruition. Inspired by Dr. Kalam’s words to lead by example, he with permission from his university and due assistance from his colleagues laid the first 60 feet plastic road within his college campus.
After the initial skepticism, the government of India also came round to his idea in 2015 with a ruling that mandates road developers to utilize plastic waste into building roads for cities with population exceeding fifty lakh.
His extraordinary but simple method has been tried and tested and used into making 5000 kilometers of roads across the length and breadth of India. The roads made of plastic waste are also more durable and less prone to formation of potholes.
Independent studies carried out to evaluate the performance of such waste plastic/ polymer modified bituminous roads also cite the increased strength of the roads, rain water resistance, and durability. The process has also generated additional jobs and reduced industrial interference
The advantages enlisted by these studies surpass the cons which are almost absent. Furthermore, almost all the studies referred did not find any adverse effects of the plastic infused roads on the environment, moreover this process also helps in reducing carbon dioxide emission as plastic is often burned along with other solid waste. The dry process used to mold plastic on the stone aggregate does not involve any burning.
Well, we can only hope that through Dr. Vasudevan’s endeavors India produces more plastic roads than plastic waste – someday!