There is little doubt that lowering plastic consumption has become one of the main environmental targets of the century. Consider that until 1950, the global production of plastic was estimated to be 2 million tons per year; this decade, we have passed the 300 million tons per year mark, and it continues on growing.
So far, most of the environmental policies worldwide have focused on the production of plastic, trying to find sustainable substitutes. Nonetheless, this is a very slow process, and it takes time for both producers and consumers to acclimate to the change. As we know, time is precisely the scarcest resource we have when fighting environmental damage.
That’s what makes so interesting the idea brought by Indian professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan: it doesn’t try to fight the problem, but rather redirect its consequences into a useful direction, and furthermore, can be applied instantly.
Doctor in chemistry Rajagopalan Vasudevan, from Tamil Nadul (India), started investigating back in 2001 the potential use of certain types of plastic. Through the study of its behaviour on different conditions, he found out that during liquid state plastic has outstanding binder properties. And that’s how its first potential use appeared: Vasudevan’s formula could be used to repair road bumps, which generates 10% of India’s traffic accidents. From there, realizing the potential of his finding, he extended the idea to the full paving of Indian roads.
“We are the problem” he said. “Plastic wouldn’t block oceans and dumpsters if we didn’t throw it away. Instead, there is a lot we can do with it”.
And there is a lot to do with it in India. There, the collection and trade of plastic waste has been the way of subsistence for generations for many people, for which the plastic reduction policies has put their earnings on risk. Any idea that gets to conceive a second life for plastic waste helps them as much as helps the environment.
It’s been almost 20 years since Vasudevan started his research. Today, around 16.000 kilometres of road have been constructed in Tamil using this new mix. And central government has authorized the paving of other 13.000 kilometres, from which half has been already constructed.
Professor Vasudevan’s environmental solutions don’t stop there: he has also created a material called plastone, that mixes plastic waste and grit with limestone, ceramics and granite. With this plastone professor creates solid blocks that can easily compete in the market due to its low production price (one square meter of this material costs 1.20 €), and can be used for indoor construction (he affirms he managed to construct a bathroom with only 75€) as well as for paving sidewalks.
In a world that can so clearly define the problems but has so much trouble designing solutions, this kind of alternative approaches manage to open new ways in the environmental research.