India’s big cities generate over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo))
India’s big cities generate over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo))

Can our plastic bottles and bags be turned into tiles?

A new technology showcased at the Swachhta Abhiyaan exhibition can convert used plastic bottles and plastic bags into colourful tiles.
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2018 11:46 AM IST

They may look like pieces of art but the tiles developed by SK Dhawan and his group at the National Physical ..Laboratory (NPL) are actually a robust example of ‘wealth from waste.’ The waste in this case is plastic bags, bottles, milk packets, the kinds of things that may ultimately find their way to a dump like Ghazipur, where two people were killed on Sept 1 when parts of the mountain of waste collapsed .

“India generates 1500 tonnes of plastic waste every day and we just throw it away,” Dhawan, a scientist at the NPL, which is a lab under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, said.

At the Swachhta Abhiyaan exhibition organised at the CSIR this week, science minister, Harsh Vardhan, eyed the mosaic of tiles used to build a demonstration bathroom, appreciatively.

“Plastic waste is such a big problem for our country, we have made so many rules and regulations for it, you see that in animals, especially in cows, there is so much plastic found in their stomach, that causes them alot of distress,” he said,” With the same plastic we are making tiles used to make toilets.”

The department of science and technology is considering promoting the use of the tiles in the Modi government’s toilet construction campaign. Harsh Vardhan said it would serve the twin purpose of plastic waste management and also better sanitation in the country.

A tile made from plastic bags. (Malavika Vyawahare/HT Photo)
A tile made from plastic bags. (Malavika Vyawahare/HT Photo)

It is not just India which is struggling to deal with its plastic waste. According to a recent study, a million plastic bottles are bought every minute across the world and only 7% are recycled. The rest end up in landfills or in water bodies. By 2050, scientists expect plastic waste in the sea to outweigh the fish. There is already an ‘island of plastic’ larger than the size of India in the South Pacific, according to news reports.

Plastics persist in the environment for thousands of years, so there is the key way to manage them is by recycling.

The Ministry of Road Transport is encouraging the use of recycled plastic in road construction. The NPL researchers have tied up local rag pickers associations to get plastic waste. Shayna Ecounified India Pvt Ltd, the company which has rights to the technology now, is taking the help of NGOs to supply them with plastic waste.

One of the challenges is segregating the plastic waste from other kinds of waste. For the tile making process the plastic waste is further segregated into low density plastic, mostly used to make bags, high density plastics, used in bottles, and Polypropylene (PP) used in packaging material. These are then shredded into millions of pieces, some bland some boisterous. Mixers are added to the to generate pellets that are then heated and cast into moulds. The tiles can be used for pavements, jogger paths, for constructing structures.

About 600 plastic bags are used in the manufacture of one tile. Currently they have an order for 5 lakh tiles from CSIR itself. However, the demand for plastic tiles is limited at present because ceramic tiles are widely used and preferred.

The plastic tiles cost Rs. 50-60 per sq feet. Production will start on October 19 at the Shayna Ecounified plant in Delhi.

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