Recycling Thermoplastics: India’s Indigenous Innovation

Plastic waste is a major environmental problem in India, which generates about 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste every day, according to a 2012 estimate by the Central Pollution Control Board. Out of this, 94 percent is thermoplastic, or recyclable materials such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) . Recycling thermoplastics is not an easy task, as it requires proper segregation, categorization and value addition of plastic waste. Moreover, recycling thermoplastics often results in loss of quality and properties of the original material.

To address these challenges, India is developing indigenous technologies to recycle thermoplastics and turn them into useful products. Some of these technologies are:

Recycling polystyrene waste with citrus peel extract

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H) have developed a new technology to recycle waste polystyrene (PS), commonly known as thermocol, using an agriculture waste (citrus peel extract) and develop it into a non-woven fabric. The fabric can selectively absorb oil and are hydrophobic, making it suitable for applications ranging from kitchen napkins, to flexible packaging to oil spillage remediation .

This technology is the first of its kind that utilizes two different types of waste (plastic and agro waste) together. The product (recycled polystyrene fabric) is validated and tested at different restaurants and other places where they were used effectively. Currently, the polystyrene waste is being collected from IIT-H campus, recycling it into fabric and then using it for oil spills cleaning in lab/households locally, as a circular economy approach. The technology is ready to be commercialized and technology transfer is in progress through a start-up company, M/s. Restyro Technologies Pvt. Ltd. in IIT Hyderabad Incubation Centre.

Plastic and metal waste recycling technology

Researchers at the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering &Technology (CIPET): School for Advanced Research in Polymeric materials (SARP), Bhubaneswar have developed an eco-friendly viable technology for streamlining of segregation methodology, categorization of plastics waste and value addition of plastics for commercial exploitation. They have developed four different grades of formulations utilizing waste plastics collected from E-wastes– high impact grade, improved flow grade, Fire Retardant (FR) grade and improved impact with better flow grade. They have been successfully validated for many high-end applications with reduction in cost and improved process parameters .

Their laboratory has established a demo-recycling unit in the city of Bhubaneswar to support the technical knowhow for E-waste recyclers and interested industrialists and entrepreneurs. This technology can help in recovering both plastic and metal components from E-waste and reduce the environmental pollution caused by improper disposal of E-waste.

Chemical recycling of polyethylene terephthalate

A team of scientists at the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune have developed a novel process to convert waste PET bottles into high value-added products such as textile grade polyester fibers and glycol. The process involves depolymerization of PET using ethylene glycol as a solvent and a catalyst under mild conditions. The process is energy efficient, environmentally benign and economically viable .

The process can produce polyester fibers with comparable quality to virgin fibers and glycol with purity above 99 percent. The process can also handle PET bottles with different colors and additives without affecting the quality of the products. The technology has been transferred to M/s. Reliance Industries Limited for commercialization.

These are some examples of how India is innovating in the field of recycling thermoplastics and creating a circular economy for plastic waste. These technologies not only reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste, but also create new opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and social welfare.

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