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Concrete Feat

Updated: February 27, 2010 1:26 pm

While the environmentalists world over are crying hoarse over the ill-impact of modern technology on environment, two Muslim brothers of Silicon city have discovered a unique and innovative way to recycle the plastic waste to make eco-friendly roads. In this new-found technology, plastic waste is mixed with bitumen. This makes not only better and study roads but help get rid of plastic waste that find way into garbage bins in country like India with 1.25 Indian billion population where lack of public awareness as well as poor municipal and civic bodies amounts to hundred and thousands of tones of plastic waste.

Ahmed Khan and Rasool Khan, the 62 and 59 year-old brothers, the revolutionary brains behind the idea of using the country’s piling heaps of garbage by turning the non-biodegradable plastic into roads, have had their contribution to plastic menace as they first ran a company that churned out hundreds of thousands of plastic bags and

other packaging material each month that eventually ended up as garbage in Bengaluru, India’s technology and outsourcing hub. Though the two brothers have shunned the making cheap plastic products, they still make pick-up and grocery bags.

            It is first time ever in the world that roads with this technology have been laid successfully after the laboratory tests for the same have been conducted, claim Khan brothers. It was the fear of losing their plastic goods making business, as in the mid-1990s an anti-plastics movement gained strength in India. Talking to this correspondent, the younger brother Rasool Khan said, “I have had never set out to be an environmental entrepreneur, but after an anti-plastics movement gained strength in the mid-1990s, I understood that environmentalists had a valid argument and began to worry about my business. And we thought of a solution to reduce the harm caused by our manufactured

products and also to sustain the plastic industry and to address the concerns of eco-activists.”

            Though devout Muslims, Khan brothers believe in humanity and one God philosophy respecting all religions. “It was probably God’s will that we struck with an idea of mixing plastic waste with bitumen to lay roads since neither of us had any engineering backgrounds. We realised that bitumen and plastic both belong to the petroleum family and both are non bio-degradable. We

started thinking of ways to use them together and judicially. Bitumen is used for road construction. But when bitumen alone is used, the road tends to wear out after some time, and the road starts mixing with the soil. At the same time, plastic, once melted becomes extremely hard in just ten minutes. We thought why not mix both plastic and bitumen. We then tried mixing both. Later we experimented by putting the mixture in some small pot holes of the city”, said Rasool Khan.

            From 1998 to 2000, both brother developed their technology, testing it on more than 600 pot holes in Jayanagar, an upscale neighbourhood in Bengaluru unofficially and the results were positive. After the

successful smaller experiments, there was a need to know if this process was safe enough to be used on roads.

For this, Khans financed a research and testing at an engineering college in Bengaluru where their son was a chemical engineering student who under the guidance of two renowned professors undertook the research that bore positive results. The research was also conducted in at least a dozen engineering colleges across India.

            It took two years for the research to complete. To justify the reports the same technology was tried on a small structure of 500 metres. The report

was released in the year 2002 thereby approving the technology.

            And then KK Plastic Waste Management Private Ltd was established as it dealt in the business of scouring the city’s waste to a more environmentally friendly enterprise.

The brothers got their name and therein began their journey to fame after they made their recycled plastic technology road in Bengaluru.

But it did not stop there, a lot more research was needed to prove the safety and environment friendliness of this technology. Before the technology could be used officially, it was also approved at the Central Road Research Institute, New Delhi (CRRI).

            India was not a big user of plastic until the mid-1980s, when the government sanctioned increase in the national production of plastic to help industries become globally competitive. The use of plastic was also stimulated by the migration of more people to cities and importing of more foreign goods. India, which traditionally recycled a lot of its garbage, was not prepared to handle the increase in plastic waste, including discarded bags, which some experts say can take as long as 1,000 years to decompose.

In 2005, after monsoon rains flooded Mumbai, plastic bags were blamed for clogging the underground drainage system and intensifying the effect of the floods. In areas frequented by tourists, like Goa, heavy consumption of bottled water has resulted in trash on beaches, creating eyesores and endangering marine life.

            Even India’s cows, considered sacred, have not been spared. After 3,000 cows died in Lucknow city in 2000, the city investigated and found plastic bags in its stomach. Apparently the bags had been ingested as the animals grazed at dump sites. Several state governments have banned plastic bags in recent years, although Bengaluru has not. How are the roads laid-the waste plastic made out of littered plastic bags, PET bottles and thin film grade plastics is shredded and mixed with asphalt to form a compound called polymerised bitumen, which is laid on the roads. Adding plastic to the mix makes the roads more durable withstanding monsoons and daily wear and tear better than traditional methods, and also reduces pot holes.

            The Khans have patented the plasticised pavement in India and KK Plastic Waste Management has so far built hundreds of miles of roads in Bengaluru and the city governments in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Nigeria are looking to ride the plastic highway. The other companies are copying the technology but Khans said they had decided not to object. They, however, have applied for an international process and product patent to guard their innovation.

            “The sincerity of government and those who are making roads mixing plastic is very important. The moral responsibility demands that only recycled plastic waste is used”, said very sincere Rasool Khan.

“We are planning to expand our business and are looking forward for venture capitalists who would invest in our technology. “KK Plastic is in talks of a joint venture with a Saudi company to run the project in the country. The talks are still in initial stages, informed Rasool Khan.

The efforts of Khan brothers’ have been awarded “Real Heroes” honour, the other recognitions come by UN Habitat and from Karnataka government.

            “Technology is no solution to policy and public action. However, it is impractical to imagine a world without plastic thus it is better to implement eco-friendly ways of its disposal. We have to start looking at plastic as raw material rather than waste. Plastic waste is collected from garbage bins across the city through a network of municipal workers, rag-pickers and our own employees. Then the plastic is shred into tiny pieces and mixed with asphalt. If plastic is not used properly—if it is used only in landfills—then there is no end for this. Every day there is generation of unknown to nine of waste plastic and it would all go to landfills. But, how much you can do that? There should be an end, and after filling the land it will not degenerate or bio-degrade, and ultimately it will be a problem so this is the best solution: To use it in road construction. If it is fully used in road construction, all that waste plastic generated can be embedded in the roads,” opined Rasool Khan.

By Prakriiti Gupta from Bengaluru

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