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Plastic waste that turns into free fuel for villagers

Pune duos plants churning polyfuel from polythene bags and pet jars find takers across Maharashtra, and even Visakhapatnam

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Plastic waste that turns into free fuel for villagers
A tempo loaded with plastic waste collected from neighbourhoods in Pune; Dr M Tadpatrikar and Shirish Phadtare
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What started as a dream for two Pune-based business-partners, has now become an environmental campaign spread across Maharashtra. Every month, housing societies and schools from Mumbai, Thane, Pune and a few other cities, collect plastic bags to convert it into poly-fuel that is then supplied free of cost to villagers in Jejuri, Darawali and Ramwadi near Pune to replace kerosene as the primary household fuel. This not only helps in recycling plastic that is difficult to naturally decompose, it also helps reduce pollution caused by the use of fossil fuels like kerosene. It also dissuades villagers from cutting trees for firewood.

“It started in 2010 when my business partner Shirish Phadtare, and I decided that we needed to find a long term solution to India’s plastic problem. I had recently visited a national park where a deer had died from eating plastic. It was very traumatizing for me and I realised just awareness campaigns will not be enough,” recalls Dr Medha Tadpatrikar. The duo studied the science behind plastics, and came across the process of Catalytic Pyrolysis that can be used to make Polyfuel. “We designed our first machine with the help of some of our friends who had a background in engineering. We kept on working on the machine to make it more efficient and developed our second prototype in 2013. Finally in 2014 we perfected the design so that the machine would not only produce liquid polyfuel, which is a mix of methane, butane and propane, but also trap the gas released during production and use that as an energy source to run the machine itself,” says Dr Tadpatrikar.

After this, Tadpatrikar and her devoted group of volunteers went around Pune collecting plastic and encouraging people to recycle plastic and polythene bags. While earlier they would use their own cars, with increasing volume of collections, the group purchased tempos for the purpose. Gradually, the word spread to Mumbai, Thane and the suburb of Dombivali. Minal Dixit and her ‘train friends’ Snehal Dixit and Vidya Paranjape got together with a dedicated group of 45 women from Thane and Dombivli, who are all a part of Urjaa Foundation, to step up efforts in their respective neighbourhoods. Members of Urjaa foundation conducted their first collection drive in December last year and are following it up with monthly collection initiatives.

“While people have a culture of recycling, the raddi-wala only takes old newspapers, clothes and glass bottles. Plastic almost always ends up in landfills where it is burnt and ends up releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere. With our campaign we have successfully collected 250 kgs of plastic in Thane just in January this year and hope to increase our collections at our next drive on March 19,” says Dixit. The plastic is collected and sent to Dr Tadpatrikar in Pune.

Today, Dr Tadpatrikar gets plastic from some other far flung cities like Bhima Shankar, Raigarh and even Visakhapatnam! “People collect the plastic and courier it to us here in Pune where we recycle it in our plant,” she says. This goes on to show that a few determined people are all it takes to bring about a change. “We hope our campaign will soon spread to other cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad and eventually become a national campaign,” says Dr Tadpatrikar.

HOW IT WORKS?

Total monthly plastic collected every month is about 10,000 kg. This includes polythene bags, milk pouches, bubble wraps, plastic containers and pet jars

They have two plants in Pune, one in Hadapsar with a capacity of 1 tonne, and the Jejuri one can manage about 100 kg. The machines can convert 100 kg of plastic into approximately 55 litres of poly-fuel and 5 kg of gas.

The plants run 20-25 days a month and electricity consumption is limited to 8-10 hp for the control panel. They have recently started selling smaller versions of their stainless steel machine to corporate clients.

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