Plastic roads help solve Bangalore rubbish crisis

While the authorities dump or burn rubbish, a firm in India’s Silicon Valley is using waste plastic to build roads

Rubbish on the streets of Bangalore (Pic: Flickr/Jon)

Rubbish on the streets of Bangalore (Pic: Flickr/Jon)

By Sanjay Pandey in Bangalore

Rubbish dumping in Bangalore is reaching crisis levels as rapid economic growth, overcrowding and poor urban planning combine.

India’s Silicon Valley produces some 5,000 tonnes of waste a day, of which 1,500 tonnes are plastic. Only 25% goes for recycling and the rest is dumped in land fill or burnt, generating greenhouse gas emissions.

As the local authorities sit on their hands, local businessman Ahmad Khan has taken it on himself to rid the city of its stinking garbage menace.

Khan runs a firm named KK Plastic Waste Management that aims to “create eternal scarcity of garbage” in the city.

KK Plastic has been building roads using waste plastic for a decade. It has been working with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) since 2002.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest has authorised civic bodies to use waste plastic in road construction, but red tape and policy paralysis have discouraged wide-spread use of technology.

“We can lay 500 km road in a year. But as you know, things get stuck at the bureaucratic level. Since the garbage problem became a headache for the authorities and they got to know about the importance of our work, now they are giving us more assignments,” said Khan.

Workers lay a road that uses recycled plastic (Pic: Sanjay Pandey)

Workers lay a road that uses recycled plastic (Pic: Sanjay Pandey)

Khan’s firm supplies waste plastic to BBMP, which cleans and shreds it. Eight parts plastic are mixed with 100 parts bitumen to create a hard-wearing road surface.

Acknowledging the viability of the technology, the Public Works department has included instruction to use waste plastic in road construction.

Though using plastic waste increases the cost of road construction by Rs 500 per cubic metre (nearly 7% more than bitumen road), it helps the civic body cut on cost of waste management and reduces emissions.

It also reduces air pollution from incinerating waste. “For people with lung diseases such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, even a single exposure to this type of smoke can worsen their disease,” advised Gufran Ansari, a local doctor. “This can result in hospitalisation, increased use of expensive medications and absences from school or work.”

Though Khan’s technology passed the acid test of all leading institutions, including Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), the ultimate authority on road construction, IIT-Chennai and IIT-Khadakpur , back in 2002, it is still limited to certain pockets of Bangalore city.

“If the authorities had taken us seriously back then, Indian cities wouldn’t have been sitting on a pile of garbage now,” said Khan, who has been roped in by Housing & Urban Development Corporation (Hudco)to replicate his Bangalore success story in the national capital region of Gurgaon.

According to a BBMP report, the roads made using waste did not develop cracks and provided a smooth riding surface displaying much better durability even two years after construction.

About 40 tones of compound can be generated from 100-120 tones of waste plastic bag. If the entire length of roads in Bangalore city is overlaid with the poly-blend compound it will require about 9022 tones of compound. So far, according to BBMP officials, around 2,000km of arterial and sub-arterial roads such as Bellary Road and G C Road of the city has been laid using waste plastic.

Dr CEG Justo, under whose guidance the survey to assess the scope of using the processed waste plastic was conducted in 2000, vouched for the technology.

“The main advantage is the useful utilisation of the waste plastic bags, which generally get piled up as garbage along the roadside of many cities and towns in India,” he said.

“The collection of the waste plastic, sorting them out into different types and processing are difficult; also transporting the processed plastic to distant places is very expensive.”

Based on the success of the project in Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi civic bodies have entered into a dialogue with KK Plastics. Not only in the metropolitan cities, plastic roads have found endorsement of National Rural Road Development Agency that has proposed to use waste plastic in the construction of roads in rural India, too.

“If they allow us to use this technology in all roads, I can assure you we would be able to create scarcity of plastic waste in the country,” said Khan.

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