Friday, March 17, 2017

Putting plastic waste to use

Dr Medha Tadpatrikar and Shirish Phadtare started Rudra Environmental Solutions (India) to convert plastic waste into poly fuel. The initiative is garnering a lot of praise and attracting volunteers

A small packet arrives at Dr Medha Tadpatrikar’s office while we chat about her work of plastic segregation. “It’s from Vizag,” she informs. Tadpatrikar and her business partner, Cost Accountant Shirish Phadtare, started Rudra Environmental Solutions (India) Ltd in Pune in 2014 and has been educating people about plastic segregation at its source. The initiative is quite impressive because it’s completely people driven and free. No wonder then that people from Vishakhapatnam and a few more from Mumbai are couriering their plastic waste to them.

In 2009, the families of Tadpatrikar and Phadtare were vacationing in Kanha National Park. “During one safari, we were asked not to visit a track because a few deer had died. Later, we learnt that the animals had died after eating plastic. We realised we had to do something.”

The duo started finding out for themselves the ill effects and hazards of plastic. “We own a research firm called, Mantra. So researching, getting data and statistics was easy. But we also wanted to find out for ourselves the hazardous effects of plastic and how they could be reversed. So we began testing it. We knew plastic is made from crude oil, so can we go back to it? That was the baseline on which we worked,” she says.

The duo, along with engineers and designers, devised a machine to convert plastic into gas in 2010. But it wasn’t helping in environment conservation, so Tadpatrikar and Phadtare decided to experiment more.

“In 2012-13, we designed a machine that converted plastic into fuel. Before bringing the machine to the market, we decided to use it first, make more changes, etc. We also started talking to people, explaining about the necessity of segregating plastic at source. One lady asked, ‘What do we do with the plastic after the segregation? Even the garbage workers sift through good quality plastic bottles or ware and leave the rest. What do we with the remaining part?’ I replied, ‘I will come around and pick it up’. That’s how we began,” she adds.

Tadpatrikar and Phadtare drove around in her car to various housing societies to pick up plastic waste. The quantity didn’t matter. “It might not be possible for everyone to bring the waste to us on scheduled days, so we offered to pick it up for free. We started giving them free gunny bags in which they could store the waste,” she informs.

Depending on the volume collected, the waste is taken to one of the two segregating plants at Hadapsar and Jejuri.

The aim of Rudra Solutions is to spread awareness of ‘Our garbage, our responsibility’. The Pune Municipal Corporation does a tremendous job, but it’s short of manpower. So people have to pitch in. “Since we started, we have seen a change in mindset. There was a time when people asked us for money to take away the plastic. But we refused. We told them that they could sell good plastic like bottles, food containers, etc. But plastic waste like biscuit and wafer wrappers or polythene bags can be given to us, because they clog the drains and gutters,” explains Tadpatrikar.

Currently, Rudra Solutions picks up plastic waste from 6,800 homes in the city and areas like Bhima Shankar, Baramati, Baneshwar, villages near Mulshi and from forts like Sinhagad, Raigad and Rajgad. The waste that is turned into poly fuel is sold to villagers at a cheaper rate so that they can use it for kitchen fire, etc. “We want to pick up waste from 10,000 homes in the near future,” she concludes.

Writer and social worker, Mita Banerjee read about Tadpatrikar’s work and decided to get in touch with her. She and her colleagues were already a part of Team Miracle, which was engaged in social welfare. Further inspired by Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat campaign, the team wished to do something in that area.

“I first got in touch with Medha in March this year, and invited her for a talk at our Senior Citizen’s club, followed by another talk in Viman Nagar in May. At that time, Rudra had not ventured into this area. We started with a small bag of plastic waste from my household,” she says.

Thereafter, she rallied around various friends and neighbours, who in turn, spread the news to their friends and neighbours. “The initiative is so simple and sustainable that it soon caught on, and we began getting calls from various friends in other areas like Kalyani Nagar, Koregaon Park, DP Road, etc. We have formed WhatsApp groups and sub groups. The monthly pick-up route is fixed and well-coordinated by Medha,” concludes Banerjee.

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