Rajagopalan Vasudevan, the 73-year old professor from Madurai, is changing the way plastic wastes are treated in the country, using a method in which the no-biodegradable waste becomes useful rather than an environmental hazard. Known as the 'Plastic Man', Vasudevan has come out with a patented method to reuse plastic waste to construct roads and the technology has been provided to the Government of India for free. The method has been used to lay around 5,000 kilometers of the road across 11 states, which has now brought him Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour in the country. "This award will also motivate many others to innovate with simple technology for the benefit of the community and the common man," said Vasudevan, who continues to help various state governments, municipalities, corporations to use plastic is increasing exponentially due to rapid urbanisation and changed lifestyle leads to widespread littering of plastic on the landscape. Vasudevan is currently serving as dean, department of chemistry, at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, where he joined after completing his PhD at Madras University in 1974. He had completed his Bachelor of Science in 1965 and MSc in 1967. He developed the technology of laying roads using recycled plastics in 2001 following which his college came forward to lay the first road using the technology in 2002. The road has been maintaining its quality to date. Patented by the college, Professor Vasudevan dedicated his technology free of cost to the nation and today over one lakh kilometres has been laid using the technology. 73-year old Vasudevan, famously known as 'Plastic Man', travels across the country to train engineers how to apply it. Thiagarajar College at the temple town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu holds a patent for his technique but often licenses it for free. He said that plastics have become common man’s friend and finds its use in every field. The consumption expected to be around 12 million tonnes and nearly 50 per cent of the plastic consumed is used for packing including carry bags, cups, thermocoles and foams. These materials are manufactured using polymers like Polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. (The tubes and wires are made out of poly vinyl chloride) and once it's used, are thrown out or littered. They mix with Municipal Solid Waste. As they are non- biodegradable, the disposal is a problem and they cause social problems contributing for environmental pollution. Yet, these packing materials either monolayer or laminated poly layers made out of polyethene, polypropylene and polystyrene can be easily used for various uses like road construction, block making, roofing, etc... without affecting the environment. (Poly Vinyl Chloride is not used), said Vasudevan. He elaborates that plastics waste is shredded into small pieces (between 1.6mm – 2.5mm). The granite stone is heated to around 1700c. the shredded plastics waste is added to the stone.
It gets melted and coated over the stone in just 30 seconds. Then the bitumen is added and mixed. The mix is used for road construction. From rural roads to National High ways all types of roads can be laid using this technique.“Use of each tonne of plastic waste avoids the entry of 3 tonnes of Co2 in to the atmosphere, which otherwise results in global warming,” said Vasudevan earlier. He added, for 1km X 3.75m road, 1 tonne of plastic ( 10 lakh carry bags) is used and 1 tonne of bitumen is saved. It is a value addition to the waste plastics (cost per kilogram increases from Rs 15 to Rs 30). Flexible pavement scrap can be reused effectively by coating with plastics waste. This helps to reduce the cost of 50 per cent; saves the use of raw material by 70 – 80% and also the level of the road can be maintained. According to Vasudevan, around 20,000 kms of roads are being laid across the county using plastic tar. Both Government departments and private parties in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Shillong and other places used plastic in laying roads. He added, the plastic tar road life is twice compared to traditional ones and maintenance is also easy. Need of the Hour According to Vasudevan, the segregation need to be carried out at various levels and domestic waste is to be collected using two bin systems, thus collecting the waste plastics separately. Public houses should be instructed to collect and store waste plastics separately and in marketplaces, provisions are to be provided for the separate collections of waste plastics. The school children may be educated to bring the waste plastics from home to the school. This can be collected by the plastic association authorities and other like-minded organization. This makes the home and the street free from plastic waste.