Turning Plastic Waste into Fuel

■ Pyrolysis converts plastic into useful byproducts without releasing toxins

     Of 500 billion pounds of new plastic manufactured every year, 33% is single-use plastic, that is, use-and-throw. When plastic is disposed on land, it leaches into and affects groundwater and reservoirs. Plastic disposed of in seas and oceans is today threatening marine life. When drains, lakes, and rivers are clogged with plastic waste, wide-spread flooding results in loss of life and property.

     Plastic is non-biodegradable, which means that it does not decay naturally without harming the environment. Landfill sites, which are designated sites where waste material is disposed by burying it, are also being closed due to lack of space.

     This is the reason the Art of Living International Centre established the Plastic Recycling Plant on 13th May 2015,  to help convert non-recyclable plastic waste into fuel, preventing the entry of waste plastic into the environment. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has for decades given great importance to environmental issues, and the Plant has been very useful in this venture.

     Plastic waste is collected from the Ashram, Panchakarma, the Ayurveda Hospital and surrounding villages. The boiler is the main part of the plant. The capacity is 200 kg of plastic input per batch. Medical waste is not allowed to enter the recycling process.

     Sanjay Patil Ji, in-charge of the Plant, explains the process. After the collected plastic is segregated into recyclable and non-recyclable, the latter variety is shredded, cleaned with a blower, and then heated in batches of 200 kgs. to about 400 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-free chamber. The process by which plastic is converted into fuel is called pyrolysis.  Initially, ignition is done with a few grams of CNG, to set off the pyrolysis or burning. As the plastic melts, fuel is produced, while gas is separated as a byproduct. The fuel is distilled and filtered while the gas is used to run the pyrolysis machine itself. As the plastic is melted - and not burned - no toxins are released into the air.

     200 kg of plastic waste produces 100 liters of fuel, 50 liters of liquid gas, and about 50 kg. of carbon. The fuel is used to run diesel generators and boilers or used in the repair of machines to clean the components, while the carbon, which is captured by the plant's water-scrubbing process, is used in road-building without letting it affect the soil. So even the by-products are used and no secondary waste is generated in the entire process.

     The recyclable plastic is collected by a vendor, who converts them into pellets that are in turn used to make bottles. We can do our bit by always carrying cloth bags and avoiding plastic carry bags and single-use plastic cutlery. Maharashtra is leading the way by having strict regulations against plastic carry bags.