455. Plastic man of India

Rajagopalan Vasudevan is an Indian scientist, who worked  mainly in Waste management.  He is actually a chemistry professor from Madurai who invented a ground-breaking technology that helps in creating roads by reusing plastic wastes. He developed an innovative method to reuse plastic waste to construct better, more durable and very cost-effective roads. This method will help in making roads much faster and also will save environment form dangerous plastic waste.

In 2002, Vasudevan came up with the idea of spraying dry, shredded plastic waste, made up of pieces as small as 2 mm in size, over gravel or bitumen heated to 170 degrees Celsius. The plastic melted and coated the stones with a thin film. The plastic-coated stones were then added to molten tar. Since both plastic and tar are petroleum products, they bind well. Vasudevan first tried out this technique to pave a road on the college campus. It yielded twin benefits: it reused plastic waste and built durable roads.

He has spent the last two decades researching and implementing the purposeful reuse of waste plastic. “Plastic is my resource,” he says and in  his lab we can see the  heaps of plastic wrappers, discarded carry bags, and plastic bottles. A Government order in November 2015 has made it mandatory for all road developers in the country to use waste plastic, along with bituminous mixes, for road construction. This is to help overcome the growing problem of plastic waste disposal in India.

“Bitumen, a highly heterogeneous mixture of hydrocarbons is in effect, composed of polymers similar to plastic,” he says. When molten plastic was added to stone and bitumen mix, Dr Vasudevan found that, true to its nature, plastic stuck fast and bound both materials together.

He was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian honour Padma Shri in 2018.

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