Reliance Industries, plastic pollution, use of plastics in road construction, Vipul Shah, UNEP
Amid growing concerns of waste plastic pollution in the country, oil-to-telecom major Reliance Industries (RIL), has launched a project to use plastics in road construction.
RIL which is India's largest petrochemicals player has so far constructed three plastic-to-roads projects on a pilot basis and these initiatives, said the company, have helped it create a solution for disposal of non-recyclable post-consumer plastic waste. As part of the initiative, RIL will sell the plastic waste mixture for road laying.
As a pilot, RIL has used about 50 tonnes of plastic waste at its Nagothane Manufacturing Division for construction of 40 km of road. RIL has a petrochemicals complex in Nagothane a town in Raigad, Maharashtra.
"Our phase one is to find an end-to-end solution. We will guarantee the quality of plastic waste going into the roads so that road construction gets executed properly and we get long-lasting roads. So we felt there was a need to launch a brand which will be guaranteed by Reliance for quality and that is what we are doing now," said Vipul Shah, COO of RIL's petrochemicals business, adding that this could be a game-changer for both, our environment and our roads.
According to a recent study by Un-Plastic Collective (UPC), India, generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which 40% remains uncollected. UPC is a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative co-founded by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WWF-India to help eliminate plastic pollution in nature and move towards a circular economy.
While recyclable plastics can be reused nearly eight times, it is the single-use plastic— like confectionery wrappers, food bags and straws—that are the immediate cause of plastic pollution.
So RIL said it has started its own, as well as outsourced garbage collection and segregation which enables the collection of sufficient plastic to be shredded to prepare a mixture at its sites.
"The advantage for RIL to bring this project up to scale is our pan India reach to every state and municipality is so high that we can actually get the right legislation installed in a proper way. And it's not just RIL but multiple companies which will take this project on. One company cannot do it. We will make sure that we show the way," added Shah.
The company RIL plans to work with the National Highway Authority and state governments to potentially supply a plastics-infused mix to make some of the thousands of kilometres of roads the government aims to build in the years to come.
But why use plastic for road construction?
KRS Narayan, Head-Business Development, sustainable solutions and circular economy at RIL Petrochemicals explains: “Plastic, when heated at an optimal temperature, acts as a binding agent for traditional road laying materials like bitumen. This mixture does not let water penetrate the roads, hence making them more durable." The 40-kilometre road resurfaced in Nagothane, weathered the 2,500 mm rainfall in previous year’s monsoon without any potholes, added Narayan.
Shah said that buoyed by the success of this pilot project, RIL plans to scale it up further. Though it is currently executed under its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, RIL said in the long term it sees its recycling and circular economy projects to be financially viable. ould want it to be financially
Shah added that using 8-10% of plastic waste mixture with traditional road laying material can reduce the expenditure on road laying material by ₹1 lakh per kilometre of road. Over 86,000 tonnes of plastic can be used in the construction of roads countrywide.
However, Shah steered clear of divulging details of potential tie-ups that RIL is exploring to scale up this initiative.
(The writer was in Nagothane at the invitation of Reliance Industries)