Innovation
Managing plastic rather than banning it is the need of the hour, they say.

We have all, at some point in time, cribbed about the poor waste management in our cities and have conveniently put the onus of keeping the city clean on government bodies. 

The city of Kochi in Kerala has a long-standing concern over poor waste management as a result of which, heaps of garbage piled up on the roadsides (and sometimes spilling onto the roads) is not an isolated sight.

But, a group of young engineers from Kerala- all graduates from Model Engineering College in Ernakulam- decided that they would not walk away from the issues plaguing the common man, but use technology to solve them.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” they say. But when life gave these 12 engineers heaps of plastic waste and an enormous helping of creativity, they made plastic bricks out of it. While most of them have already quit their well-paying jobs in the IT sector, some are still holding on to their jobs to fund their initiative.The team includes Kevin Jacob, Saffin Nazeer, Abhijth D, Edwin Basil James, Geethanjali T Menon Bhagyalakshmi, Arjun Sasikumar, Julian Sara Joseph, Sreelakshmi P V, Mevin Jacob and Fevin Basil James. 

What is a plastic brick?

With 15X30 cm dimension, the plastic bricks are as strong as normal bricks used in construction. Plastic, irrespective of their quality and density are melted at a certain temperature and other materials such as sand and ash are added to it. Once the mixture then goes into a "crude machinery" (which is basically a compartment customized by the group), the bricks will be made in 2 hours' time. After its curating time of seven days, the bricks are good to use.

Speaking to The News Minute, Kevin Jacob, one of the engineers part of the project said that the narrative around plastic in our country is almost often restricted to banning it. 

"What we need is not a complete ban on plastic, but effectively managing it. The cries about banning plastic in the coming years is not a well-thought out method at all. In most cases, we see paper as the substitute for plastic, which will in turn cause more deforestation. Cloth is an expensive substitute and so is not a practical choice," Kevin explains. 

As far as Kevin can remember, he has always wanted to be an entrepreneur, start something on his own.

"When I was 17, a small-scale paper manufacturing company near my house was in crisis and on the verge of shutting down. Since it demanded nominal investment, my family took it up. A year after my schooling, I went on to work at the company, mainly in marketing," Kevin says. 

Probably that’s what triggered the entrepreneur in him, Kevin recalls, giving him direction to his dream of starting an innovative product based company. It was in college while pursuing electrical engineering that students sharing similar interests got together to form a group “Kaizens” (Kaizens means ‘change for the better’ in Japanese) and later went on to do innovative projects together. 

From the very beginning, the group had their priorities right: use technology to ease the troubles of the common man. It was in one of their brainstorming sessions that they proposed the challenge of plastic, that they believed needed attention.

During the process of their research, the group met Ahmed Khan, who used plastic to build roads in Karnataka. 

"At that point, we hadn't arrived at what product to make out of the plastic. While speaking to Ahmed Khan, he told us how plastic with a specific density can only be used in the making of many products, but it is not so in the case of bricks. That's how we arrived at the idea," Kevin said. 

If the initiative hits off, Kevin believes that it will prove to be a motivation to many engineers who are forced to retain their IT jobs and not follow their hearts and innovate.

The actual product 

The actual product the group wants to popularize is not just the plastic bricks, but the machinery that can create them. 

"Our aim is not to sell plastic bricks, but to prove that plastic could be effectively managed. One issue in our city is the garbage collection. But there are also people like Kudumbashree staff who collect the garbage from houses and clean up the roads. But after collecting the plastic waste, they are at a loss over what to do with it. The waste is often dumped in landfills. But if the machinery is given to these units and municipalities, they can themselves make bricks out of the plastic waste," Kevin explains.

The group hopes to receive government support for the project so that their dream of solving the problems of the common man will move one step forward.