Whenever technology tries to solve problems related to environments, there a can be a number of results and can vary from solving a burning environmental issue to providing jobs at the grassroots level. Protoprint, a start-up company based in Pune, is working hard help wastepickers turn into micro-entrepreneurs. It is helping them to use technology to convert waste plastic into filaments for 3D printers. Earlier this week, Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal had tweeted about the start-up and congratulated founders.
Protoprint’s journey had begun in 2013, when a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) started thinking about problem-related to the disposal of plastic waste. During the time, his father Jayant Paim, a computer scientist, who is now also a director of Protoprint, began experimenting with 3D printing, while his mother, Suchismita, was involved in writing about waste pickers’ cooperative Swach.
Speaking about the journey, Jayant said his son started having an interest in disposal of plastic waste while he had come home during his summer vacations. “The idea was simple — to use technology and convert discarded plastic into filaments for 3D printers,” Jayant told Indian Express.
Founders of the company wanted to use this venture to generate grassroots-level entrepreneurs.Swach has roped in accordingly and the first team of 40 members was formed. “We set up the necessary machinery. Of the 40 women, 30 were involved in the regular collection of waste while the other 10 ran the machinery and were involved in the production of filaments,” he told the paper further.
The company works with a special class of plastic called high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The plastic is used for moulding bottles and pipes because of its durability and constitutes 30 percent of the plastic waste generated. “Mostly, wastepickers sell their collected stock of HDPE at a rate of Rs 15-20 per kg. Our process enables them to generate a kg of filament per kg of such plastic collected, which obviously will sell at a much higher price,” Jayant added.
Currently, cost of filaments for 3D printers is anything in between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 per kg. The company has also teamed up with the Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) after noticing that the filaments got wrapped, hoping for a solution. In the meantime, this initiative was awarded a two-year grant by the department of science and technology. Jayant further said that at present the company is very close to finding the ‘magic reagent’, that will help to stop the problem of wrapping and also hoped commercial production of filaments would start by June.