Kerala’s literally paving the road for the rest of India to tackle plastic waste in the oceans.
Kerala’s literally paving the road for the rest of India to tackle plastic waste in the oceans. The southern state is now using its fishermen to harvest plastic waste from the ocean that is used subsequently in laying roads. Before last summer, when Kerala’s trawlers dragged their nets through the water, they ended up scooping out huge amounts of plastic along with fish. Without a mechanism to dispose it, the fishermen, until recently, simply threw the plastic back into the water. However, Kerala’s fisheries minister, J Mercykutty Amma, launched a campaign called Suchitwa Sagaram, or ‘Clean Sea’, that educates fishermen about a sustainable disposal mechanism for plastic waste. Once harvested from the sea, the plastic material is shredded by a plastic-shredding machine. The material is then used as an asphalt substitute/supplement in road surfacing. The initiative currently engages five trawlers and 28 people from the local fishing community—all but two of whom are women.
Plastic road surfacing is increasingly becoming popular as it makes the roads more resilient to searing heat. Employment and income-earning opportunities are also coming up around plastic shredding industries. The advantage of using plastic waste as an asphalt substitute for road construction is that the melting point for plastic roads is around 66°C, compared to 50°C for conventional roads. Using recycled plastic is also a cheaper alternative: every kilometre of plastic road uses the equivalent of a million plastic bags, costing roughly 8% less than a conventional road. With India being home to two of the ten rivers globally that contribute 90% of the plastic waste choking the oceans—and every Indian, on average, generating 11kg of plastic waste every year—efficient and sustainable plastic waste disposal mechanisms are the need of the hour. While India is already doing relatively better than most nations on tackling plastic waste—the US generates 10 times the amount of plastic waste as India—Kerala’s raising the bar for other Indian states to come up with creative solutions.