A three dimensional approach

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 28 June 2018

Recognising the monumental environmental challenges before society, four youngsters have come up with innovative solutions to address them. Their efforts have been recognised by UNEP which shortlisted them for ‘Young Champions of the Earth’ competition

Refugee problem with bio-edible cutlery, to reducing the carbon emission from diesel generators and roping in the indigenous forest communities to create luxury furniture from a rapidly invasive plant — four students from India have come up with indigenous solutions to tackle environmental challenges. They are the finalists for the United Nations Environment Programme’s  (UNEP) Young Champions of the Earth. Covestro, a world-leading supplier of sustainable high-tech polymer materials, has partnered with the UNEP for this competition. The three finalists share their thought process. 

Abhishek Banerjee, a final year undergraduate student of Construction Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, runs a company called Qube whose mission is to change the world. The company is currently developing construction bricks made of plastic waste called ‘plastiqube’ (www.plastiqube.com) thus addressing the issue of plastic waste disposal. 

Banerjee says, “In an attempt to replace the clay bricks with an eco-friendly alternative, we were looking for materials that were both abundant and cheap. During the final year of my engineering course, we tried to use plastic waste to manufacture construction bricks called plastiqube.”

The initiative, in the long run, would help the labour force who lost their jobs because of the ban on plastic manufacturing units. Their experience of working in a factory environment would come in handy.  “Our enterprise Qube, a plastic brick manufacturing company, would be in need of such professionals and in the long run, we aim to employ them as operators in our production units,” says he.

Today, everybody is talking about plastic ban but very few are focussing on alternatives for plastic, and its proper waste management. When asked about it, Banerjee says, “Banning single-use plastic is like winning a battle, not the war. People tend to forget that there is still an awful lot of plastic in the oceans and on land. Some environmentalist are pioneering new technologies for recycling it, while others are in search of eco-friendly alternatives. I believe everyone — entrepreneurs, policy makers and layman — has a role to play. It takes only a few times of bringing our own bags to the grocery store, silverware to the office and a reusable water bottle before it becomes a habit.”

Ipsita Gupta, who is pursuing Geography Honours from Delhi University, is heading Project Patradya with a team of 30 students from her college.

“We decided to address two pressing concerns — Afghan refugees and plastic menace — with Project Patradya. In some parts of the world, the idea of edible cutlery has taken root. However, in India it is still unrecognised; besides there are very few producers of edible cutlery. The culinary skills of the refugees, along with our idea of producing edible bowls, led to the birth of Project Patradya,” says Gupta.

These bio-edible bowls are compact, sturdy, nutritious and come in various sizes and flavours. They can either be eaten along with the food served in them or disposed off in the soil where they will degrade within two weeks, not leaving any waste behind. 

“These bowls are baked and made using simple ingredients like fine flour (maida), rice flour, sugar, chocolate powder, achari powder,” explains Gupta.  

The refugees who are making these bowls take pride in their work. Coming from adverse circumstances — fleeing from a war torn country and leaving everything behind — they reached India with a very bleak hope. 

“They are now able to sustain their living and lead a decent life through their earnings by the production and marketing of these bowls. We’re also engaged in community development activities to help them further improve their livelihood. They feel extremely happy and joyful about being engaged in a project that is contributing to protection of the environment,” she adds.

Prathima Muniyappa  from Mumbai through her project Anantara addresses the dual challenges of forest degradation and limited economic opportunities in the Western Ghats in India by helping indigenous forest communities create luxury designer furniture from a rapidly invasive plant (Lantana Camara). Muniyappa, along with her team, provides the training, marketing and partnerships that ultimately lead to livelihood creation and restoration of the degraded forest areas. 

By leveraging the power of design to transform a threatening plant species into luxury furniture, it incentivises the forest communities to harvest lantana and check its rapid spread. 

Muniyappa is an Elements fellow at the MIT Media Labs and holds a Masters in Design Studies in Critical Conservation at the Graduate School of Design under a Fulbright Scholarship.

“We found it important to partner with United Nations Environment Programme as our purpose, similar to theirs, is to make the world a brighter place. Sustainability has always been firmly anchored in our strategies. We’re honoured to partner with UNEP to inspire and motivate young people across the world to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We should be proud as we have four people from our country, who are extremely creative and dedicated, when it comes to solving the environmental challenges before us. We need more such talented people who will shape the future of our country as well as the world,” says Ajay Durrani, managing director and CEO, Covestro India.

Chakr Innovation, a Delhi-based company, has devised a novel technique to control emissions from diesel generators. Chakr Shield, which causes minimum back pressure on the diesel generator, is capable of controlling up to 90 per cent of particulate matter from diesel engine with no impact on the engine’s efficiency. 

Arpit Dhupar, a mechanical engineering graduate and a technology enthusiast, who co-founded the company, says that they have to thank a sugarcane juice vendor for the concept. 

“The juice vendor had attached an exhaust pipe to divert the emissions to a wall and the cane crusher, which was running on a diesel generator, didn’t show any visible emissions. However, we noticed that the wall had turned black from the diesel soot. We thought if it could colour the wall black, it could surely be utilised as paint. So, we worked on this idea for a year in which we tried different technologies and finally came up with our current device, Chakr Shield,” says he.  

As carbon is a useful resource, team Chakr processes the captured particulate matter and uses it to create ink pigment which is non-toxic. It is of same quality as the ink used in industries. “Each litre of ink saves 700 million litres of air that an average adult would breathe in a lifetime! Chakr in Hindi means ‘cycle’ and we are completing the cycle of carbon,” he adds.  

Apart from controlling emission at the source, the technology also ensures that the collected particulate matter is not disposed off or burnt, but is utilised as raw material for inks and paints. 

But can this device be used in households? Answers Dhupar, “Chakr Shield is useful for anyone who uses a diesel generator — industries, telecom tower companies, commercial and residential apartments. There is currently no effective technology available in the market that reduces particulate matter emissions from stationary diesel generators. Hence, it is a novel technology. Early adopters of our technology are those who are sensitive towards the environment and aim to meet their sustainability goals.” 

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