“There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight) by 2050”: Ellen MacArthur Foundation 
“Average human consumes credit card size (5 grams) of microplastics every week”: WWF
“91% plastic is not recycled and thus continues to exist for thousands of years”: National Geographic

One would’ve come across many such disturbing facts in recent times. Some of us are aware of the cost that the human choices impose on the environment, other life forms and the Earth. The wonder material plastic has become one of the significant problems that our planet is currently facing. Invented in 1907, it has become an irreplaceable part of our lives. Due to its high utility in its varied forms, shapes and sizes, it is the disposal and recycling stage that becomes problematic. It’s a large component of the general litter and landfills. Approximately 4600 million tons of plastic was discarded around the globe in 2015 itself. Plastic items block the drain and sewer lines and also end up being consumed by animals on land and in oceans alike. It has even been found in the form of microplastics around the polar caps and the highest mountain peaks of the world. Thus, many experts, entrepreneurs and governments around the world are working independently as well as collectively to clean up the gigantic mess that humans are creating. Among these, Shayna Ecounified has come up with an innovative path to deal with the plastic problem.

Tiles created from recycled plastic used in a play area for children.

Established in 2017 in Greater Noida by Paras and Sandeep, it primarily deals with manufacturing paver tiles and value-added products made from recycled plastics. These tiles can be used in offices, pavements and parking lots. They had built the idea from scratch, building up their expertise in plastic recycling and understanding the value chains. They wanted to offer a new product that can be made by recycling discarded plastics. The R&D required substantial resources but gave positive results in the durability of the products. The tiles meet demanding conditions like heat and water resistance, high tensile strength-bearing loads of around 40 tons, anti-microbial properties, etc. They have even got the paver tiles patented. The organization procures segregated plastics from sellers, as not all plastics can undergo multiple cycles of recycling. The tiles have a life of more than 50 years and are completely safe for human use. The best part is that the tiles can be again recycled after their end of use to make new products like chairs, dustbins, etc.

Despite the products having higher economic cost than the concrete paver tiles, the environmental benefits far surpass that of the latter, thus making the recycled tiles the better choice. This has led to a substantial market across both the private and public sectors. Awareness among conscious decision-makers also plays a critical role. The combined efforts have led to the recycling of more than 420 tons of plastic since its inception, which is quite significant. Such are the results that people have even sent plastics collected from their neighbourhoods and offices, which Shayna Ecounified had to refuse from accepting as they require segregated plastics for further processing. This shows that many people want to make better life choices, but do not know the right way to realize them.

The novel waste plastic composite tiles installed in a community park.

There were many challenges in their journey as well. The topmost challenge was the consumer mindset problem. Unaware individuals prefer to use new concrete tiles instead of those made from recycled materials due to uninformed beliefs regarding objects made from discarded materials. So, the team worked towards dispelling such notions and also went ahead to make the tiles free from human contact. At times, the support from government labs wasn’t sufficient and they had to take help from private labs as well. The start-up had to undertake multiple improvisations for the products, changing the composition of plastic polymers and filler materials. It even shifted the processing and manufacturing facilities closer to the supplier to decrease transportation costs and make the venture commercially viable. Thus, investments for R&D, unforeseen incidents, tackling behavioural biases were among some of the challenges that the organization overcame to attain economic feasibility. A newly manufactured plastic commodity can undergo 7 stages of recycling if done properly. However, the life and quality of the product decrease after every stage. Also, if proper recycling practices are not followed, all the 7 stages cannot be realized. This leads to a critical problem- single-use plastic, a solution for which has not yet been devised.

Shayna Ecounified is working on new prototypes for products like park benches, boards, chairs, dustbins, etc. The ongoing corona pandemic has led to much brainstorming about the impacts that human consumption have on life on Earth. With the silver lining being cleaner rivers and skies, animals being sighted near suburbs and beaches, the time is right to work towards convergence of efforts to bring about a sustainable way of living. The efforts of initiatives like Shayna Ecounified provide hope that the fight against plastic can be won.

Article by Subhav Duggal, Team ulaunch.

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