In a bid to help fight the menace of medical waste piling up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Binish Desai, popularly known as the 'Recycle Man of India', is creating eco-friendly bricks out of PPE kits and masks made from non-woven fabric.
"When the lockdown started, everyone was talking about how nature was healing but I kind of had an eco-anxiety because I thought that the large amount of PPE kits being used would create a new type of pollution - the PPE pollution which we are now aware of," 27-year-old Desai, founder of the Gujarat-based Eco-Eclectic Technologies, tells The Logical Indian.
"That made me feel that I need to start working on the most common material which is used in the PPE - the non-woven fabric," he added.
India produces around 101 Metric Tonnes per day (MT/day) of COVID-19 related biomedical waste, as per a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in the National Green Tribunal. This medical waste is in addition to the normal biomedical waste of around 609 MT/day that the country generates.
In April, the environmentalist and innovator, started collecting used masks from his family, which were made of non-woven fibre, to study the material. He experimented with the material in his home laboratory to finally bring out the final version of the bricks called P-Block 2.0.
More than half of the bricks is made up of shredded PPE and face mask material.
"Fifty-two per cent of the entire product is PPE and face mask material and the rest is paper waste, which we have been using in the previous bricks we were manufacturing. Hence, these bricks are called 2.0," Desai explains.
Desai says that these bricks are even better than the previous bricks they were making and selling.
"One of the aspects is that strength has increased. Even though the strength has increased, the pricing still remains the same - Rs 2.8 per brick. The brick size is also bigger - 12 x 8 x 4 inches. While the previous ones were already better than the conventional bricks, this is even more advanced and better," Desai explains.
Earlier in 2010, Desai had come under the limelight for his innovative P-Block bricks, that were made from waste produced from industrial paper and gum waste.
How Are These Bricks Made?
To make these bricks, Desai says, it will need 7 kg of biomedical waste per square foot.
To begin full-fledged manufacturing of the bricks, Desai's team will be placing 'Eco Bins' in different locations such as hospitals, police stations, and bus stops.
"These eco-bins will collect the PPE and face masks. It also has an indicator at the side, which will tell us if the bin is full or not," says Desai.
Once the bin is full, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines, they will keep the material in isolation for 72 hours before they take it to their premise.
Women making the previous version of the brick
"Once its brought to our premise, we will open it in the disinfectant chamber, disinfect it, and then tear it down into small pieces. It is then mixed with the binder and our paper waste. It will be then moulded in the desired moulds and naturally dried. Once they are ready, we will be able to start selling the products," explains Desai.
Since they are working with medical waste, Desai gives paramount importance to safety precautions.
"Apart from keeping the material for 72 hours in isolation, once it reaches our premise, it goes through two times of bath in a disinfectant before we touch it," Desai says.
Desai's team is also in collaboration with various colleges who are working on disinfection chambers they have developed.
Further, after mixing with the binder, they will also keep it for drying for 24 hours. In addition, in their manufacturing unit, all labourers will be working in PPE kits for added safety.
Desai says that they will be starting the production of P-Block 2.0 from the second week of September.
"We have placed orders for manufacturing the eco-bins. Because of the COVID-19 situation, there are some delays in the process of procuring the bins," he says.
Desai adds that he is also in talks with the local bodies to set up up the bins across Surat and Valsad.
"In the first week of September, we will be also launching subscription boxes. So, anyone sitting in India or abroad can also order these boxes. They can collect it and send it back to us and we will recycle it," Desai adds.
The bricks are just one among the over 150 products Desai's team has produced in the past. These products range from handmade home décor artefacts, coffee mugs, eco-friendly rakhis, and acoustic panels.
The team has also worked with over 100 different types of waste such as metal waste, textile waste, coffee waste, and paper waste, among others. As part of their various circular economy projects, they have also collected human hair from salons to make furniture for the same salons.P-Block bricks
P-Block bricks used in construction
Speaking about his inspiration to venture into this field, Desai recollects, "As a kid, my favourite cartoon was Captain Planet and Dexter's Laboratory. So, I always wanted to have my own 'Dexter's Lab' at home. That's also one of the reasons I have a lab at home where I work, even during the lockdown, and that is where the brick came from."
"So, Captain Planet was the reason I started innovating at the age of 10," he adds.
Then, when Desai was 11-years-old, he found a chewing gum stuck to his pants when he was in class. While he wrapped it in a piece of paper to throw it away later, he forgot all about it. However, at the end of the day, when he checked, he found that the gum and paper had glued together and hardened into a block. This is how he got the idea of making bricks using paper and gum.