Remember when the kabadiwala (scrap dealer) would come to your home once a month to collect the accumulated waste? The junk objects would usually be newspapers, milk packets, and glass bottles that would later be sent for recycling. However, in recent times, many people have stopped buying glass bottles. An issue that began at a domestic level in every Indian household has now resulted in an increase in the accumulation of glass waste, which are not segregated and usually dumped in landfills.
While a number of organisations around the country have been championing the cause of segregating and recycling waste to curb environmental pollution, most of these places focus on plastic waste. In comparison, glass waste has barely been looked into.
Offering a creative solution
It was 2018 when Central Delhi-resident Udit Singhal saw a pile of glass bottles in his home. Wondering why these had not been recycled previously, Singhal started researching—both online and on-the-ground—on the subject. “It led me to find that collection of glass bottles for recycling had become unviable because of dropping demand, large storage space requirements, and high transport costs.
Empty glass bottles were not segregated anymore and were dumped in the landfills,” shares the 20-year-old who is currently studying at University College London. Hoping to create awareness about the glass-waste crisis while providing an innovative solution, Singhal founded Glass2Sand—an environment-friendly zero-waste system that collects glass bottles to crush them into sand for construction projects. “This way, we are not just curbing glass-waste but also looking at ways to provide sustainable construction solutions. It is plugging the major gap identified in recycling of such materials,” Singhal adds.
The initiative uses a special machine that is inspired by a similar one made in New Zealand. With help of Joanna Kempkers, the New Zealand High Commissioner in India in 2019, Singhal was able to not only secure a grant but also revamp the New Zealand-based project for Indian needs. “The current machine (as seen in the image below) is cheaper, more efficient, long-lasting, and lower on maintenance. This overcomes the high-load import related carbon emissions linked to the New Zealand machine,” explains Singhal. With a plug-based mechanism that ensures no installation, the machine is compact, mobile, and can crush around 300 bottles up to the size of seven inches in an hour.
Going strong against all odds
Being a student-driven initiative, Singhal had to face many challenges. “Most people would not take me seriously at first. Convincing institutions was also a challenge. I learnt that some organisations were only blowing the environment trumpet for their image but when the moment of reckoning came, they were unwilling to forego the tiny revenues they would generate by selling waste glass,” he points out. However, Singhal’s activism—he started the #noglasstolandfills movement on social media—against glass-waste crisis has made people pledge their support to his cause.