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Scientists develop eco-friendly material, possible substitute for plastics

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By Sahana Ghosh

Kolkata: Indian scientists have created an environmentally-friendly material from renewable natural marine resources that could eventually replace the fossil fuel-derived plastics commonly used in a variety of applications.

The eco-friendly substance, developed from seaweed extracts, has the potential to substitute plastic in applications like packaging material and ropes and thereby reduce dependency on fossil fuels for production of plastic products, the scientists say.

“The building blocks of plastics and synthetics, we use every day are mostly derived from fossil oils or crude oils,” Pushpito Ghosh, a professor of chemical engineering at Mumbai’s Institute of Chemical Technology, told IANS on the phone.

“Using materials derived from renewable natural sources such as seaweeds on a large scale, could help reduce dependency on finite fossil fuel reserves,” said the former director of the CSIR-Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute and one of the study authors.

He was the director when the research began.

The researchers used extracts of three seaweed species cultivated in India and treated it with a common industrial chemical called vinyl acetate to make it water repellent.

The intention was to fabricate ropes from this partly-synthetic and partly-natural substance and replace the nylon ropes used in seaweed farming in marine waters.

But there is more to the achievement than just biodegradable ropes.

Plastic bottles and wrapping materials continue to contribute to the pollution.
Plastic bottles and wrapping materials continue to contribute to the pollution.

“It could replace plastic in many ways, such as in packaging material, ropes for drying clothes, bag handles and other home decor items when produced on a large scale,” Ramavatar Meena, a senior scientist at the institute, told IANS on the phone.

Seaweeds, which are marine plants, are known as super foods for their high nutrient content.

A source of industrially important gums and gelling or thickening agents, they grow naturally along the coast of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“The rope made from seaweed extracts lasted over 45 days in the field and over six months in sea water under laboratory conditions. On the other hand, it degraded on being buried in the soil,” Meena said.

Although the vinyl acetate constituent of the novel material is biodegradable to a certain extent, Ghosh said the next challenge is to ramp up the level of natural content (seaweed extracts) and further improve its properties.

July 3 is International Plastic Bag Free Day
July 3 is International Plastic Bag Free Day

Making the raw material cost-effective is another important target of the team, he said.

“Plastic is produced on a massive scale. To be competent, we are looking at ways to cultivate the seaweed on a grander scale,” Ghosh added.

The study is published online in RSC Advances journal. The other members of the team are J.P. Chaudhary, Dharmesh Chejara and K. Eswaran.

(IANS)

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Bengaluru kids more exposed to toxic air: Report

Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report

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Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report.
Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report. Wikimedia Commons
  • The school-goers are among the worst affected by the toxic air
  • With an existing fleet of seven million vehicles, nearly 900 new vehicles are added to the Bengaluru’s roads every day
  • Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times

If you are travelling in an open vehicle during peak traffic hours daily in Bengaluru, you are likely to be exposed to severe toxic air. And school-goers are among the worst affected, a report warned on Wednesday.

Between 8.30am and 10.30am, the particulate pollution levels between Banashankari to Marathahalli varied from 70-800 micrograms per cubic meter, an alarming high, says the report, “Bengaluru’s Rising Air Quality Crisis: The Need for Sustained Reportage and Action”, by independent environmental researcher Aishwarya Sudhir.

But why is Bengaluru gridlocked?

With an existing fleet of seven million vehicles, nearly 900 new vehicles are added to the Bengaluru’s roads every day.

Worsening the problem, says the report, is illegal dumping of waste mixed with mass untreated sewage.

Also Read: Neurologists say rising air pollution can cause stroke among adults

The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates. The state capital often referred as India’s Silicon Valley because of its information technology hub, has had its challenges with outdated waste collection, segregation and transportation system, which often results in toxic emissions.

Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab.
Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab. Wikimedia Commons

The city has 10 online monitoring stations, of which five were introduced in January with an additional feature to generate Air Quality Index.

The five new stations are in Hebbal, Jayanagar, Kavika, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences and Silk Board.

Taking up the cudgels to check the alarming pollution levels, the report says residents of Whitefield Rising in Mahadevapura in November last year tested the air quality in the morning in their locality.

Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report.

Also Read: How exposure to air pollution in womb may shorten lifespan

Clean up

Sudhir, who is based in Bengaluru, told IANS that the residents initiated a daily activity to clean up roads by hiring a vacuum cleaner and demonstrated that this is indeed possible.

They have been spending money on and off to get the roads cleaned. They have approached the local municipality and the pollution control board to regularise it. So far that hasn’t happened.

Likewise, residents of Malleshwaram have started taking the initiative to tackle the problem of burning leaves, another major cause of air pollution, in their locality by composting in their gardens or empty plots.

The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates.
The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates. Wikimedia Commons

Quoting Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research cardiologist Rahul Patil, the report says: “After eliminating stress and dietary habits, we found cab and auto drivers were the worst hit as they remain stranded for long hours in bad traffic and are exposed to high levels of pollution.”

Co Media Lab Director Pinky Chandran told IANS that unlike New Delhi and other cities, Bengaluru, fortunately, has many citizen-action groups that are championing the cause of clean air.

Also Read: Air Pollution And Its Effects On Our Heath

“The state needs to take its citizens into confidence and formulate an implementable action plan which is based on air quality data so that it can bring about change,” she said.

A seven-day air quality monitoring exercise took up by Co Media Lab and Climate Trends this month found that the particulate matter averages observed over four hours during peak time in the morning and evening were consistently above 200 micrograms per cubic metre, indicating very poor air quality levels.

Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab. Both are based in Bengaluru. (IANS)