New Delhi — A spending push for $375 billion to improve India's infrastructure over the next three years is creating opportunities for the plastics industry, but polymer processors need to pay attention to minimizing their environmental impact.
At least that's according to speakers from government and academia at a recent conference in India looking at the role of plastics in making the country's infrastructure more sustainable.
"Plastics could play a key role in developing sustainable infrastructure, but at the same time it should not create any further environmental damage," said Suresh Prabhu, India's minister of railways, in an address at the Sustainable Infrastructure with Plastics Conference Feb. 23 in New Delhi.
"The government is putting all kinds of efforts and policies in place to build sustainable infrastructure in the country without disturbing or damaging the fragile eco-system," he said.
Citing a 2016 World Economic Forum report suggesting that there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans, measured by weight, by 2050, Prabhu said the industry should focus more on recycling, and he suggested industry should come up with new ideas for manufacturing polymers to be used in sustainable infrastructure.
"There is huge opportunity to use plastics in infrastructure like in roads [and] railways, and its application is growing," he said, but added that "we must use plastics in a manner that it should not create any more problems."
Several speakers at the conference, sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, also suggested that more innovation is needed in the industry.
"We can no longer work in silos by thinking we could do everything in-house, there is a growing need for industry and academia or research establishments to engage in partnership," said Anil Wali, managing director of the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi.
As well, S.B. Dangayach, managing director of plastics processor Sintex Industries Ltd., suggested more focus on training.
"We are lagging in innovation and focus more on plastic processing over plastic conversion, assembly or fabrication, and there are no certificate courses to get people trained," said. "We have to change the approach entirely so that people should start perceiving value out of plastics."
Speakers also said that plastics is under penetrated as a material in Indian infrastructure projects, arguing that increased use in sectors like railways, roads and water conservation could more than double plastic consumption from current 15 million to 40 million metric tonnes yearly.
"India reprocesses around 3 million tonnes of plastics annually, which could be increasingly used in laying roads," said Achal Thakkar, managing director of industrial products maker TIPCO Industries Ltd. "India consumes 3 billion litres water each day and plastic films could be used to conserve evaporation loss."
The country also has a sizable shortage of domestic PVC production, one speaker said.
"India is producing 1,535 kilotons (3.3 billion pounds) of PVC annually, whereas consumption is almost double at 2,900 kilotons (6.4 billion pounds)," said Ravi Ahuja, general manager of marketing at Chemplast Sanmar Ltd., driven by demand from things like Swatch Bharat Mission (SBM) to improve access to toilets and building urban infrastructure. Demand is projected to hit 5.3 million tonnes (11.7 billion pounds) yearly by 2021, he said.
According to information presented at the conference, India's plastics processing industry grew at 10 percent a year in volume terms, from 8.3 million metric tons (18.3 billion pounds) in India's 2010 fiscal year to 13.4 million tonnes (29.5 billion pounds) in fiscal year 2015, and is expected to maintain that pace and reach 22 million metric tons (48.5 billion pounds) by 2020.