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MIT alumnus helping waste pickers earn from waste
Bhagyashree Kulthe | Monday, 9 March 2015 AT 11:22 PM IST
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Pune: Instead of settling for a cushy job, Pune-based alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sidhant Pai is training waste pickers to earn more by converting plastic into 3D printer filament.

A pilot project has been started at the Kothrud waste depot where Pai is training some waste pickers to put plastic waste to use as a means to earn extra income.

Through his enterprise, Protoprint Solutions, Pai has been guiding waste pickers with the technique to produce 3D printer filament from discarded plastic that the waste pickers collect.

3D printing is one of various processes used to make a three-dimensional object. The filament is the raw material fed into the 3D printer. The filament largely used in the market currently consists of virgin plastic. Therefore, the experiment to make filament out of plastic waste holds significance.

Pai has completed his degree course in Environmental Engineering from MIT. “I always wanted to work in India and do something that would have a social aspect,” he told Sakal Times.

While working on a project in the second year of his course, he got introduced to SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), the cooperative of waste pickers in Pune.

This was when his father Jayant was already working on building a printer at home. The family therefore started working on the use of recycled plastic waste to feed the printer. After several experiments, they were
successful.

In consultation with SWaCH, Pai then set up a small unit at Kothrud waste depot to produce 3D printer filament using plastic waste. SWaCH would be earning about 15-20 times more through this project than what they earn by selling plastic waste, said Pai.

“We market the filament globally, providing consumers with a competitive price, ethically sourced, recycled alternative to virgin plastic. We are also working with organisations and institutions in India to set up affordable 3D printing facilities for their students and professionals,” Pai told Sakal Times.

Aparna Susarla, who is working with SWaCH and is coordinating the project, said that the pilot project began in January this year. If all goes well, this would lead to full-fledged production and empower waste pickers economically and socially, she felt.

“We will begin filament distribution in mid-2015. We are already in touch with firms in UK, USA and Europe for distribution. These countries are huge consumers of 3D printer filament,” said Pai.

Pai said the waste pickers working in the unit at Kothrud would gradually turn into entrepreneurs solely running the unit while Protoprint will look at the marketing aspects. He intends to start similar projects at other depots.
 
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