Turning plastic waste to power: Rudra’s crusade for a plastic free planet
Established in 2009, Rudra Environmental Solutions has been approaching the issue of processing plastic waste in a novel manner – by upcycling it into clean-burning polyfuel. At the helm of Rudra, Dr. Medha Tadpatrikar shares the journey and vision that is powering the company towards newer avenues of waste management tech that aim to create a plastic-free planet.
Dr. Medha’s eyes still light up with an almost palpable excitement when she shares one of her favourite milestones in Rudra’s journey.
“I still remember the first time we saw the fuel come out from our plant after we processed the first batch of plastic,” reminisces Dr. Medha Tadpatrikar, Director, Rudra Blue Planet Environmental Solutions. “It was exciting to see the process happening. The quality of the fuel that comes out could actually be seen. I still get excited to see the process.”
The story of Rudra’s inception and Dr. Medha’s foray into waste management space happened accidentally when an outing to a wildlife sanctuary made her see the dangers of plastic waste really up-close and personal.
I had gone to a wildlife sanctuary with Shirish Phadtare, who is an incredibly good photographer, and also a co founder of Rudra. There the officials told us that we could not visit a particular area because a Deer had died. We found out a couple of days later that in a post-mortem, the officials found plastic in the stomach of the deer.
This incident acted as a catalyst and we founded Rudra with the aim of ensuring that plastic does not harm either flora, fauna, or humans.
“We realized that people would say that somebody needs to do something about the plastic waste problem. Then we realized that we were exactly like everyone – we are only talking and thinking,” says Dr. Medha.
Thus began a long journey of research and development that helped create the technology that enables Rudra Environmental Solutions to convert plastic waste into a clean-burning polyfuel.
“We spent a lot of time trying to understand what plastic is – both from a chemical and environmental standpoint,” shared Dr. Medha. “This meant understanding it from the basics – how plastic is made, how long it takes for plastic to disintegrate etc. We found that the expected time for the plastic to disintegrate was a couple of 100 or 1000 years! Since plastic was created only 125 years ago, nobody had any concrete information or had seen it happen.”
This molecular deep dive into the plastic problem has been key to the success that Rudra has achieved since its founding. Since developing its first machine in 2010, the company now has a number of plastic waste to polyfuel solutions deployed across the country. Key among these is the plant deployed at Mechuka, in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is situated at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level in difficult terrain and climatic conditions.
A combination of commitment to doing better and ensuring value to customers has been key to Rudra’s success.
“We continue to strive to do better than yesterday. Our machinery and technology were created after a lot of research. Furthermore, we ensured that our solutions were financially viable because if innovations are not financially viable, they do not grow,” said Dr. Medha. “If you look at our earlier designs, now the technology we are deploying is leaps and bounds ahead. We always look at something new every day and ask ourselves, how do we make this better? How do we make this safer and more environmentally friendly? How can we improve the quality of fuel?”
Furthermore, Rudra ensures that a relationship of trust and mutual understanding is created between the company and the customer.
“We look to establish a relationship with our clients. Many in this space have come in and sold plants, but they are not working anymore, etc.,” said Dr. Medha. “We take our brand name ‘Rudra’ and our credibility very seriously. So, we will not sell to somebody who does not have enough plastic or does not have enough space. We also make sure that if we sell the machinery, they will be able to run it effectively and efficiently. We enrol our clients and make sure that if we find something new or if there is an update to the technology, the clients get the same as well.”
Dr. Medha also highlights that Blue Planet has played a significant role in ensuring that Rudra and its solutions continue to grow in a dynamic manner.
“We were a small company – sort of like a two-person army. Blue Planet came in not just helped us financially, but also in other ways as well such as sharing of technologies and know-how of the integrated waste management sector,” shares Dr. Medha. “We saw a number of synergies between what we both do. We were also able to collaborate closely with the team because we had a rapport. This kind of dialogue is important, and we have been incredibly happy working together.”
The Indian Government has been significantly controlling the use and manufacture of single-use plastics. The Central Pollution Control Board has issued notices to producers, stockists, and e-commerce sites to ensure that such plastics are no longer used or sold. Dr. Medha sees this as an opportunity to create something better for both people and the planet. She rightly highlights that plastic has been ushering in a packaging and medical revolution of sorts, but when this plastic goes to waste is when the real problem arises.
“This is an exciting time. India actually generates more than 25,000 MT of plastic every day. Out of that more than 10,000 MT is not properly disposed of. The focus of the government on supporting recycling industries will be key in getting people to think about coming into the waste management sector or into recycling,” said Dr. Medha. “I think people have now started talking about plastic and how to make a change in their habits. With this ban, a number of stringent policies will come in as well, such as the new EPR policy. This will get companies thinking about doing something about the waste. It is going to be exciting in the coming few years for this sector.”
“We are seeing a lot of interest in plastic to fuel not just from the Government but also local and worldwide players as well,” she adds.
Given the industrial and economic factors influencing change in this sector, Rudra has set some ambitious goals for itself in the coming years.
“We want to conquer the world because the plastic problem is everywhere. I would like to see our plastic to fuel technology not just in India but especially in other markets such as Europe and deployed on Islands as well,” shares Dr. Medha with a smile. “Islands can use our technology to generate electricity. Additionally, making this technology moveable will be key in helping deploy it in remote areas and islands. We feel we can serve the world well.”
After a gruelling day at work ensuring that plastic does not pose as dangerous a threat to people and the planet, Dr. Medha likes to unwind by ensuring she stays busy! A woman of many talents, Dr. Medha is a prolific writer with two books published and a third underway. A trained classical dancer, she also tries to fit in some practice sessions in between her hectic schedule.
“Every day is an exciting day, so I think the way you unwind everyday changes. But let me tell you for me it is more exciting to come back to work,” Dr. Medha shares with a laugh.