India’s bright minds to revolutionize construction industry
What do you get when you mix passion for sustainable waste management with innovative minds? Recycle X. The start-up company wants to revolutionize the construction industry. And they are on a promising path to achieving just that.
Meet India’s future agents of change, Vedant Gandhi and Abhishek Chhazed. They are the founders of a start-up company that offers “green” construction solutions.
“I always wanted to build smart and sustainable cities,” says co-founder Vedant.
Vedant tells me about his career path which led from interning at a non-governmental organization that installed eco toilets in slums, where he worked on its Clean India policy supported by the Prime Minister office, to his master’s degree in sustainable infrastructure at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart, and finally to being part of the United bee smart city programme led by the United Nations.
Since his bachelor’s in civil engineering, Vedant felt the only way of expressing his true self would be through entrepreneurship. The only question was what exactly he should focus on when he returned to India from Europe two years ago.
Rewind to 2020. With the Indian infrastructure market keen on discovering sustainable building materials, this was Vedant’s chance. The then 27-year-old travelled back home just before the COVID-19 crisis hit.
“I had no plans. So I started my research.”
Seeing a cow eating a plastic bag on a street near Mumbai was Vedant’s turning point. With single-use multilayer plastic being a major threat to the global environment, the engineer decided to reuse plastic for construction materials.
Around that time, he met his co-founder Abhishek, who had just finished his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering They set up a small lab in Vedant’s backyard, where they experimented with collected waste from corporations, trying out different samples for making bricks. They succeeded in convincing the local government of Bharuch city to pave 200sq feet with their newly developed material.
“We told people: You are walking on recycled blocks made out of PET bottles and single-use plastic.”
This first project brought good coverage for the start-up, and incoming grants from various incubators soon made establishing a processing plant possible.
Fighting plastic waste is not the only reason for Recycle X to create eco-bricks. Even though concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence, few people know how harmful it is for the environment: to create concrete, you need cement, the source of about 8% of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to think tank Chatham House.
If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world – behind China and the United States. It contributes more CO2 than aviation fuel (2.5%) and is not far behind the global agriculture business (12%).
Additionally, due to the extensive number of construction sites in India, especially in big cities like New Delhi, dust from construction waste is thrown uncontrollably into the atmosphere. And the Delhi Pollution Control Committee confirms that even though current facilities allow for about 1,000 tonnes of waste to be processed per day, the city produces an estimated 3,600 tonnes.
Just a glimpse at this data on the harmfulness of traditional construction makes it easy to understand why Recycle X gets attention from governments. What is the secret to their eco-bricks?
During the research in their tiny lab, Vedant and his co-founder collected non-toxic industrial waste, such as carbons, fly ash, ground basalt, and converting multilayer plastics into multilayer fibre that, ultimately, has better durability. Normally, the building market in India uses more fragile red clay bricks, from fertile soil. They break faster.
Each month, the company is recycling 20 tonnes of plastic waste, 300 tonnes of construction waste and 200 tonnes of industrial waste. They completely avoid producing pollution-creating cement. Their manufacturing unit, a five-hour drive outside Mumbai in Gujarat, is working on carbon-negative electricity generated from a solar farm nearby.
Next to the fact that producing eco bricks has a zero discharge of water, all used water is reused, rendering the plant carbon negative. Which offers a much-needed solution in a country that faces vast amounts of air pollution caused by construction waste and the dust produced by mixing cement.
Vendant and Abhishek are optimistic. By the end of 2023, they plan to set up three more production plants in India as they receive more and more demands from that region by the minute.
“The interest is high, and we have been profitable from day one.”
The company’s reputation has earned them attention from several governments who look to hold their promise on the climate goals set within the Paris Agreement. Apart from India, South-East Asian nations have started seeking Vedant’s and Abhishek’s advice in setting up manufacturing plants to green their building sectors.
But Vedant is modest. First, he tells me, he wants to focus on his home country. However, to really make a difference on the global market, Vedant sees the biggest challenge to be connecting with other developing countries where waste management problems persist, especially when it comes to tackling plastic waste in coastal regions.
Vedant Gandhi is the winner of the International Trade Centre’s Youth Ecopreneur Awards for waste. The Youth Ecopreneur Awards are a green business award competition specifically targeted at young entrepreneurs from least developed and developing economies. The Awards offer a stage and sounding board for youth to showcase their sustainable and scalable solutions to accelerate the green economic transition and to receive support on this journey.