Image: Courtesy Glass2Sand
Udit Singhal | 21
Glass bottles have gone from being the favourite of kabadiwallahs to becoming a liability as prices of used bottles dropped from ₹10 per kg to a mere couple of rupees. The result: Glass bottles are thrown out with other household trash.
“After plastic, glass is the biggest polluter in landfills by volume. While plastic takes a few hundred years to decompose, glass will take 1,000 years or more to disintegrate in the landfills,” says Udit Singhal, founder of Glass2Sand. He had learnt this at age 16, when he was trying to find a solution to the empty bottles piling up at home. Singhal is a final year student of BSc in management science at University College London and also manages his business in India that recycle glass bottles into silica-rich sand.
Sand is the main component in making concrete for construction and also one of the most mined resources. “Sand is the most extracted material in the world after water. Recycling glass into sand is an innovative project in an under-recognised but emerging field which is crucial to limit climate change,” says Sumaira Abdulali, convenor of NGO Awaaz Foundation.
If all glass bottles are recycled into sand, it has the potential to both reduce glass in landfills as well as, if done at a global scale, bring down the need to mine the depleting resource which may or may not be industrial grade, i.e. silica rich. Singhal says Glass2Sand has so far recycled over 65,000 bottles into 39,000 kg of high-grade silica sand. The bottles are collected by a 550-strong volunteer network in and around Delhi that has reduced 270,000 kg of carbon emissions.
Singhal’s quest for a solution to the glass problem back in the day led to the creation of the “no glass in landfills” movement and took him to New Zealand where he discovered a hammer-and-grind machine to recycle glass. His company would later receive a NZ$2,000 (about ₹100,000 today) grant for his work from the New Zealand High Commission in India. Also read: NEERX: Nikita Tiwari and Harsh Agrawal's sensor is improving farmers' lives
While the business was afoot, the fact that he was importing the machine and garnering a carbon debt for his company kept niggling his conscience. Today, Glass2Sand uses a made-in-India machine which “uses a better technology”. The ‘cut’, instead of New Zealand’s hammer-and-grind machine, is compact, works faster and the recycled sand is finer without any glass shards. The lab-tested sand is up for sale for construction companies and is even available on Amazon, which Singhal explains is only for companies to buy a sample and test it in the lab for themselves before buying it in bulk for projects.
Glass2Sand is making revenues, however, Singhal insists his primary focus for the business is to ensure that it stays true to its values of a social enterprise. “People shouldn’t look at only financial sustainability and economic returns. The expectations at Glass2Sand are set and reiterated: That this is 100 percent for the environment”.
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Abdulali says the project, if financially supported, has the potential to inspire many more innovations to find other recyclable materials to replace sand. “This business has a high national and international scalability,” she adds.
Glass2Sand deploys two glass recycling machines in Delhi and has tie-ups with beverage brands Sepoy & Co and Nirula’s to recycle bottles. It has received interest from across India and also from Bermuda, Chile, Columbia, Dubai, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, the US, and Zimbabwe. Active partnerships include 18 diplomatic missions and institutions (embassies and high commissions) of Chile, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Singhal, who recently turned 21, was selected as one of 17 United Nations Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals in 2020. He also enjoys creating websites, is an artist and a photographer.
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(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)