India’s ‘Recycle Man’ makes bricks from discarded face masks

Binish Desai, India’s ‘Recycle Man’, makes bricks from discarded face masks

Binish Desai’s latest invention — Brick 2.0 — comes at a time when the plastic crisis has snowballed the world over. The ‘Recycle Man of India’, who shot to fame in 2010 for designing P-Block (bricks from industrial paper and gum waste), spent the last few months working on converting discarded face-masks into bricks and is now gearing up for commercial production.

In April, when the lockdown began, Desai, 27, immersed himself in his home laboratory, which he created when he was aged ten. “Initially, everyone was talking about how the lockdown had helped reduce pollution, but I could only think of what the rising demand for PPE suits and masks would lead to,” says the founder of the Gujarat-based Eco-Eclectic Technologies, who has always focused on recycling neglected waste material.

He started studying the material the masks are made of, a non-woven fibre, by collecting used masks from his family. “I dumped them in a bucket of disinfectant for two days before starting work,” says Desai. He then mixed them with “special binders” created in his lab.

The Brick 2.0  
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“To check the material’s tenacity I conducted small prototype experiments and explored various combinations of binders. For these bricks, the successful ratio was 52% PPE + 45% paper waste + 3% binder,” says Desai, who has been featured in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ Asia 2018 list of successful social entrepreneurs.

Next, Desai created Eco Bins to collect PPE waste. He has contacted municipal corporations and local bodies to set these up across Surat and Valsad, and is also trying to tie up with private hospitals, malls and salons to place the bins. “We are in the process of obtaining a NOC from Gujarat Pollution Control Board to conduct mass collection and recycling of the waste,” says Desai.

After following proper sanitation protocols, the material will be shredded, added to industrial paper waste procured from paper mills, and then mixed with binder. “The mix is kept for 5-6 hours before being set in moulds. The bricks are naturally dried for three days and the product is then ready for use,” he says.

Safety and hygiene are paramount when dealing with medical waste, and Desai explains that they follow Central Pollution Control Board guidelines. PPE waste must be kept untouched for 72 hours before disposal, says Desai, “so the Eco Bins will be opened 72 hours later and the waste will first be washed in a pool of disinfectant.”

Women making the earlier variant, P-Block and (right) the bricks being used in construction
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Desai’s team has worked with 106 different types of waste (jewellery units, textile scraps, paper surplus, coffee waste, etc.) to create over 180 products such as wall and acoustic panels, paver blocks, home décor artefacts, and more. “This non-woven material falls under the ‘biomedical’ category, but once sanitised it is easy to handle compared to products such as diapers and surgical gloves,” he says, adding that he is also looking at recycling PPE kits.

Desai compares the bricks with AAC blocks, red bricks and his P-Block, which has been used to construct toilets and houses across Gujarat and Maharashtra, and in Hyderabad and Varanasi. “The new variant, Brick 2.0, is stronger and more durable, which makes it three times stronger than conventional bricks at twice the size and half the price,” he says, adding that it is fire retardant, recyclable and absorbs less than 10% water.

“The project is currently at the commercial stage as we already have the infrastructure for P-Block, and we will only add a few steps for the 2.0 variant,” says Desai, who plans to start production from mid-September.

The new bricks will be sold at the same rate as the P-Block, at ₹2.8 per piece. Desai says he has started receiving enquiries and pre-orders from architects and interior designers.

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