by Ariel Miller

The innovative plastics recycling social enterprise designed by Rotarian Prakasam (Prakash) Tata, PhD has won the 2023 Grand Prize for Small Projects from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists for the Rotary Club of Naperville, IL.  

Financed by Rotarians and other donors in India and the US, the plant employs 25 young people who collect and shred 2 tons of plastic waste a day in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India.  The pellets they produce will be sold to bulk recyclers, with a projected annual net income of $43,000, sufficient to recover all the equipment costs in three years. The project team sees a potential to scale up the enterprise to process 100 tons of plastic waste daily in Visakhapatnam, which can yield an income of $4.3 million and employ 1,250 youth.

The new enterprise was born through a partnership between a nonprofit youth organization, India Youth For Society (IYFS), the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC), Rotary Clubs and Districts, foundations, and companies that embrace corporate social responsibility.  

IYFS and Rotarians in Visakhapatnam have been partnering for a decade on pollution abatement and raising public awareness of pollution’s harmful impacts.  Their projects and media outreach include collecting plastic waste from apartments, beaches, and market areas, celebrating events like World Water Day and Earth Day, and Plastic Parlours, where community residents can bring in dry plastic waste to trade for natural projects such as cloth bags and potted plants.

This is the only project of its kind in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The new social enterprise leverages the success of IYFS in pollution clean-up and public awareness campaigns. IYFS will operate and maintain the plastic waste processing plant, which provides new job opportunities for previously-unemployed young people.  

The major obstacle was raising the $120,000 needed to equip the processing plant. The project team accomplished this without applying for any government funding. “It is difficult to initiate a pollution abatement project by a municipal agency without following bureaucratic protocols unless it is a national disaster. Municipalities and pollution control boards in India are short of staff to quickly approve projects or enforce regulations,” writes Dr. Tata. But the municipal government benefits directly because of the project’s impact in reducing the city’s solid waste problem, and has a Memorandum of Understanding with IYFS. 

The participating clubs and districts are the Rotary Club of Naperville and Sunrise Rotary in Naperville, IL, USA, District 6450, and the Rotary Club of Lake District, Moinabad, Hyderabad, and Rotary Elite Club of Visakhapatnam in India.  Other nonprofit donors include Bharathi Theertha, North South Foundation, and Aurobindo Biotech.