Sunday, February 21, 2021

Veena Sahajwalla

It sounds too good to be true: materials science professor and inventor Veena Sahajwalla has come up with multiple ways to recycle plastic and electronics waste into usable raw material, including development of recycling microfactories as small as 500 square feet.

I first heard about this in the most recent Discover magazine, and — having seen a few recycling factories with their constant truck traffic to supply material and the need for elaborate and large sorting equipment — wondered how those microfactories could work with the wide range of plastic types that exist, and all the other complexities that have stymied recycling systems so far.

I still wonder that, but looking further into Sahajwalla, I believe she's real and her work will lead to usable advances. I found a lot of other articles about her (such as this interview on a Stanford climate group's site). Earlier, she developed what she calls green steel, a process of using end-of-life rubber tires instead of coal or coke in steel production, which of course diverts the tires from landfills and reduces greenhouse gas use.

Sahajwalla (with degrees in metallurgy and materials science from universities in India, Canada, and the U.S.) has been at the University of New South Wales since the 1990s and has more honors than I can mention. She is quoted in this article as saying that growing up in Mumbai, a city with 18 million people, meant she saw a "big amount of waste produced and factories... there was a lot of industry and buzz around waste, and I’d walk past these factories and see all this waste, and I thought: this is what I want to do."

I imagine the reason I haven't heard of her before is partly my own inattention and partly because of the U.S. bias toward itself and Europe and the resulting invisibility of the rest of the world. Thanks to Discover for getting past that.


Photo by Anna Kucera 


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