The Dopper Changemaker Challenge started in 2017 in the Netherlands. This year, it took place in Kathmandu along with other popular European cities including Amsterdam, Berlin, and London. The final of this international competition was held on 15th June Saturday not only in Kathmandu but also in Amsterdam, London, and Berlin. In total 445 students from all over the world applied to get a chance to win the title of Changemaker 2019.
Four graduates from Pulchowk Engineering College, Sandesh Rajbhandari, Ashraf Pradhanang, Nabin Mahato and Gaurab Dhungana, whose idea was selected in the top ten finals, are working on mitigating the plastic pollution by incorporating degradable filler components in the plastics.
Read on to know more about their research and how they plan to do what they have sought out to do.
1. Can you tell us about your project?
We initially focused on Nanocellulose, generated from natural material like plants which if combined with other products generates useful products. A lot of research has been done in this area, hence we decided on giving continuity to this while adding ways to tackle plastic pollution.
The water jars and plastic pipes that we see are made from complete plastics but with the mixture of Nanocellulose, we can generate the same products which now will be biodegradable. To test the hypothesis, we have created a thin plastic and the results have been promising: 80% of Nano cellulose we have used has been degradable.
2. What was the main idea behind this research?
When talking about mitigating plastic problems we assume that we will be able to completely eradicate the existence of certain plastics which is actually a bit impossible. Plastic is widely used mainly because of its varying properties like elasticity, ease of use and the like. So, materials that will eradicate the use of plastics have not yet been developed and may take time too. Thus, in the meantime, we need to look for ways to reduce the use of plastics. Although plastic products will keep on being made, we have to make sure that a certain amount is degradable and that is what is the main idea behind this research.
3. How long will it take to degrade?
The portion that is degradable will degrade quickly. It rots like a normal plant since it is generated from the plants. To be specific, as per our test, in 3 weeks 80% is degraded. However, this completely depends on the circumstances.
4. What were your aspirations behind taking up this project?
We wanted to explore something new, rather than doing something that has always been done. In the process, we stumbled on this idea, we saw the possibility, we also found it to be financially viable, we then started exploring, our college also supported us and were positive about this idea and hence having everything in place we took up this project.
5. How did you come to know about the Dopper Changemaker Challenge and how has it benefited you?
We came to know about it from social media and friends circle. We were actually in the middle of the project when we entered the challenge. And participating in the program was very useful for us. We got an opportunity to meet an amazing and extremely talented community of people. We were able to put forward queries and questions we had in mind and get supportive feedback and suggestions.
Similarly, before Dopper, we were financially restricted, but Dopper provided us with a fund of around Rs.1,25,000 which allowed us to work without having to compromise on the essentials. It provided us with the room to experiment and explore.
Likewise, HCI provided us with a great mentorship making it easier for us to complete the project on time. Even though they did not directly help us in the project, they gave us tips on presentation, time management and also connected us to renowned researchers.
6. What are your future plans with the research project?
Like I said earlier, we have experimented and found the use of Nano cellulose to be useful in minimizing plastic pollution. So, we think this needs to go on the industrial level, we need to look for ways to incorporate the filler materials on mass production. That is what we have planned for the future.
Also even if we are not able to complete work on the project in the future, we will be able to pass on to some other students like us rather than them having to start from scratch.
7. What do you think are the social and environmental possibilities of this particular project?
Nepal is an agricultural nation so there is no doubt that there are going to be huge agricultural by-products. Hence rather than wasting them, we can use it to minimize the plastic pollution problem which is a huge issue in many nations. Further, we Nepalese use to have a plastic-free community where we relied on Lokta paper and so on. So, our project also works on bringing back the positive social norms that have been left behind.
8. Has your participation in the challenge changed you in any way?
Yes, definitely. Before we looked at this project from a mechanical engineers’ perspective only but now we have a broad perspective. Rather than being limited to only one area, we are able to see the environmental impacts, social impacts of our project which we could surely have not determined if we were not a part of the Dopper Changemaker Challenge.
9. Do you consider yourself changemakers?
We do consider ourselves to be one. All of the participants of Dopper have created a framework for future researchers and participants to work on the issues and address them. Likewise, we have been able to bring a change in the mentality of people to some extent which we believe is the immediate impact of our project.
10. As the researchers what were the challenges you faced?
It is difficult to conduct research activities in Nepal due to limited resources. Further, the laboratories have limited chemicals that are vital for experimentation. Similarly, we also need to get permission to use the lab and its resources which is justifiable but the procedure of getting permission is itself time-consuming which discourages many innovative ideas.
Likewise, many of the chemicals are not immediately available in the market, so we have to decide beforehand the chemicals we will be needing based on the literature reviews. Due to the unavailability, we have to import the chemicals from India and there are times when the chemicals are not even available in India. So, we have to make the chemicals ourselves which are again sent for tests. Even though the tests happen on time, the results take time which disrupts our entire schedule and planning. These are some of the challenges we faced.
11. Is there any other information you’d like to share with us?
Today we all talk about environment protection, we have switched to metal straws, paper bags, electric cars and so on. But when doing this we don’t consider how much impact these alternatives have been creating because they have their own by-products which are not necessarily beneficial for the environment. So, we need to be aware of the benefits as well as some drawbacks, however minimal, of these environment-friendly alternatives to maximize their impact on conserving the environment.
For more information about their thesis, please connect with Ashraf at firstname.lastname@example.org