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A Conversation with Ranjit Baxi for Global Recycling Day

We recently sat down for a conversation with Ranjit Baxi, founder of Global Recycling Day to discuss the treatment of asbestos waste. Our thanks to Ranjit for allowing us to share our work.

This conversation has been lightly edited for publication.


Hello friends.

This is our 6th Global Recycling Day being celebrated the world over on the 18 March. To mark this special day, I am today sitting with our friend Mr. Graham Gould, chairman of Thermal Recycling, a company that has developed an innovative method and technology to be able to treat asbestos and denaturise it, as well as convert it into a usable residue.

Asbestos, as you all know, is a big issue globally. And I'm really pleased that people like Graham and so many of you across the world, across all the continents, are making huge contributions, small or big, in your own way, in your own communities, in your own towns, villages, to be able to be counted as a global contribution to reduce carbon emission. Carbon emission must be reduced if we are going to be able to meet with the climate change goals or the net zero goals by 2050.

So I'm going to take this opportunity to introduce Graham. So Graham. Good morning. So nice to be sitting with you today. A friend, and not a friend of me, but a friend of the Global Environment fraternity. What you are doing and what you have been doing today in helping to treat asbestos, which is a global hazard in terms of the hazardous waste that it is.

Until today, I don't believe we have any technology as best as what you are promoting under Thermal Recycling that we are able to treat asbestos and create a residue out of it which is non hazardous, denaturing it completely. So it's a great service you're doing to the field of environment.

We at Global Recycling Day are honored to have people like you around us, who are helping us sell this message across the world that it's not one person on his own, but all of us together. Thermal Recycling, along with all the other corporate sector, the civil society, everybody together, we are able to make a difference in reducing carbon emissions, promote a healthy living society. So Graham, if you could please give a bit of your introduction, then we can share with our colleagues.


Yeah, I'll talk about Thermal Recycling, but I'd like to first of all, thank you very much for talking to me and for making me part of Global Recycling Day. And I'd like to say well done to you for actually having the energy and the initiative to start the Global Recycling Foundation and to create this event which brings everybody together throughout the world and involves society in the problem. Because until we get society involved in the problem of waste and avoiding waste and recycling waste, it's never really going to happen. So thank you very much and I'm really also honored to be here talking to you.


Thank you, Graham.


And in terms of Thermal Recycling, what we do is, well before I explain what we do, for those who don't know, asbestos is a global problem. It still accounts for more occupational-related deaths than any other problem, even though in most countries of the world, asbestos use is now banned. But it's still very much a global problem.

And at the moment, the only way or the only legal way of disposing of asbestos is to put it into landfill. And putting it into landfill isn't a solution because the asbestos, once it's put in landfill, it just stays there forever. It doesn't degrade, it doesn't decompose. And people talk about removing asbestos, but in reality they don't move it. Or they do move it, but they don't remove it. They move it from a building or whatever from the built environment, and they put it in a hole in the ground and it stays there forever. And what we have come up with, what we have developed, is an innovative way using thermal treatment to denature asbestos, which means that effectively we eradicate the asbestos, we create a new material, and that new material can be used safely as a cement replacement.

So we have a circular economy business. And as you know, and certainly I'm sure a lot of your people watching this will know that the production of cement is one of the most emission producing polluting activities in the world. And in fact, if cement production was a country, only America and China would produce more emissions than producing cement. So being able to use the treated material as a cement replacement is a fantastic way of solving the problem.


Graham if you went back 20, 30, 40 years ago, hazardous waste was a big challenge. It still is a challenge. Then it was a bigger challenge until we started realizing how much damage is this waste producing, especially in your sector of asbestos. If I look at buildings built post Second World War, there was a lot of asbestos used in their building and construction processes. And at the same time, from then till now, when countries were demolishing the old buildings, a lot of this asbestos just went into landfill untreated.

Whereas now, from what I understand, you have mentioned to me before that there is a special process of double sealing and et cetera, et cetera, if it goes to landfill. But still, if we look at countries across Africa, Asia, where the types of landfills are not as dry sealed or as modern as they are in the Western economies, so those landfills are really leaching a lot of toxicity going down the landfill, connecting with the water table and probably carrying the carcinogenic effect of asbestos for miles down the water table.

Can you please tell us how do you see you coming into being able to provide a solution? So this issue is then probably put to rest using your technology.


Interestingly, South Africa was one of the biggest producers of asbestos in the world. Only Canada and Russia produced more asbestos than South Africa did in the 1970s. And there are three types of asbestos that were used in construction: white, brown and blue asbestos. And 90% of brown asbestos, sorry,100% of brown asbestos and 90% of blue asbestos were produced in South Africa. So a lot of asbestos has actually been used in Africa.

And as I understand it, hazardous waste is a big problem in Africa because sometimes it's used by people to get rid of hazardous waste in illegal and certainly immoral ways. And so Africa does possess an issue with asbestos. And a really interesting thing actually is we've been approached by people in South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria, reputable honest people who want to find a way of using our technology in order to avoid asbestos going to landfill or being exported from their countries to other countries.


So Graham, it was nice to be hearing the word Africa from an area of focus or a word or a continent of focus from your point of view. But Africa is a sweet spot for me because I'm born in Tanzania. So Africa means a lot for me. And it is right that there is lot of asbestos waste that needs to be treated across Africa. Many countries have still got old post-Second World War buildings where asbestos was used in construction.

Some countries in Africa, like Algeria and Nigeria, they are taking major steps forward into trying to find ways of treating asbestos. I know, I was reading the other day about Algeria. The government of Algeria is working to promote a green revolution in the country, to promote reduction of toxic waste, reduction of carbon pollution, going for circular economy, going for reforestation. And in your sector of asbestos, I know they are trying to put a ban on exporting of asbestos or any other kind of scrap without it being first treated positively in the country and then only it can move outside the country. So what is your take on Africa?


Yeah, Algeria is an interesting case because it's actually a very wealthy country because it's an oil producing country. And at the moment my understanding is that they export all asbestos waste and they've got a lot of asbestos in Algeria because the French built a lot of buildings using asbestos. And at the moment they export it all to European countries to be disposed of which is obviously a very expensive way of doing it, not a terribly environmentally friendly way of doing it. And as I say, some enlightened people in Algeria are now looking at whether they can use our technology as a way of solving their problem.


So Graham coming back to Global Recycling Day. I'm really pleased today we are connecting all the continents of the world. We are able to connect people across all ages, the youth, the middle class, the middle aged people. All of us are working together in making Global Recycling a very successful day because it is our day. It is a day for the community.

Social media, if you go on social media today you can see how the youth is connecting so strongly with it. They all want to make a difference because it's their future that they are looking at. And the government legislators, I think, are also now realizing how important recycling is playing a central role within the circular economies. Until recycling is done, the whole circularity cannot take place. So everybody is making a big difference. I mean, I don't know how you feel that. How does global recycling sit within your field of specialization?


It's just going to get bigger and bigger, isn't it? I mean, to start something like this is a fantastic achievement. And to have got it to where you've got it to in six years is incredible. But who knows, in ten years it's going to be even bigger and more powerful. And as you say, you need to have the pressure on governments from society in order to facilitate change and taking just a sort of parochial view in terms of asbestos.

If you look in the UK, the occupier and landlord of the most buildings with asbestos problems is the public sector. It's in schools and hospitals and sheds. And really the government can play a huge part in what we're doing by actually setting an example to everybody else as to what should be done with asbestos and about asbestos. And your day, your Global Recycling Day, gives a platform for these sort of discussions to take place. And again, I thank you for initiating. I salute you for doing that.


So, Graham, thank you very much for taking time to talk to us on Global Recycling Day, a great day for all of us, and continue to be a great day, because one day I'm hoping it'll be a day recognized by United Nations and it'll be a UN Global Recycling Day.

It's so important we need to connect all the global streams together. So thank you very much, Graham. Grateful for your time.

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