INTHEBLACK July 2020 - Page 26



T H E S T R AT E G I S T
// P R O F E S S O R V E E N A S A H A J WA L L A
MATERIAL
WORLD
PROFESSOR VEENA SAHAJWALLA HAS LAUNCHED THE WORLD’S FIRST E-WASTE
MICROFACTORY AND PLANS TO ROLL OUT THE MODEL ACROSS AUSTRALIA AND THE GLOBE.
STORY SUSAN MULDOWNEY
When China announced a ban on the importation
of 24 types of solid waste in January 2018, the inherent
inefficiency of Australia’s A$15 billion waste industry was
suddenly exposed. An annual average of 619,000 tonnes of
Australian recyclable materials were left without a home.
The nation was facing a waste crisis, but Professor Veena
Sahajwalla had a strategy for tipping the materials straight
back into the economy.
As founding director of the Centre for Sustainable
Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the
University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sahajwalla
is revolutionising recycling science in collaboration with
industry. Last year, she was appointed director of the NSW
Circular Economy Innovation Network, which brings
together stakeholders from across government, industry and
research organisations to develop new processes and supply
chains for reducing waste and improving sustainability.
In 2003, Sahajwalla invented polymer injection technology
(PIT), known as green steel.
An environmentally friendly and cost-effective process
for using recycled rubber tyres, the technology has been
licensed to steel makers globally, and Sahajwalla and
her team are working with Newcastle-based steelmaker
MolyCop, which plans to implement the technology
across its global operations.
30 ITB July 2020
In 2018, Sahajwalla launched the world’s first e-waste
microfactory, where valuable metal alloys are extracted from
discarded smartphones, laptops and circuit boards. Now she’s
converting waste materials, such as the glass, plastic and textiles
Australia previously exported or sent to landfill, into industrialgrade ceramics inside a second microfactory. She also plans
to roll out her microfactory model across the country and,
ultimately, the world.
CAPTURING VALUE IN WASTE
Sahajwalla grew up in Mumbai, where she says waste was
viewed as an opportunity rather than a problem. Rubbish
heaps were trawled for plastic, cardboard and other materials
of value to sell on to scrap dealers.
“The sense of repurposing and reusing, and sharing was
driven by economic necessity, of course, but people were more
than happy to have hand-me-downs, whether it was clothes
or furniture items,” Sahajwalla says. “We would rarely throw
away things that were in decent working order.”
While Sahajwalla’s mother is a medical doctor, her father
was a civil engineer, and she loved visiting his construction
sites to see how things were built. “A Cadbury factory was
my favourite,” she recalls. “When I think about it now, it was
probably just an office building rather than an actual factory,
but when you’re a kid and you see the symbol of Cadbury,
AT A
GLANCE

Professor Veena
Sahajwalla is the
inventor of polymer
injection technology,
known as green
steel, an eco-friendly
process for using
recycled tyres in
steel production.

Sahajwalla launched
the first e-waste
microfactory, which
processes metal
alloys from old
laptops, circuit
boards and
smartphones.

She views waste as
an opportunity, not
a problem, and
hopes to roll out the
microfactory model
across the world.
intheblack.com July 2020 31

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