In a tribute to innovation, sustainability and advanced manufacturing, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a replica of Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic spectacles – made entirely from waste using breakthrough recycling technology developed at UNSW.

Using plastics from the electronic goods (e-waste) that we throw away, researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney transformed this common waste into plastic filaments for 3D printers, enabling the glasses to be ‘printed out’. Invented by Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla and her team at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, this world-first sustainable technology is part of a cost-effective micro-factory solution that can safely recycle toxic e-waste into plastics filaments, valuable metal alloys and other materials, where ever it is stockpiled.

This is a remarkable innovation which takes waste, something so simple and so obvious, and enables communities to deliver job creation and economic progress.

“Veena’s ground breaking research, coupled with the ingenuity of her young team, helped give birth to this symbol of hope for a sustainable future,” said UNSW’s President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs, who is accompanying Prime Minister Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham to New Delhi.


The replica Gandhi glasses made entirely from waste using breakthrough UNSW recycling technology.

“This resonates with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Clean India campaign which deploys a simple pair of Gandhi’s spectacles as its logo in what is a major Indian initiative to improve lives through technology and by scaling up public hygiene,” he said.

“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and current recycling methods are both expensive and inadequate. Huge volumes of e-waste is illegally shipped to developing nations, including India, where informal processing exposes poor communities to serious health and environmental risks.


Mahatma Gandhi with his iconic spectacles. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“The potential this technology holds for a future for micro factories embedded in communities at the source of waste raises the possibility that entire communities in India can have access to cutting edge technology, while creating jobs and addressing the challenge of waste,” Professor Jacobs said.

As 3D printed filament is currently produced only from non-renewable raw materials, this solution reduces pressure on our natural resources while cleaning up a toxic global waste problem.

UNSW’s Executive Director International Laurie Pearcey said: “This is a remarkable innovation which takes something as simple and obvious as waste and enables communities to deliver job creation and economic progress. This is at the heart of what some of India’s greatest 21st century thinkers have come to describe as Gandhian engineering and innovation, which challenges us to think how we can unlock technology to deliver more, for less, for more people. This is core to UNSW’s impact agenda”. 

UNSW also secured two major deals witnessed by Minister Birmingham in New Delhi that will see the research and teaching intensive University boost collaborations with India.

UNSW signed a memorandum of understanding to secure a $4 million centre of excellence in smart transport with the Indian Ministry of Roads and Transport as well as a collaboration in nanotechnology to support the new ARC Training Centre for Automated Manufacture of Advanced Composites via a new partnership with India’s prestigious Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.