As little as eight per cent of the world’s plastic is recycled, despite it being one of the most valuable and non-renewable resources we have. Wouldn't it be great if we could do something about it ourselves?
Precious PlasticA Precious Plastic workspace - a community-run shipping container housing everything you need to recycle plastic.
Education is just one of the challenges - and when it comes to recycling, it's a bit of a grey area. We trust that if we put materials in the right bins, it’s taken care of by a mostly invisible, distant organisation, company, or landfill. What isn’t well known is just how easy to is to recycle local materials into useful things.
Until learning about the Precious Plastic initiative and global community, I had no idea just how easy it was to recycle plastic. Or how inspiring it would be to learn about. And that’s the brilliance of Precious Plastic: open source, free, collaborative and it makes you wonder why it isn't more popular. The Precious Plastic site hosts video tutorials, documentation and blueprints on how to build machines to recycle plastic waste, techniques for turning waste into something new, a forum for discussions, and even a marketplace to buy and sell items.
The DIY Plastic Recycling Process
The Dutch team behind Precious Plastic started this movement back in 2013. Here they showed how a single shipping container could house everything needed in a workspace to recycle plastic - including machines that shred different waste plastics into flakes. After heating and melting those flakes, the plastic can be extruded into a thread that can be used as filament for 3D printers and spun into different creations, injected into a mould, or compressed to create solid objects. 3D printing using recycled plastics is a growing field, with many teams investigating this element of the circular economy.
One of the key challenges is understanding all of the different plastic types. Consider it an added bonus that this marks the start of a better understanding of polymers - in particular, what the triangle-shaped reycling symbols and number systems mean, and why polymer types need to be separated.
The problem for makers is that different plastic polymers have different melting temperatures and properties. That makes sorting plastic a necessary task, essential in preventing unexpected poor outcomes from moulds due to unmelted plastics. Consider well-known PVC for example - PVC, such as in piping, is made to last, rather than be recycled. And PVC is generally not useful for DIY projects, as it contains chlorides along with additives which may be harmful.
How You Can Get Involved
If you see this as the future, you can get involved directly off your own back, or team up with others. With the help of an interactive map and a community of more than 40,000 people, you might be in luck. Chances are if you’re in an urban area you’ll find a workspace, skilled machine builders, or just people who fancy their luck and want to help.
Precious Plastic is aiming to develop a brand new the next phase of the projet, which they're calling Version 4. Founder Dave Hakkens recently announced that they'd received 300,000 euro in funding from an award and put out a call for people who want to join their plastic fighting army. Keep an eye out for the latest developments!