Community Recycling Lab

* Tell us about your awesome project!

Plastic has violently invaded our small rural town of San José de Minas located 80km north of Quito, Ecuador. Unfortunately, we have a very precarious waste management system. According to the last census, only 43% of our waste reaches the municipal pickup truck. The rest is burnt or thrown away in rivers and creeks, negatively impacting our health and environment.

In order to tackle these problems, we built a Community Recycling Lab to take recycling and waste management into our own hands. Using technology and creativity, we transformed the concept of waste into valuable opportunities.

Through a series of Design Thinking workshops, young passionate leaders designed and created a productive and self-sustaining lab. With the help of volunteers we built a shredder, compression and extrusion machine to transform plastic into new products using thermofusion. The machines are built with recycled parts we found in dumpsters and secondhand stores.

After months of experimentation with different types of plastic, molds, and processes, we launched our main product: a plastic bar used by the flower producers in the area to assure flowers grow straight. Until now, they have been using wooden stakes for this purpose. However, wood is not sustainable as it rots and results in more trees being cut down. Through our lab we are helping floriculturists transition into using better environmental practices as we also reduce pollution and create opportunities for local youth.

To collect plastic we have created several alliances with local restaurants, schools, and cooperatives, among other actors that are gaining more awareness about plastic pollution. Education is at the core of our project. In our lab, young people can explore the world of investigation, learn and design projects and products, and participate in innovative practices.

We use STEAM to offer real and immediate alternatives for our waste as we all benefit from a cleaner and healthier environment.

* How will you use the money?

In the application I mentioned this grant prize will be used to improve efficiency of the extrusion machine. We have identified two main restrictions in our machine. The first one is the capacity and efficiency of our heating system. The electric resistances we use are very basic. They take more than 15 minutes to heat up and they limit the speed at which the plastic can melt and thus extrude. With the grant money we would invest in a different design and better quality resistances. This way they can heat up the pipe faster and maintain a more equal temperature throughout the process. We need 4 resistances which were valued at $125. Thus we estimate this will cost around $500.

The other restriction we have identified is the velocity at which the plastic is pushed through the pipe. We use an engine and a geared motor (I apologize if the terminology is not correct, my first language is not english and I am not sure I am translating appropriately). We need to reprogram the relationship between the engine and the geared motor so that the plastic can be pushed faster. We estimate this will cost $300.

Additionally, we want to spend approximately $100 in some electrical corrections we need to make. In our laboratory there is only one 220v connection. We want to add more connections so that multiple machines can be used simultaneously and thus be more productive.

These estimations and proposals were calculated by a group of electrical and mechanical engineers that have been accompanying us in our process. They have demonstrated to be great professionals and have helped us immensely throughout our process. They have experience working in General Motors among other companies that have worked with making and repairing an array of machines.

The remaining $100 we would spend in the educational process of a new group of students. Last year we were able to take a field trip to a recycling plant and another one to participate in a conference about innovative recycling practices. I would love if the students this year can have similar enriching experiences.

Funded by STEAM (March 2021)