Precious Plastic: DIY Recycling

Plastic pollution has been making the headlines a lot recently and for good reason. According to the Guardian, about one truckload of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every minute. That adds up to at least 8 million tons of plastics in our oceans annually!

While annual plastic production is increasing from 15 million tons 50 years ago to a predicted 1,124 million tons by 2050, only 5% of it is actually recycled. Not only is this incredibly devastating to the environment, but it is also ridiculous to throw away so much useful material after just one use! So, put down that bottle of water that you’re sipping on and DON’T recycle it. At least not in the way you were taught to at school.

Precious Plastic is a project that started in 2013 with a single mission: to transform plastic waste into reusable material on a local scale. Well, it also aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution, empower communities to take plastic waste into their own hands and ultimately save the world. Here’s how it works.

Dutch designer Dave Hakkens invented a series of machines capable of breaking plastic into smaller pieces in order to compress it, melt it and transform it into something new. He put these designs online and provided blueprints as well as a YouTube tutorial that anyone can follow for free! His idea spread all over the world as communities of passionate recyclers came together to make a difference. Hence, Precious Plastic Shanghai was born.

Precious Plastic Shanghai is a social enterprise highly committed to preserving the environment by creating awareness about plastic waste in China. Since 2016, they have been providing team building, hands-on activities and consultancy services for corporate, educational institutions as well as technological and exhibition centers. Their goal is to encourage teams and individuals to take ownership of their waste and get responsible. I attended their hard-plastic workshop last Sunday to see what all the fuss was about.

The workshop started with a lesson in distinguishing between different forms of plastic. Each type can be recognized by its identification number or, if it doesn’t have one, you can guess based on the way it looks, how it bends, or even the sound it makes. But in most cases, you can identify it based on its purpose.

After becoming slightly more educated in plastic, we got some HDPE (high-density polyethylene) bottles and the fun began. We cut the gigantic bottle into smaller pieces, put on goggles and started placing the pieces into the shredding machine. If nothing else sells you on this workshop, at least come to watch plastic getting ground up in a mesmerizing and surprisingly satisfying way. It’s absolutely magical.

Once shredded, the bits of plastic are sorted by color to provide a wide selection for when you create your recycled item. The rarest of all colors are pink and purple. Fun fact: black is the hardest color to recycle because the machines that do it cannot recognize it automatically.

Precious Plastic Shanghai offers a variety of workshops, but for this specific workshop we worked with boards of plastic slightly larger than an A4 piece of paper. We chose our preferred thickness and weighed the correct amount of plastic before filling the metal forms. My group’s plastic rainbow was heavy on blue while some of the others had every color imaginable!

Since it takes a while to compress, melt and then cool, we couldn’t actually work with the boards we prepared. Instead, we got to see the process of making them and then selected from previously made boards.

These boards can be made into anything from clipboards and clocks to artful designs or even jewelry. You just draw your design and use a powerful plastic cutting tool to carve out the desired shape. The possibilities are endless!

Although we only had flat boards to work with, you can use a variety of forms to create bowls, lamp shades and furniture! Once it cools, the plastic is hard and sturdy: a great material for pretty much anything. That’s what makes plastic so precious!

You don’t have to be rich to buy the materials to crate these amazing machines. They were specifically designed to be made with basic parts that can be purchased at most hardware stores anywhere in the world. The simple instructions allow anyone to buy the parts and follow the instructions to successfully create these plastic-transforming tools. But if you’re not an engineer or simply don’t have the time and patience to figure out how to do it, there might be an easier way for you to participate.

Precious Plastic Shanghai partners with XinCheJian, the first hacker space in China. This garage/studio/creative space offers membership for anyone who wishes to come in and get inspired. There are special workshops for people who want to learn to use these specific tools. Once you’re a member and have learned to use everything on your own, you can reserve a time to use the workshop and let your creativity flow.

Learn more about Precious Plastic on their website. To join XinCheJian or to learn more about Precious Plastic Shanghai, scan the QR code to follow them on WeChat.

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