Plastic waste is a problem that greatly contributes to environmental degradation, from killing millions of animals per year, polluting oceans and waterways, and accumulating in human bodies through microplastics in our food, water, and air. The production of plastic also takes a toll on the planet, as it is made majorly from fossil fuels through an energy-intensive process resulting in harmful emissions. While the common conception is that most plastic waste is recycled, this is more of a marketing ploy than it is fact; according to the EPA, only 8.7% of plastic used in the US in 2018 was recycled. World demand for plastic products continues to grow. The EPA also states that 28 million tons of plastic waste was dumped in landfills that same year. Innovative solutions ranging from adoption of environmentally sustainable substitutes to more effective plastic recycling methods are urgently needed. Precious Plastic is an example of an innovative recycling program that has shown promise and has the potential for scaling up massively.
Precious Plastic began in 2012 as a research project by Dave Hakkens. The idea behind the project was that while plastic is viewed as a problem that continues to pile up as waste, this material is actually a valuable resource that can be collected, transformed, and reused not just by large companies, but by the public.His work led to the release of Precious Plastic Version 1 in 2013. Over time, multiple versions of the plastic recycling system were created, improved, and disseminated globally, leading to the development of the Precious Plastic Universe in 2020.
The Precious Plastic Universe
The Precious Plastic Universe establishes a network of members and workshops responsible for different components of the recycling process, from collection to the creation of new products. Collection Points work to collect and recover plastic from local areas. There are then five different types of workspaces which work to transform the collected plastic. Shredder Workspaces are sent the collected plastic, which they turn into shredded plastic pieces which can be melted down. Sheetpress, Extrusion, and Injection Workspaces receive the shredded plastic, where they are transformed into sheets, beams and bricks, and a range of products that are made in specific molds, respectively. Machine Shops are also an essential part of this universe, as they produce machinery and parts needed at every stage of production, and create molds for products.
Precious Plastic works to create not only individual centers, but networks around the world that can operate collectively. With an interactive map of different centers and their capabilities, members stay connected and can complement each other. Additionally, all of their knowledge is open source, because in their words, “We believe knowledge should be free. An asset for humanity that shouldn’t have a price. We share all the outcomes of our research & development online. For the people. For the planet.” The knowledge for building plastic recycling machines using their designs is freely accessible. They also have created a space for large project collaborations. Through their Collabs initiative, Precious Plastic collaborates with partners to maximize impact for a specific area or project. They work together from ideation to installation of machinery, and provide professional support to ensure all members are trained and able to operate successfully.
Impact to Date
In March 2020, Precious Plastic produced its first impact report to assess the traction that the global movement has created, surveying over 1,000 actors in the community spanning 102 countries. They found that members of the Precious Plastic Universe recycled over 829,000 pounds of plastic annually, with each workspace recycling an average of 1,840 pounds per year. The total revenue generated per year by the universe was over $2,000,000, and each workshop earned an average of $7,000 per year. 42% of the workshops had only existed for less than a year, while 30% were 1-2 years old, displaying that the community is growing rapidly and continuously.
The Precious Plastic Universe has workspaces and other community centers in six continents. It creates an opportunity to reduce plastic waste, and to create products that appeal to modern markets, which are moving towards greener and more conscious consumption. The variety of products that can be produced within the Precious Plastic Universe include materials for construction, furniture, art, home and lifestyle products, and more. It also creates the potential for increased employment and building livelihoods in sustainable manufacturing. Visit their map to see if there is a center in your area to get involved with, or if you are feeling inspired, look into starting one in your area!