SEATTLE — Dave Hakkens has seen a lot of plastic. He’s seen it in the slums of India, in the rivers of Indonesia and lining the villages of Cambodia. He’s seen it solid, melted, shaped, molded and shredded. His workshop is lined with clear buckets full to the brim with colorful plastic pieces labeled by the type of plastic contained — “HDPE” for High-Density Polyethylene, “PET” for Polyethylene Terephthalate and a few marked “other.”
Hakkens is the creator of Precious Plastic, a home plastic recycling system that enables users to build machines, collect plastic and turn it into something else. That “something else” can range from knife handles to hats or water filters. The final product is completely up to the imagination of the end user. Access to the machine blueprints, along with instruction videos and tutorials, are also completely free and open-source. The goal of the company is two-fold: to not only reduce plastic waste lying around but also to provide a potential source of entrepreneurship for craftspeople wanting to begin the process of creating products from recycled plastic.
“On one hand,” Hakkens said, “it allows them to make a living out of something of the plastic that is just laying around and they can start collecting or shredding it and they can build a business around it. It also cleans up their environment because otherwise, they’re living in plastic and not living in nature or what is around them.”
Historically, plastic recycling has been the domain of large companies able to buy expensive and complex machinery. Precious Plastic, however, brings home plastic recycling within reach of average individuals. Four machines make up the entire process: a shredder, an injector, an extruder and a compressor. Fed through the shredder, plastic is broken down into small pieces which can then be sent through any of the three other machines to achieve a different result — injected into a mold, extruded into a thin rope that can be used to form shapes or turned into raw material, or compressed into a mold to create everyday household items like bowls and dishes.
The system was purposely designed to be assembled from parts and materials that can be commonly found worldwide and is completely customizable and upgradable by the user. Help is readily available to the unskilled crafter or novice. Hakkens feels this is a core part of the project. “One crucial thing we did with this project was also we designed the machines to really take into consideration where they’re going to build it so it’s made from a lot of scrap materials which are laying around in junkyards.”
The process is constantly evolving. Currently, Hakkens and his team at Precious Plastic are working on version three of the system. This includes a starter kit and more object molds. His other focus is to encourage others to share the project and spread the word of his work. Hakkens hopes those in other countries become aware that this technology is available to them.
As of February 2017, approximately 100 people worldwide have built the machines and established their own home recycling shops. They have been popping up in places like Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Singapore, Hungary and other countries. Hakkens hopes that in the future there will be a home plastic recycling station in every village.
– Tammy Hineline