It takes a lot of coordination, smarts and a rather large shredder to take post-consumer plastic, like plastic water or soda bottles, and repurpose them into something more permanent. But that’s exactly what’s happening at Millersville University.
“Currently, our students bring in their own plastic waste to be sorted, cleaned, shredded and turned into something different,” explains Dominick Manusos, assistant professor in Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology. “We take the plastic waste, sort it by type and color, clean and wash it, shred it, put it through any number of machines and processes to make something useful.”
The recycling process will be presented to Millersville’s Council of Trustees at their Sept. 21 meeting. Millersville students Lauren Coca and Jackson Harral will present with Manusos at the meeting.
The impetus behind the recycling project was to give the students an authentic experience in plastics recycling. “Often times we hear that plastic waste is not being handled properly and can end up in our local watershed. The Ocean Cleanup project is a non-profit organization that develops and scales technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic,” says Manusos. “The Ocean Cleanup and movements like “Precious Plastic” have many YouTube videos on how to reuse plastic in a meaningful way rather than throwing it away and having it land in the ocean. Precious Plastics also offers guidance, and schematics on building equipment for plastics recycling, opening a local recycling hub, and running an online store devoted to promoting the sale of plastic goods or equipment needed for these processes.”
“Our efforts are going toward using 100% of recycled plastic collected locally to make new products, tools, and art. This includes things such as cutting boards, keychains, bowls, plates, frisbees, tool handles and so much more,” says Harral.
Manusos applied for and received a $2,500 Positive Energy Fund grant from the University to purchase materials to build an extruder, an injection molder and to upgrade an existing plastics shredder. This will allow the department to scale up its capacity as the MU Sustainability Club scales up its collection.
“AEST is good at engineering, designing and fabricating things,” said Manusos, “so it made sense to build equipment to recycle plastic. A few years ago, our students built a plastic shredder using the Precious Plastics plans; the recent grant dollars were used, in part, to help upgrade that machine. These grant dollars were also used to support the construction of an extruder, which takes the chipped-up plastic and extrudes it into a long filament, similar to a weed whacker trimmer line. This project was largely the work of one of our students who was using the project for his Honors Thesis. This machine, when complete can be used to create the aw filament needed to feed our 3D printers, or the resulting filament can be chipped up and used in our injection molding machines.”
Manusos says the students will get to decide what they will make from recycled plastic this semester. It could be Millersville keychains or maybe Millersville branded coasters. He says they hope to sell the products at the bookstore on campus. Another thing they’ve considered is selling shredded plastic by the pound.
“These will be items made out of 100% recycled plastic,” says Manusos. “It’s from plastic from our campus that would have been tossed. It’s a great way to promote sustainability – making a durable item from something that people likely would have thrown away.”
Students get involved in the project from across campus. They may talk about the project in an AEST class, while others have done independent studies or honors theses or become involved through a club. Manusos says the SME club (Society of Manufacturing Engineers, is one of the most involved student organizations with the project.
Manusos hopes to grow the program by building additional equipment and working with the Sustainability Club on campus so they can take in plastic from across the campus, from offices, residence halls, the cafeteria, etc., and make it into something useful.
Harral says the experience has been a good one for him, “Recycling opens up a huge number of doors in the fields of engineering and art. Personally, I have found huge capabilities in using collected plastic and reconstituting it into an engineering medium, rather than simply putting it in a bin, only to maybe get recycled at a plant.”
“In addition to making durable items, students have the ethical implications for thinking about what they’re doing, what they’re making and how it will be used,” says Manusos. “And they use critical thinking to figure it out from start to finish – how the durable goods should be designed, produced, and put into the hands of others. What we do with the products when they are no longer useful and whether we can design products that can be recycled again are also important considerations.