In "The Graduate," plastics were a kind of shorthand for a booming, if not glamorous, industry. While the film came out in 1967, the same advice might be given today, considering that plastics are the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States, and grow at a roughly 2 percent yearly rate in both shipping and productivity, according to SPI, the Plastics Industry Trade Association. Plastics are here to stay.
No seriously. They're really here to stay. Because plastics don't biodegrade or get raptured into the ether. All that plastic we manufacture and consume is sitting somewhere. Including the ocean, where plastics are the most common ocean pollutants, with evidence that is downright scary.
We do have a solution: The magical process of recycling, after all, changes our used and abused plastics into shiny new products that can, in turn, be recycled again. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 9 percent of plastics in the United States were recycled in 2013. That leaves a lot of plastic lying around ... forever.
Enter Precious Plastic, an open source set of blueprints and tutorials to build a small-scale plastic recycling machine from materials accessible globally. The enterprise began as a graduation project for Dave Hakkens, a Dutch designer.
"We wanted a scalable solution for recycling plastic," Hakkens writes in an email. "Something that could be possible all over the world. In order to do this you need to make sure everything is locally available and people know how to get started."
They put together simple blueprints, loads of tutorials and an extremely helpful website so that the entire project was open source. Based on the principles that all the building materials must be easily accessed by people around the globe — from the suburbs of Indiana to the streets of India — Precious Plastic hopes that more people will create their own small-scale recycling center, or hire a local manufacturer to help.
Keep in mind you're making several machines — a shredder, compression machine, injection molder and extruder — and Hakkens estimates a few days of building. And while Precious Plastic is not interested in commercial ventures, they'd be delighted to see local production of the machines. "We don't see ourselves as machine manufacturers," Hakken says. "We would love it if machine builders build their business around it, making and selling those machines locally. The more recycle machines the better."
What you choose to do with the recycled plastics is only limited by your own imagination. Make household items! Create art! Start a small business selling plastic doohickeys! Whatever it is you choose to do, you can at least count on feeling smug for helping save the planet.