Sustainability Workshop in Thailand

Sustainability Workshop in Thailand

We were at the landfill just outside of the town The guy showed us around and was like: “Here we sort out the plastic that goes to the factory to get recycled” “What do they do at the factory?” “They burn it” We were like … “What?” There was a point when we said: Hey! Enough plastic lying everywhere. Somebody’s got to do something! We started talking to people about recycling. We teamed up with the local government to start a clean up initiative. On pretty much all of the main roads, there’s a canal next to the road For the rain. So a lot of the stuff cars throw out of the window go into the water, then into the river and then into the ocean. We’re producing ocean plastic, here, 200 kilometers from the coast. We were proud of how much we had collected. All of that plastic would not go into the ocean anymore. But… where would it go? We started researching on waste management in Thailand, followed garbage trucks and saw how they went through every garbage can picking up bottles, cups and cans. We found local recycling centers and learned how they sort out and handle plastic. People often told us: “In Thailand we recycle everything! 100%” Then why is it that the official recycling quota is about 20 percent? Why is it that people still burn their trash in front of their house? Why is Thailand one of the biggest contributors to ocean plastic in the world? Why does the official recycle strategy published by the government count incineration, that means burning, as recycling? As a child when I thought about recycling I always imagined high-tech machines. Your old plastic goes in on one side and new products come out on the other side. Almost magically! Until I learned that pretty much all the plastic we collect in Europe goes to Asia. And it’s not much different in the US. And then, instead of funky machines with flashing lights, it’s poor people in flip-flops who sort through our trash with their bare hands taking out the items they can sell and burning or dumping the rest. CO² and ocean plastic there we go. My empty water bottle I throw away in Europe… transparent, highest quality food grade plastic gets shipped all around the world to China, then likely turned into a carpet or Teddy bear stuffing and then shipped back all across the globe to Europe. Speaking of carbon dioxide: By now everybody knows that ocean plastic gets into our food chain. But did you know that it also threatens a species of green bacteria living in the ocean responsible for ten percent of carbon dioxide that gets removed from the air worldwide? If the plastic harms these, now think what that does to global warming. By now we had realized plastic recycling is a complicated and messy process. The only way to stop the plastic from getting into the ocean is not to buy it in the first place. But… what about the plastic out there we already have? Recycling is still our best option! That’s when we knew, we had to take a step back … go bigger, way bigger! The current problems would not get solved by the generation that caused them. We would have to reach the next generation to work on global solutions instead of local initiatives. What if you could use the trash of today to power workshops where young people can work on solutions for tomorrow? We put together an international team of engineers and enthusiasts. We spent months studying the recycling process and the current challenges. We learned how to build our own recycling workshop and tested low-cost approaches to making injection molds. Big shout out to the guys from Precious Plastic in Holland! Thanks Dave! It’s easy to see why recycling is so hard, when you do it all by yourself. But… it feels very good when you can tell people: “Give me your old plastic” “Look! here’s a new thing. I just made it” They may look at plastic differently. Not as trash but as something valuable. A potential income. Removing ocean plastic gets a lot more interesting if people can start building business around that. Yet there is so much work to do. There are thousands of different kinds of plastic and if you want to really recycle them you have to sort them. Because each one has individual properties. And then you can make new things out of them. And actually, there is no low-cost solution to do this at this moment. Oh well… there is You can go on and light the plastic on fire but actually the fumes are quite poisonous and you have to smell them to tell what kind of plastic it is. And I personally prefer a solution that doesn’t kill me. But people really do this. So as we realized this, we went back to the drawing board and first of all read a lot of scientific papers that told us about how recycling companies tell apart plastic at the moment and then realized we have to build a spectrometer. Other companies did this as well, but there’s as I said no low cost solution. And so we built discreet spectrometer with different kinds of LEDs like you have them in your light bulbs. And… these shine at the plastic and we measure the amount of reflected light So this way we can tell apart different types of plastic This solution brings down the cost of a spectrometer from like several thousands of euros to just one hundred euros. And… we built a prototype to prove this and thereby, we could actually change how current ocean cleanup projects and small Asian recycling companies work And after all that’s where the European plastic goes to. But first of all, we need to train our algorithms with tens of thousands of plastic items we collect out there. So we really need your help And that’s just one of so many projects that still need a lot of work Like… developing better molds so we can make more useful items for the local community. Make our workshop mobile so we can do live recycling at the local night market. Invite over students from the local school to do some recycling together. Making 3D printer filament from our recycled plastic to power engineering workshops with the local students Turning Styrofoam into activated carbon so we can use it in water filters. Biological recycling: What if micro-organisms could turn our plastic waste into fish food? Now, we need YOUR HELP! Yes YOU! Every piece of plastic you help us collect is not just one item less that gets into the ocean, it’s a contribution to science Any help counts! You can come for a few days, a few weeks or a few months But… the longer you stay the more you can learn and the better you can support us. That goes especially for if your machine builder, a production engineer a material scientist, a chemist, a software engineer, a microbiologist… Please come and join us we can probably even learn something from you!

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