Dave Hakkens, a 27-year-old, socially conscious, Dutch industrial designer, thinks plastic is precious. But he also recognizes that, when mishandled and disposed of improperly, it can be an environmental scourge. He is quick to note that in 2015 the world produced some 311 million metric tons (685 billion pounds) of the material – and less than 10 percent of it got recycled. Much of it ended up in the wrong places, from landfills to oceans.
Hakkens, who lives and works in Helmond, The Netherlands, and who graduated cum laude three years ago from the Design Academy Eindhoven, says his goal is simple: "Try to make the world better by making things." It doesn’t really matter, he suggests, whether those things are inspirational videos, a new modular phone concept or machines to recycle plastic.
In June 2013, as his graduation project, Hakkens unveiled a concept he had developed whose aim was to help democratize and boost plastic recycling. The idea: create a low-cost, modular recycling machine that everyday people could build and then use themselves. He called the effort Precious Plastic. (By that time, he also was already working on PhoneBloks, his open-source approach to making modular smart phones as a means to reducing electronics waste.)
He created the plastic recycling machines specifically using universal materials and basic tools that are widely available. This has been the project’s biggest challenge so far, Hakkens said – trying to make it possible for others to build the machines, anywhere in the world.
“Back then,” he said of his initial project, “I made a proof of concept of the machines. They worked, but could be improved. Over the last two years we did just that, and we’ve now shared version 2.0.”
On March 24, he rolled out an updated, entirely open-source version of his recycling machines, from shredder and extruder to injection and compression molding units.
He offers a free, online download kit that contains templates, posters, blueprints, computer-aided design files, bills of materials and technical drawings, as well as a series of detailed instruction videos, which can be viewed at www.preciousplastic.com/videos. The highly compressed kit downloads quickly and contains 154 files in all.
“This provides all the basic information people need to build their own machines and start a little plastic factory, anywhere in the world,” he said. People can leverage the information provided “to set up small-scale production to create valuable things, like a craftsman of plastic. They can make products, raw material [such as such as 3D printer filament], set up a production unit, clean up their neighborhood, and start their own business.”
What can you make with a DIY recycling machine?
Hakkens elaborated on the project in an April 17 email interview from Goa, India, where he was on the front end of what he expects to be a six-month adventure, for both work and pleasure. The travel, he said, is designed to expand his knowledge.
“I’m interested in exploring ways how to live your life. We have a pretty Western mindset – work to have money to buy things and do fun stuff, but I think there is much to learn from other cultures.”
Hakkens estimates he has invested about 40,000 euros in the plastics recycling project so far. “I’ve pulled funds from all over the place – from awards I won, and creative funds, to my own private money.”
His recent roll-out of Precious Plastic 2.0 has generated interest from a number of media outlets and is designed to encourage viral sharing online. He wants people to download the kit, make their own machines and become their own, do-it-yourself recyclers and craftsmen.
“We aim to boost plastic recycling all over the world, by providing people the tools and knowledge to get started.” He said he is still working on ways to improve his ability to track the progress of interested users. For now, he relies on users to voluntarily give him feedback.
He added that he’s open to collaborating with a partner company, but admits that “it’s hard to imagine one that fits us. We would still be very open to work with local machine builders.” He would welcome the chance to set up a network that makes it easy for people who don’t know how to build a machine to find one that has been locally made.
After first developing PhoneBlocs, and then creating the Precious Plastic recycling machine, one could imagine Hakkens might already be working on his “next big idea.” But, he says, he tries not to think about that too much right now. “My first focus is on getting plastic off the ground properly.”
He stated that he has one, laser-focused objective as a designer, which he summed up in two simple words: “Solve problems.”
Finally, he asks only that all interested parties help to spread the word about Precious Plastics and its www.preciousplastic.com website far and wide.
“In order for this to have an impact, we need to make sure people actually know this information exists. We need help to spread it around the globe, let people know they can now start to work with plastic. Once the information is spread, the recycling begins!”
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