STEM-In-Action Fall Follow-Up: ChargerPlastics

Another Friday and you know what that means?! Another chance to catch up with our 2020 STEM-In-Action grant recipients to see how their projects have been progressing since our National Judging and Educational Event back in June. In case you're just now tuning in, the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) STEM-In-Action Grant awards eCYBERMISSION teams up to $5,000 to develop their projects into mature and scalable solutions in their community. Normally, we award this honorary grant to five teams, but this year ten teams took home the prestigious award. This week we're heading south to North Carolina to catch up with ChargerPlastics and see how they are bettering their Charlotte community.

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Hello! We’re team ChargerPlastics, and we are 9th graders from Charlotte, North Carolina! Our group consists of Morgan Boonshaft, Pavan Thakkar, Katherine Liu, Jodie Yan, and Laura Plata, and well as our team advisor Mr. Mark Bartholet. 


When we entered into eCYBER last year, we never thought that we would get far at all; it was really only for fun. We didn’t expect to win anything, much less a $5,000 grant to turn our ideas into reality. We’re incredibly thankful for the opportunity, and we’re really excited to help make a change in our community, even if it’s only a small one. 

Before we get into our project, which, let’s be honest, is the thing you care about, here's some quick background on the team! We’ve all known each other for years through school, and since we all have an interest in STEM, it only made sense to work together. In fact, Morgan, Pavan, Katherine, and I (Jodie) entered as a team in 7th grade as well, though weren’t as successful as we were this year. After winning the STEM-in-action grant we knew we wanted more help, so we added our friend and resident STEM expert, Laura to the team.

In Charlotte, there is a non-profit organization called the Catawba Riverkeepers Foundation that runs river, lake, and stream cleanups in the area. After speaking to a member of this organization, Haley Tedder, we found that while much of the plastic picked up during these cleanups is recyclable, recycling plants will not accept some of these plastics because they are incredibly dirty from sitting in the river. It takes too many resources for the recycling plants to fully clean these plastics, so the plastics end up going straight to the landfill. This bothered us a lot, as this unrecyclable plastic can really add up over time. And just like that, we had our problem and got to work.

We decided that we were going to create a portable plastic-cleaning machine that could be brought to the river cleanups. This way, dirty plastic bottles could be cleaned right after they’re taken from the river. This would also save time for river cleanup volunteers because then they do not have to travel to a secondary location to have these plastics cleaned. All they would need to do is put the plastics in the machine and then transport them to the recycling facility; that’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Originally, we decided that we would shred our plastics into small chunks so that we could clean them easier. We decided that we would have a shredder that would then be filed into a drum containing our cleaning solution. By having the plastic chopped up, it would make cleaning every part of the bottle much easier. However, after speaking to a recycling plant in our area, we found that recycling plants cannot accept these shredded plastics. This is because recycling plants compress bales of plastics together, so they cannot incorporate the small flakes into these huge bales. To fix this, instead of having a plastic shredder, we have changed our plans to create a machine that chops the bottles at their neck to make it easier to clean the inside, a plastic guillotine, if you will. This way, the bottles will be clean and able to be accepted by the recycling facilities.

One of our recent discoveries  is that to fully get the dirt and grime off the plastics, we need to really scrub the bottles, not just soak them in the solution. This means that we have to change our ideas a little bit. Thankfully, the Catawba Riverkeepers have provided us with a new bag full of plastics too dirty to recycle, so we will be able to do future tests to test different cleaning solutions and methods.

With the grant money, we hope to create a prototype and eventually bring it to a river cleanup. However, due to COVID-19, it has been very difficult for us to go as fast as we had hoped to be able to go. Despite this setback, we have full faith that we will be able to overcome any unique challenges and ideally get a working prototype that can be used by the Catawba Riverkeepers. Thank you for reading, we hope that you will continue to follow our journey!

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Another eCYBERMISSION team that continues to impress! We're sensing a pattern here. Best of luck to ChargerPlastics as they continue to develop their plastic-cleaning machine and we cannot wait to catch up with them in the Spring.


-Mission Control


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