STEM-In-Action Spring Scoop: ChargerPlastics
We're back on the blog again this week to catch up with another one of our amazing STEM-In-Action grant winning teams. If you're new here, 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 in 2020 ten lucky teams took home the prestigious award. Last Fall, we caught up with all the teams to see how their initial progress was coming along with their projects, and now we're circling back to see the impact they've made as their grant is nearing a close. Today, we head south to an 8th grade team from Charlotte, NC: ChargerPlastics.
Hey everyone! This is Laura Plata from Team ChargerPlastics (consisting of Morgan Boonshaft, Katherine Liu, Laura Plata, Pavan Thakkar, and Jodie Yan), from Charlotte, North Carolina! To recap from our last blog post, our project is to find a way to keep plastic that is too dirty to be recycled out of the landfill. We got our idea when we found out that even though a lot of the plastic picked up from the Catawba River that flows through Charlotte is recyclable plastic, the recycling plants here in Charlotte will not accept the plastic merely because it’s dirty. To us, that was outrageous! Thus, we got to work on fixing this problem.
There have been a lot of bumps in the road as our project has progressed. Originally, our plan was to shred the plastics using a wood chipper, clean the shredded plastic, then after they were fully cleaned, we’d give them back to the recycling facilities to then integrate them into the recycling system.
We were relying on this idea for a long time, however a little bit later we received some new information that completely changed our project. How? Well, for one, we found out that the recycling facilities are unable to take shredded plastics of any kind, clean or not. Next, we found out that the woodchipper that we were using as a shredder messed up the particle distribution of the polymers, and thus, the shredded plastic could not be reused by anyone. We visited a local organization, called Envision Charlotte, who specializes in circular economy and sustainable plastic recycling. We found out that the actual plastic shredder we were planning to get to replace the woodchipper would not be able to process the dirty plastics, as the dirt would clog up the machine. This meant that we would have to clean the plastics before shredding them, which would completely defeat the purpose of shredding the plastic to then clean it. So basically, our plans were pretty messed up.
However, despite all of these challenges, we still have some hope. Daniel Heaton from Envision Charlotte gave us a viable option. He said that even though we may not be able to shred the plastics, we can still do some cool stuff with them. Two options he mentioned were making plastic bricks out of the dirty plastic or setting up an art piece of some sort to educate the public about the sheer amount of plastic that ends up in our rivers.
Now, we’re focusing our energy into developing the plastic brick idea. Since it’s been such a recent change of plans, we don’t quite have anything solid yet, but we’re trying to be adaptable!
We think that this new idea could make an impact in our community, since the idea of bricks made out of plastic is a really cool way to benefit the community with things that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. We probably won’t be able to create bricks that could be integrated in a skyscraper, but ideally we would create a brick that can be used in small projects, such as a small shack or a garden wall. I think this would be a really cool thing to even integrate into our school campus, or maybe the Innovation Barn at Envision Charlotte! If we can develop a really sturdy and reliable brick, the sky’s the limit with what we can do.
Since our last report, we have gotten some publicity! We were written about in an article on our school website. While it’s not much, since we now have contact with Envision Charlotte, which is a huge up and coming organization, we hope that we can leverage their platform and get the word out to the community.
Thanks for sticking around and reading about what our project entails. This is ChargerPlastics signing out!
Much like our other SIAG teams, ChargerPlastics is thinking bigger picture with their mission. Most missions start with a community based problem, but often patend up tackling problems that, if solved, could effect the entire global community. We are so proud of the hard work and dedication that each participant has to making their community and the world a better, safer place to thrive in.
AEOP Communications & Marketing Specialist
AEOP Communications & Marketing Specialist