University of Washington Precious Plastic

Executive Summary:

Inspired by Dave Hakken's project, Precious Plastic, the University of Washington Precious Plastic (UWPP) project plans to build a small-scale plastic recycling workspace on campus in the Maple Hall Makerspace. Housing and Food Services supports Precious Plastic and has accepted the administrative responsibility for this project. The workspace will consist of four machines that shred, melt, compress, and mold used plastic, so it can be transformed into usable products, such as 3D printing filament. We will use machines already available on the market, as well as build the remainder of the machines using open source blueprints and online resources from This project is designed to be cross-disciplinary, providing raw material to arts and science students for 3D printing, construction projects, and as a sculptural medium. Additionally, the project will generate research opportunities in the fields of material and mechanical engineering, waste management policy, sustainability, industrial design, communications, and business development. For example, Precious Plastic could be utilized as a lab space for faculty and their classes or as culminating projects for students’ theses. In the long-term, sale of recycled plastic filament and finished products can reduce costs for University departments and create a revenue stream to eventually self-fund Precious Plastic operations.

Student Involvement:

Leadership for this project primarily stems from GreenEvans, a UW Registered Student Organization (RSO) from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. Graduate students from this program include Emily Coleman, Katy Ricchiuto, and Micah Stanovsky. The undergraduate members of the leadership team include Isabella Castro, Sierra Schonberg, Oliver Kou, Emma Turner, David Frantz, Alishia Orloff, Alexis Neumann, and Mason Clugston. After attending the Autumn 2018 Engineering Kick Off and the Program on the Environment’s Fall Kick Off event, we have received interest from over 100 students to participate in this project. We also plan to attend more on-campus events, such as the 2018 UW Sustainability Fair. We will further work with any students who would like to incorporate Precious Plastic into their capstone projects or major. This allows us to help students who need to develop individual projects while gaining interest and involvement in Precious Plastic. Through the capstone outreach, we will teach undergrad students how to work with others on projects and give them professional experience. As our project moves through its phases, we will reach out to several different disciplines and faculty on campus.

UWPP offers three overarching opportunities for student involvement:

Research & Design
We will engage with students from material and mechanical engineering to build the machines and to develop safe processes for every plastic type we will recycle. With Joyce Cooper as a faculty advisor, John Hamann, a mechanical engineering student, will use UWPP for his senior project, designing the shredder to comply with the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Additionally, we will work with communications and graphic design students to create messaging and marketing materials to educate students about UWPP. Industrial design students could build products for the machines to create or supporting infrastructure, including specialized collection bins for certain materials. Furthermore, students from the College of Built Environments can do research regarding the collection and impact of UWPP, as well as look at the scalability of our model.

Environmental Policy & Impact
UWPP creates an opportunity for policy students from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance to discover potential solutions to a national waste crisis. We will also meet with the acting director of the Program on the Environment, Kristi Straus, to find a way to incorporate UWPP into Sustainability Studio, or another one of its sustainability classes.

Product Use & Business Development
For ongoing operations, we foresee bringing in a wide range of students to design and market final products, as well as use the 3D printer filament that we produce. We would like to allow art and industrial design students to create products that we could sell in the University Bookstore. We would also invite students from the Foster School of Business to develop a business plan for the operation with the goal to become a self-sufficient operation in the future. We envision selling the 3D printer filament to students in programs such as art, architecture, medicine, engineering, and dentistry, as well as to student organizations on campus.


Education & Outreach:

Our leadership will conduct presentations in undergraduate and graduate classes to raise awareness about the project and increase student involvement. The students can reach out to Precious Plastic through the use of social media (twitter, Instagram and Facebook). We will have our email in the bios for each of the social media outlets allowing anyone who is interested in UWPP to contact us. In addition, we will contact the heads of departments of majors to send out emails to the specific majors that would pertain to Precious Plastic.

The designs for the shredder and the compression machine come from years of R&D from the experiences and improvements provided by the open source community. Improvements made to the shredder and compression machines to meet safety standards will be documented and shared with the broader precious plastic community.

We will be attending several events throughout the school year such as Earth Day, Engineering Kick Off, and Program of Environment Kick off. We will reach out and attend multiple event as we learn about them and will join in. We will also reach out to FIGs, organization, and clubs around the university’s main Seattle campus—such as Comotion—which have expressed an interest in this project. On top of providing guidance in the design and production of 3D printers for student use in general, WOOF3D’s engineering lead, Raymond Guthrie, has agreed to aid in overcoming any extruder/nozzle challenges that may arise in the use of materials beyond PLA for printing filament. At Earth Day 2019, we hope to demonstrate the machines’ capabilities and produce items for the event made from recycled plastic.

Throughout the project, there are opportunities for a homework assignment, extra credit, or for experience for the students. They would come into our location and help us either create the filament, produce the items from the filament or go to learn about the organization. We will also try to work with the RA’s to have competitions between the dorms to see how much can be properly recycled. This allows engagement with the undergrad students as well as an opportunity to spread awareness of UWPP while also spreading knowledge on how to be sustainable and help the environment.

The UW Recycling department supports this project and will assist in the collection of plastics. Collection bins, initially placed in the Mapple Hall undergraduate residences, will feature education materials about the project and the environmental issues with plastic. Outreach efforts will engage faculty for class labs or field trips, and students for thesis projects or other research. We will evaluate our program by tracking the project’s costs, processes, outcomes, and impacts. This data will allow UW to act as a leader within our community and to exemplify innovation by sharing knowledge with other schools and organizations hoping to develop their own small-scale recycling facility.


Environmental Impact:
  • Waste
Project Longevity:


RSO Status:
Beginning soon after project approval, UW Precious Plastic will apply for RSO status, independent from Green Evans (which current lends RSO sponsorship). This will enable UWPP to apply for funding of events, special projects, and outreach funds.

Saleable Products:
In reference to the Timeline, UWPP intends to prototype and finalize 2 reproducible products by the end of Spring quarter, 2019. Our goal is to engage industrial design, material science, and business students in market research and product design, to ensure there will be demand for our hyper-local, recycled, and student-made goods. These products will be sold at events in the nearby community, bringing in revenue. Stamped with a UWPP logo, they will also amplify our outreach effort through brand recognition and positive consumer identification. We expect to expand this product line to encompass 5-10 reusable items to replace everyday objects, commonly made from virgin plastics, instead made from plastic recycled on campus. This product line, if well-designed and properly targeted, has the potential to create revenue that will support UWPP’s plans for expansion and greater impact.

Environmental Innovation Challenge:
This entrepreneurial competition challenges UW students to innovate new ideas for sustainable products. Whether in the 2018 or 2019 cycles, the UWPP leadership team believes we could submit a strong application. In particular, these funds might apply well to the process of developing products to reduce reliance on plastics within UW departments, detailed in the follow section.

UW Departments:
As the UWPP project gains traction, we also intend to explore the possibility for replacing virgin products commonly used by other UW departments. These may include 3-D Printer filament, UW ID badge slips given to new students, or other products yet to be identified. While this idea hinges on both organization development and product research, there is great potential for both revenue generation, waste reduction, and decreased reliance on virgin plastics campus-wide.

Future Application to CSF:
To pursue the UWPP Vision outlined here, we anticipate that capacity may need to increase to reach longer-term goals of significant and beneficial impact on UW waste streams. We hope to become an integral and sustainable piece of UW Seattle’s entire metabolism. To this end, we may return to CSF with a strong portfolio, proven systems, and achievable next steps toward this vision.


We also plan on creating a structure for continued operations after the current leadership graduates. By becoming our own RSO in the coming months, we will create a transition plan for leadership and student involvement. We will develop and recruit for formal leadership roles. Our leadership team will leave the UWPP with 10-year maintenance plan, established on- and off-campus partnerships, plastic and design research and prototypes, marketing and communication materials, and operation manuals that include: machine and maintenance training, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) broken out by the distinct types of plastic, and collection and washing standards.


Environmental Problem:

UWPP would result in four impacts on the UW Seattle Campus:

1) Waste Diversion: UWPP will help UW Recycling meet its goal of 70% waste diversion by 2020. We estimate that, when fully operational, we will process approximately 1.5 tons of plastic a year. Our potential location, Maple Hall, generates about 56 tons of garbage a year and 21 tons of recycling a year.  If all of that material at Maple Hall was redirected to this project, it would prevent 1.23 tons of material annual from the garbage.

2) Waste Reduction: Education can lead to behavioral changes. Through our outreach efforts, students can learn about the recycling process. We want to promote the lessons of a closed-loop system and encourage students to live by those principles.

3) Conserving Resources: By using recycled materials in products, UW can reduce its purchasing of and dependence on virgin materials. Specific to our work with campus makerspaces and 3D printing materials, the most common type of printer filament used on campus is PLA (polylactide); PLA is primarily derived from various plant starches and can therefore be commercially composted if treated correctly, however, since “the compost of composters in the USA must be compliant with Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) regulations. PLA is not 100% compostable … if the compost still contains PLA residues, their compost does not meet the OMRI regulation requirements. Therefore, many composters regard PLA as a contaminant” and it remains far more energy- and cost-effective to recycle the material; according to a recent European study, the environmental impact of recycling PLA is over 50 times less than that of composting.

4) Reducing Carbon Emissions and Pollution: Diverting waste reduces the amount of carbon emissions burned transporting this trash to recycling facilities and to landfills. In the most recent IPCC report, research found that petrochemicals, which include plastics, are the third-highest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, and these emissions will grown by 20% by 2030. Despite the growing impact of UW Recycling programs, UW net greenhouse gas emissions show growth year over year, which, based on societal trends, will only get worse. This project will contribute to reigning in emissions generated by the University.

5) Improving environmental equity: China called our practices of sending our contaminated recycling to other countries, “foreign garbage smuggling.” By not solving our waste issues domestically, we are continuing to place an unfair burden on others. Creating a model for small scale community recycling will allow us to take steps towards environmental justice.

6) Cost Savings Benefits: One aspect of our project will be applying design to mitigate the problems plastic creates. Plastic film has become a recent problem for UW recycling since its removal from the waste stream costs roughly $17.65/hour to $23.51/hour to pay Waste Collector workers to sort. We hope to pose this issue as a design project for students in the Industrial Design program on campus to develop new plastic film receticles to optimize the collection of materials.



Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Throughout the research, development, and initial use stages of the machines, we will develop performance metrics to monitor our success and fulfill CSF’s quarterly reporting requirements. While these data points have yet to be finalized, initial metrics are as follows:

  1. Starting with First Quarter of Operation
    1. Number of students Involved (enrolled, employed, volunteer, service learners)
    2. Number of student hours logged
    3. Number of media mentions (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
    4. Number of Class, RSO, and community groups contacted
    5. Number of events and field trips organized (UW campus and off-campus)
    6. Number of events attended and tabled  (UW campus and off-campus)
  2. Starting with Second Quarter of Operation
    1. Number of Machines Running
    2. Number of Products Designed
    3. Processable Types of Plastic
  3. Starting with Third Quarter of Operation
    1. Amount of plastic diverted (in pounds)
    2. Number of Collection Spots on Campus
    3. Amount of 3D filament or other product produced (in pounds)
    4. Amount of CO2 emittance avoided


Total amount requested from the CSF: $20,796
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


Due to sit restrictions, we are unable to submit our detailed budget. Please see our supplemental materials for the full budget.
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal CostNotes
Shredder Materials3,00213002To be constructed from purchased materials.
Compression Molder Materials1,38111381To be constructed from purchased materials.
Extruder389313893Complete machine purchased.
Injection Molder197911979Complete machine purchased.
Product Molds65053250Reusable molds for end-use products.
Wood Chipper1251125For interim use while Shredder is built
Utility Carts1184472
Extruder Cleaning Liquid1810184
Hot Plate2661266
Hot Stamp Machine3751375
Maintenance Costs2004800Quarterly maintenance & repair.
Safety Glasses18118
Heat-Resistant Gloves12560
PAPR Respirators112122242EH&S Staff indicate that this is the most conservative and safest respirator option.
Lab Aprons17585
Lockout Boxes16580
Collection Tote18590
Storage Shelves1701170
Storage Shelves & Bins1551155
Biodegradable dish soap42521010 Gal. total.
Printed Materials & Marketing40041600$400 / quarter for 1 year.
Lockable Document Storage43143

Non-CSF Sources:

ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal CostNotes
Dabble Lab Membership1009900Cost of 9 annual memberships for UWPP leadership team.
Office Rent600127200Cost comparable to market-rate office space in University District.
Project Completion Total:


UWPP Project Timeline
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Outreach to students and staffOngoingN/A - Start Date September 2018
Become independent RSO1 monthNovember 2018
Produce safety, operation, and training manuals3 monthsFebruary 2019
Build and acquire machines3 monthsFebruary 2019
Plastic collectionOngoingN/A - Start Date January 2019
Material researchOngoingN/A - Start Date January 2019
Prototype design for marketable products OngoingN/A - Start Date January 2019
First products showcase and interactive demonstration1 dayApril 2019 (Earth Day)
Class visits and demonstrationsOngoingN/A - Start Date May 2019
Begin selling products through the University Book StoreOngoingN/A - Start Date June 2019
Selling 3D Printer FilamentOngoingN/A - Start Date Autumn 2019