University of Washington Precious Plastic

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF:

Letter of Intent:


Inspired by Dave Hakken's project, Precious Plastic, we plan to build a plastic recycling workspace on University of Washington’s campus, using the free machine blueprints and online resources from The workspace will consist of four machines which shred, melt, compress, and mold used plastic, so it can be transformed into something new. This workspace is designed to be cross-disciplinary, providing raw material to arts and science students for 3D printing, construction projects, and as a sculptural medium. Sale of recycled plastic filament and finished products can reduce costs for University departments and create a revenue stream to self-fund Precious Plastics operations. This project would generate opportunities for research on campus waste and sustainability measures, or it could be utilized as a lab space for faculty and their classes or as culminating projects for students’ theses.

Environmental Impact:

According to, nine billion tons of plastic have been made since the 1950s, and every piece of plastic ever made still exists in one form or another. Less than five percent of the world’s plastic is recycled, and over 90 percent of the garbage floating in the ocean is plastic. This plastic ends up in one of the five garbage gyres in the middle of the ocean, pollutes beaches around the world, or gets consumed by animals, which either kills them or eventually introduces these chemical toxins and bacteria into our food chain.

On January 1st of 2018, China—which, in 2016, processed 7.3 million tons of waste[1]—banned importing recyclables from outside countries. With no strong market for scrap plastics, municipalities all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe are now forced to divert these reusable materials to landfills, and governments are scrambling to find a sustainable solution as landfills become overfilled. Putting pressure on America’s recycling system, this new development creates an opportunity for organizations to create innovative solutions and build domestic markets for these materials.

With a campus of over 43,000 students (not including faculty or staff), the University of Washington creates a lot of waste—roughly 11.7 tons in 2016, of which only 63 percent was recycled or diverted from landfills[2]—and our mixed recycling often ends up being delivered to landfills, without being properly recycled. The Precious Plastics program would result in four impacts on the UW Seattle Campus:

  1. Waste Diversion: By reducing the amount of plastic that leaves the campus for an unknown fate, UW can reduce the strain on our waste streams and landfills. This project could also help UW Recycling meet its quarterly waste diversion goals. We expect this process will help UW Recycling meet its goal of 70% waste diversion by 2020.[3] While output data from other Precious Plastic projects is limited, we estimate that, when fully operational, we will process approximately 1.5 tons of plastic a year.[4]
  2. Waste Reduction: Education can lead to behavioral changes. Allowing students to take a tour of our workspace, they can learn about the recycling process and the amount of work it takes to breakdown plastics, which could encourage these students to develop more sustainable habits or to make smarter choices when purchasing goods.
  3. Conserving Resources. UW can reduce its purchasing of and dependence on virgin materials and help protect our natural resources by creating a closed-loop recycling system on plastic waste.
  4. Reducing Carbon Emissions and Pollution. Diverting waste reduces the amount of carbon emissions burned transporting this trash to recycling facilities and to landfills. It also reduces the need to refine and process raw materials, which creates substantial water and air pollution. Despite growing impact of UW Recycling programs, UW net greenhouse gas emissions show growth year over year. This project will contribute to reigning in emissions generated by the University.[5

Student Leadership/Involvement:

With student interest from a wide range of departments around campus, 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, Claire Baron Katherine Walton, and Micah Stanovsky. The undergraduate members are Isabella Castro, Sierra Schonberg, Oliver Kou, Emma Turner, David Frantz, Alishia Orloff, Alexis Neumann, and Mason Clugston.

Education, Outreach & Behavior Change:

Our leadership will conduct presentations in undergraduate and graduate classes to raise awareness about the project and increase student involvement. We will also reach out to FIGs, organization, and clubs around UW’s campus—such as Comotion and the Department of Biology’s WOOF Club—which would have an interest in this project. At Earth Day 2019, we hope to demonstrate the machines’ capabilities and produce items for the event made from recycled plastic.

The UW Recycling department supports this project and will assist in the collection of plastics. Collection bins, placed around campus, 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 facilities.

Feasibility, Accountability & Accessibility:

This project will take place in several stages, each with varying degrees of complexity and feasibility.

  1. Site location: Before submitting our full proposal in the Fall 2018, we will vet and choose a location to house the machines and workspace. We will investigate four possible models for this space:
    1. Customize a shipping container workshop to locate on campus.
    2. Partner with an existing co-making or lab space on campus. This option would drive down project costs.
    3. Operate within an existing annex or similar space on campus. This option would drive down project costs.
    4. Customize a box truck as a mobile recycling workshop.
  2. Build the Machines: The free blueprints for these machines make them very cost effective and feasible to produce. Whenever possible, we will outsource labor to students to reduce expenses and source scrap materials, keeping the costs and carbon footprint of this project low.
  3. Write Safety Protocols: We will collaborate with EH&S to mitigate any safety concerns and create safety training for operators.
  4. Develop Operating and Maintenance Protocols: Before starting production, our leadership will gain use and maintenance knowledge of the machines. We will also develop sorting and washing standards for the plastics. Once we have command over the machines and process, our team will create a written manual and standardized training to educate other users.
  5. Create Product Prototypes: Our team will develop standard work for the production of 3D printer filament and a selection of compressed products.
  6. Outreach and Education: Once we accomplish the previous steps, we will open our workspace to the UW community—allowing students to use our resources for projects, offering tours for facility and their students, and encouraging other members within the broader Seattle community to learn from our project.
  7. Revenue-Generating Production: In the final stage of Precious Plastic, we envision sustaining the workspace, covering expenses through the sales of 3D printer filament at a reduced cost to other campus departments and products we create to sell to the public. We will work with clubs and organizations around campus to develop innovative ways to reuse the plastic we collect and divert from the UW’s waste stream.

Budget Estimate:

$50,000 - $75,000 for setup and a year of operation. Cost will vary depending on site location.

Leadership Team:

Blair Kaufer, UW Facilities Services,

GreenEvans (Registered Student Organization)


Primary Contact First & Last Name: Blair Kaufer

Campus Affiliation: UW Facilities Services, Payroll Coordinator

Campus Address: 3900 7th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98195

Phone: 206.221.4350



Secondary Contact First & Last Name: Emily Coleman

Campus Affiliation: Master of Public Administration Graduate Student

Address: 6367 NE Radford Ave #4022, Seattle WA 98115

Phone: 414.378.1356


[1] Freytas-tamura, Kimiko De. “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West's Recycling.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Jan. 2018,

[2] UW Recycling Annual Report 2016. Page 4.

[3] UW Recycling Annual Report 2016. Page 2.

[4] Our conservative estimate is based off a processing rate of 2 kilograms of plastic per hour, 15 hours a week and 48 weeks a year.

[5] UW Recycling Annual Report 2016. Page 7.

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Blair Kaufer