How to set up your own plastic recycling plant: lessons from Metabolic Foundation’s Plastic Beach Party in Aruba

Published on the 22nd of September 2017

The Caribbean island of Aruba imports more than 6,000 tons of plastic each year. With no recycling facilities, plastic waste poses a direct threat to the island’s environmental and social health, as well as its tourism industry. Tony Sevold of Metabolic Foundation discusses the launch of a small-scale plastic recycling facility for the island, and how we can take action as citizens in our own contexts.

The Plastic Beach Party recycling collective took shape when a group of concerned citizens realized that massive amounts of plastic waste in Aruba were being dumped and burned at the coastal landfill, and we recognized there was something we could do about it. While there was a clear need for plastic recycling, the standard business model relies on subsidies and economies of scale, so an alternative approach was needed.

To tackle this challenge, we developed an open initiative built around Precious Plastic’s set of open-source hardware designs, and crowdsourced funds, tools, and skills to build a small set of plastic recycling machines for the island. We also began designing, prototyping and developing locally relevant, durable products that could be made from recycled plastic, and a service offering that could help us create a financially sustainable model.

With this in place, we will soon be launching a range of plastic recycling services for households and businesses on the island, not only to earn some revenue but also to learn about the local market. With our facility currently able to process 150 kgs of plastic waste each month, a successful pilot will help us to expand our capacity. Right now we are piloting our services with Divi Resorts – a local hotel that shares our values – and we hope to expand our collaborations with tourism industry partners in the future.

Our immediate goals are to initiate recycling on the island, to create awareness about plastic consumption and dependence, and to show how we, as citizens, can actively build a better future for our community. Going forward, we are experimenting with a wider range of locally suited high-value products, 3D printing with plastic waste, developing ways to reduce plastic packaging, and experimenting with insects and bacteria to biodigest plastics.

To broaden our scope, we recently launched a citizen science program to focus the island’s attention on the impacts of plastic waste, working to collect and share environmental data, mapping reefs and landcover and collecting information around macro- and microplastic abundance on beaches.

One of the most unique things about this initiative is its open and collaborative nature. The open source plans that we used to build our machines mean that anyone, in any corner of the globe, can build their own small-scale sustainable recycling plant, and in doing so bring about positive change. In fact, groups around the world are doing just that, and sharing notes and experiences to grow small-scale recycling opportunities everywhere.

Ideally, plastic wouldn’t be treated as disposable. Plastic is an amazing material — strong, flexible, and easy to work with — that’s why it’s used for so many things. But as it is, we should be striving to consume less plastic, repairing things instead of replacing them, and then supporting local initiatives making innovations in waste management. One thing is certain, our role as citizens has never been more critical as we gain access to the tools and resources that equip us to take action that improves our communities.

For an update on further activities of Plastic Beach Party, read our most recent update here. 

If you’d like to find out more about the Plastic Beach Party and how you can start your own plastic recycling program, or if you want to donate to support the growth of our initiative, please head here.

For more on the work of Metabolic Foundation, head to the website.

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