A New Dublin Group Looks to Deepen What We Know About Plastic

“That all came from one Starbucks after two days,” says Emmanuel Reynaud, as he takes a break from the angle grinder.

About 100 lids from milk bottles are in a bag beside him. Each is bright red.

Reynaud, a lecturer at University College Dublin (UCD), looks at the bag for a second before flicking the angle grinder back on.

A metal bar emits a flurry of sparks as he begins to saw it in half.

Reynaud, is one of seven people that are working out of a backroom of the TOG Hackerspace in Blackpitts.

Across the room, one person wires up electricals for a circuit board. Another man opposite him is making measurements so he can begin to cut shapes out of a sheet of metal.

This group, Precious Plastic Dublin, is making a machine that could help deal with the problem of single-use plastics – but for now, it’s a device that’s mainly a way to educate people on the wider issue of recycling.

New Machines

On Saturday afternoon, the group is gathered in this workshop for a weekend to build an injection machine.

“The machine is really simple but genius,” says Celia Somlai, a founder of Precious Plastic Dublin.

It repurposes single-use plastics. It melts them down and molds them into new creations.

This effort to repurpose single-use plastic has made its way across the world. It’s Dublin wing is now being set up.

The injection machine was created by a Dutch industrial designer, Dave Hakkens, as part of the Precious Plastic movement. The how-to designs and guides are free online.

Somlai says she wondered why nobody had started the initiative in Dublin yet: “And then I thought, ‘Why not me?’”

“How it works is pretty simple,” says Jan Knappe, a post doc researcher at Trinity College as he picks up two pieces of equipment.

In one hand is a metal pipe, similar to the one that Reynaud is cutting on the other side of the table.

In his other hand is a circular golden metal piece, attached to a circuit board by a metal tube.

“The pipe goes through the ring which heats it. The plastic pellets are pushed through the pipe, melted and molded into whatever shape you like,” Knappe says.

However, getting the plastic pellets is an ordeal.

Knappe takes out his phone and shows a picture of the Precious Plastic Dublin team from the week before.

They’re standing in a classroom each at their own station. They have organised an assembly line to sort the lids into colour and types of plastic.

They collect the lids from cafes or by people donating lids to them at events or in shops.

“Once they are clean and dry,” says Somlai. Precious Plastic Dublin is an educational project, not a waste company, she says.

Says Knappe:“I never used to pay attention to the markings on the plastic lid.” He draws a triangle with his finger in the air.

Photo by Donal Corrigan

On the bottom of some milk bottle lids there is a triangle with a number in the middle. This marks what type of plastic the lid is made of.

“Now I pay attention to what type of plastic it is,” says Knappe.

Once the plastic is sorted, it is shredded into pellets, ready to be melted and repurposed by the machine.

“There’s a group in Barcelona that uses this machine to make sunglasses,” says Somlai. For now, the Dublin crew’s machine is just for education.

Decycling

This project has potential, says Somlai.

But she’d prefer they didn’t have to do this. “The best method [for sustainability] is not to use single-use plastics at all,” says Somlai.

“However this is the reality we live in,” she says, as the bag of milk bottle lids sits across from her.

The process of recycling plastics is more complicated than people think, Reynaud says. “Waste companies are not recycling, they are decycling.”

Recycling where, say, a plastic bottle is reused as another plastic bottle is rare and expensive, he says.

“When plastics are melted they lose integrity and capacity,” he says

Materials such as glue and ink are melted with the plastic when it is decycled. “You are losing quality each time,” says Reynaud.

What The Labels Mean

Labeling is another problem when it comes to recycling, says Reynaud. “Plastics are labeled from one to seven,” he says, counting up to seven on his fingers.

The number one to six marking represents a specific plastic, for example, number six is polystyrene.

Many milk bottle lids have the number two inside of a triangle. For high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Reynaud drops his hands and takes a step back from the angle grinder once more.

“There are 50,000 different types of plastic in the world,” he says.

Number seven simply means it’s an “other” plastic. That means they can’t do anything with it, he says. “Because we have no clue what seven is.”

Precious Plastic Dublin are also limited to hard plastics. The machine struggles with soft plastics such as cling film or sweet wrappers, says Somlai.

“They are harder to clean and dry. We also don’t know what plastic is in soft plastics,” she says.

She pulls out a wallet that she made from soft plastics – old sheets of clear and blue plastic, stitched together.

“I need to work on the stitching,” she says.

Above All, Education

“Watch out, sparks are flying,” says Chris Darling, another team member, who is now one of three people in the workshop making sparks fly.

Precious plastic is an educational project above anything else, says Somlai, over the sound of the angle grinders.

There needs to be a better understanding around plastics, Knappe says. “We know about metal, ‘oh that’s brass, oh that’s iron’. We don’t have this knowledge about plastic.”

Precious Plastic Dublin is also looking for a permanent space to work from, and people to join them.

“Graphic designers, people with a business background even just people to help sort the plastic,” says Darling.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated on 13 March at 16.14. An earlier version stated that Jan Knappe was a PhD student when in fact he is a post doc researcher at Trinity College Dublin. Apologies for the error.]

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Author:

Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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