Ever since I stepped into a Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) stuffed with laser cutters and 3D printers in my home university in Leuven, I have been intrigued by the idea that all of us have the possibility to built stuff. Just think about it: for millennia, our economies have been driven by craftsmen and -women that imagined, prototyped, and built their wares from A to Z. With the industrial revolution and the advent of conveyor belts, humankind has largely alienated from making things. The Maker-community, as the people craftings objects are often referred to, turns the tables again by democratising prototyping and production techniques.

I recently stumbled upon a particularly nice project that hit several soft spots of mine. First of all, it works with plastic trash and turns it back into a raw material. Secondly, it develops hardware to easily set up a small production facility with shredders, extrusion and injection moulding machines. Thirdly, all of it is open source. Fourthly, they dream big.

How could I not mention them on the blog?

Precious Plastic is a project started in 2012 by a Dutch guy named Dave Hakkens who wants to build a global community to work on plastic pollution. He brought together a team of creative souls, geeks, and engineers, to build the first version of the workshop tools. Since then the project has undergone three iterations and is ready to launch its fourth generation (more about that later).

Did you see that? I just made you want to read to the end of the article. Ha!

But first, let us have a closer look at how a Precious Plastic workshop could look like. I said could, because the project encourages everyone to take the open source blueprints for what they are and get creative from there. The standard setup would look like this:

Precious plastic machines (photo: Precious Plastic)

  1. a shredder which chops plastics into small flakes. In other words, the trash is turned into raw materials again (second machine from the left in the photo)
  2. one can either create a plastic filament via the extrusion machine, which is great to use in a 3D printer or to spin around a mold (first machine from the left in the photo), or
  3. one could create smaller objects directly with the manual injection moulding machine, which allows you to make a lot of things quickly (second from the right)
  4. if you want to produce big stuff, the compression machine would be your tool-to-go. It is an oven in which you press two sides of a mould together to form the object (at the far right of the photo)

You can build these machines with standard components and tools that are easily available. I still think it is kinda scary for someone to pull this off if you are really inexperienced, but luckily the project put together a video course to help you along the way.

Besides the machines, the Precious Plastic team also designed a workshop layout in a standard shipping container that can be easily replicated around the world. It is a convenient, cheap, and transportable solution which allows taking your workshop to festivals, schools etc. I am already imagining where I would put such a container in Brussels (assuming I would have time to run such a side-project, unfortunately, I haven’t).

The Precious Plastic workshop-in-a-container (photo: Precious Plastic)

With the technical stuff out of the way, what would you make out of your recycled plastic flakes? I dived into Instagram and really love the creations by the Zelenew team based in Ukraine, who were early adopters of the Precious Plastics machine designs. A small selection below (be sure to check out their  Instagram page)

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Maybe you are still thinking this Precious Plastic community is not much more than a small circle of geeks. Not true. There are already about 200 workshops around the world applying the blueprint developed by Precious Plastic. If that was not enough, Precious Plastic recently won a 300k cash prize and could rent a workshop in the Netherlands for free for the next year, where they will be gathering 40 people to work on tackling the plastic pollution problem. If I didn’t have a great job already, I would immediately apply .

I truly love the Precious Plastic project and all with all I am surprised I never came across it earlier. Their practical mindset, creativity, and open source mentality are making great things happen. Plastics are seen and treated too often as waste once they have fulfilled their intended purposes. But they are not! The material, demanding so much energy and water to produce in the first place, can be reused many many times. Hopefully, a Precious Plastics inspired workshop will be popping up soon in my neighbourhood!