08:31 AM

Ohio State team wins Ford Motor Company Fund grant by finding new uses for old plastic

A team of students from The Ohio State University has won the 2018 Ford College Community Challenge.

Buckeye Precious Plastic joined teams from Purdue University, the University of California, Berkeley and other colleges around the country as one of 10 winners of the challenge. The program, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund, invites students from around the world to create innovative solutions to problems and improve their community in the process.

“Community engagement is a big motivator for us,” said John Schlichting, a third-year environmental engineering major and member of the Buckeye Precious Plastic team. “That’s how we’re going to enact change, is by engaging the community.”

Based in the College of Engineering, Buckeye Precious Plastic is working on better ways to recycle plastic and to cut down on plastic pollution. They model their effort on the Precious Plastic program started by David Hakkens in 2013.

The project uses open source technology to build machines that turn used plastic into usable products. So plastic bottles or plastic remnants are turned into artwork, building material or office products like drink coasters.

The machines are also part of the recycling effort. The machines are made by hand by the Buckeye Precious Plastic team using instructions found online.

Community engagement is a big motivator for us. That’s how we’re going to enact change, is by engaging the community.
John Schlichting, Buckeye Precious Plastic

“We get most of our materials from recycling places so we’ve been junk diving a few times,” said Brian Waibl Polania, a third-year mechanical engineering major and team member.

The grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund will allow Buckeye Precious Plastic to build and refine the recycling machines and help raise the profile of the group. The team is also looking for a new workshop after using the Center for Automotive Research as a home over the summer.

Waibl Polania said the group members want to add their voices to Ohio State’s commitment to sustainability. They want the Buckeye Precious Plastic team to continue long after they graduate.

“I think the Ford grant really focused our idea of what we wanted to do here because it asked a lot of questions that we never really thought of – like how do we keep the group going after we’re gone,” Chris Chia, a third-year biochemistry major, said.

Schlichting said they eventually want to take their project into classrooms to show how plastic can be reused and to encourage thought beyond putting plastic in a recycling container.

“We realized that the machines we are making are primarily for recycling and while that’s good, it would be better to just not have to recycle in the first place,” Schlichting said. “So there’s that reduce and reuse part before the recycling, and I think the Ford grant allows us to tackle that goal or tackle the issue more effectively.

“One of our big mantras through this whole process is understanding that people forget about recycling as soon as they throw that bottle away.”