Turning plastic waste into educational opportunity

Arizona State University students standing with $6,000 checkThree Arizona State University students have won $6,000 in startup funds through the Microsoft Community Impact Pitch-Off for their new circular economy project. Brian Boyle, Matthew Burmeister and Andrew John De Los Santos — three master's students from the School of Sustainability — were awarded the funds for their project, "The Circular Classroom." The project aims to meet the needs of underserved high school students in the Phoenix metro area with the technology and support necessary to transform hard-to-recycle plastic waste (i.e., #5 Polypropylene plastic bottle caps) into low-cost 3D printed educational materials. Local high schools suffer from a lack of funding, which limits access to technology and learning opportunities. With The Circular Classroom, students will be introduced to a circular economy model which will allow them to transform plastic waste into a resource — filament for 3D printers, which some local high schools have already received through a grant. These 3D printers are used to design and create educational supplies and think about classroom topics in new ways. Through this process, The Circular Classroom aims to reduce plastic waste, reduce the school budget on 3D printing filament, increase high school graduation rates by keeping students engaged in classrooms, and create pathways to employment or higher education by training students on Computer Aided Design. The project truly touches on all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic and social.
Graphic provided by The Circular Classroom team
"Our excitement and motivation for The Circular Classroom stem from the opportunity to introduce a circular economy education model into local high schools," said Boyle, who is pursuing a Master of Sustainability Solutions. "We are unaware of schools currently providing this learning opportunity to students, yet feel that it is imperative to give exposure to the next generation and empower students by building capacity to address contemporary challenges surrounding waste. Furthermore, by prioritizing underserved high schools, we aim to provide technological aptitude and learning opportunities for students to persist in high school graduation and beyond." The trio will use the funds won at the pitch-off to purchase technology that local high schools can use to shred plastic into plastic flakes and then extrude them into spools for their 3D printers. Boyle estimates that with the funding and right high school partnership opportunities, they could implement and pilot The Circular Classroom in up to two local schools. In addition to Microsoft, the team is partnering with GreenLight Solutions, an organization that will provide ASU student support for training teachers how to use the shredder/grinder and 3D printer. Top photo: Brian Boyle (left) and Matthew Burmeister hold up their $6,000 check awarded at the Microsoft Community Impact Pitch-Off