A student project that tackles plastic waste pollution recently took home a regional title for Memorial.
Project R3D, created by Enactus Memorial in November, won the Scotiabank Climate Change Challenge at the Enactus Canada Regional Exposition for Atlantic Canada earlier this month. The group will compete at nationals in Montreal, Que., in May.
“We’re very proud of how our presentations went,” said Allison Manning, a fourth-year electrical engineering student at Memorial who was part of Project R3D’s presentation team. “We’re so proud of Enactus Memorial, and all the work we put into our projects. We’re grateful for the opportunity to represent Atlantic Canada at nationals.”
Enactus Memorial also competed in the TD Entrepreneurship Challenge with Equipped2Excel, a project that delivers workshops to high school students to help them develop soft skills such as time management, financial literacy, critical thinking and communication.
While the team was pleased with its presentation, it didn’t place in the competition.
Creating Project R3D
To create Project R3D (pronounced “red”), the students reverse-engineered a 3D printer.
“Being from N.L., where most of the plastic isn’t even recycled locally, we realized there was an opportunity to fill this gap.”
They first sort and sanitize the plastic and then use a process called pultrusion to heat and shape it into high-quality, 3D-printing filament.
Simon Hawkenson, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, says the idea for Project R3D was sparked at the Enactus national competition last year.
“We were really inspired by all the different solutions to plastic pollution problems that were being presented,” he said. “And being from Newfoundland and Labrador, where most of the plastic isn’t even recycled locally, we realized there was an opportunity to fill this gap.”
Enactus Memorial estimates the density of plastic pollution in the ocean around Newfoundland and Labrador to be about 5,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer.
Once fully launched, the project is expected to keep about 5,000 pounds of plastic out of landfills by the end of next year.
Enactus Memorial received a grant from Enactus Canada’s Scotiabank Climate Action Project Accelerator fund to purchase some equipment for the initial project stages and develop a prototype.
They also worked with Trevor Bessette (BBA’22), founder and chief executive officer of Recycle on the Rock, on the recycling processes.
“I’m really excited to be part of it and see what we can create.”
Mr. Bessette is providing access to some of his recycling machinery, as well as industry expertise.
“A lot of the machines can be very expensive, especially in the initial stages, so we’re using my machinery to test out the viability of the project,” said Mr. Bessette. “I’m really excited to be part of it and see what we can create beyond the filament, as well.”
Mr. Bessette has been involved in plastic waste recycling for several years. Recycle on the Rock collects plastic waste and turns it into products such as key chains and home décor.
He says one of the challenges with recycling plastic is creating products that consumers want to buy. He hopes the project will eventually expand beyond simply creating the 3D filament to developing innovative products that will solve other societal problems.
“3D printing is cool because you’re not limited by what you can create,” said Mr. Bessette. “It makes it a little easier to create products that you can sell and people want.”
From fishing nets to face masks
Enactus Memorial expects to complete the prototype in about two weeks.
In the short term, they plan to establish a collection site for plastic waste at Memorial. Longer term, they want to expand beyond plastic bottles to plastics that aren’t typically recycled.
“We aim to adapt the process to recycle nylon from fishing nets or even polypropylene from discarded face masks,” said Mr. Hawkenson.
Lost or abandoned fishing nets, commonly known as ghost nets, are a significant source of plastic pollution in the ocean and threatens both habitat and wildlife.
Watch Enactus Memorial’s regionals presentation on Project R3D in the video below. The voiceover is provided live during the competition by engineering students Laughter Afolabi and Benjamin Thomas.
Enactus Memorial plans to bring the model into classrooms and encourage students to recycle, and to provide more recycling options in rural areas.
They also want to enter the $26-billion, 3D-printing market by opening a storefront in partnership with local community groups.
In the two months before nationals, the group will be busy finishing the prototype and advancing the project as much as possible.
“We will further develop our projects so that we can have more impact, educate more people on our projects and recruit more members to grow our team,” said Ms. Manning. “Our goal for nationals is to present the best projects we can, do well in our category and hopefully be able to represent Canada at worlds!”
Enactus Memorial is composed of undergraduate and graduate students from across the university. It’s part of a global network of universities and college students that aim to use innovation and entrepreneurship as a catalyst for positive and social environmental change.