The Rusty Rooster
To begin building the recycling machines, I spent a few days at this local scrapyard, uncovering discarded objects that could be repurposed to build our recycling machines.
Waste to worth.
Discarded grocery shelves, household items, and construction equipment make up the bulk of the materials used to construct the Precious Plastic machines.
SEP 2017 - APR 2018
Two generous souls, Bob and Cyndi, taught me how to work with metal and let me use their garage to build the machines. This project truly wouldn't have happened without them. Cyndi was my middle school art teacher - the person who inspired me to cultivate my passion for creativity. I owe them more than words can express.
Tackling plastic waste at the root.
Recycling plastic relieves the symptom of a deeper, cultural issue - that we, at no fault of our own, lack an appreciation for the connection between the products we use, the planet we live on, and our general quality of life.
Precious Plastic machines offer a chance for us to gain an experiential understanding of how recycling works, why it matters, and in turn a deeper appreciation for the full life cycle of the objects that play roles in our lives each day.
In April 2018, we piloted our first workshop with 8th grade students from Knight Middle School. We spent a day building the shredder, cleaning up litter at a local park, and using the injection molding machine to transform waste into useful products.
The response from both students and faculty was outstanding. Students typically known for their misbehavior in the classroom were some of the most engaged and productive during the workshop.
I believe hands-on education will play a key-role in offering long-term solutions to plastic pollution by cultivating a more aware generation of 'consumers' who can help end the vicious cycle of more, cheaper products.
As I worked on the machines, I looked for problems that could be solved through the design of simple, meaningful products that could be made using Precious Plastic machines.
Forget Me Not.
One of the most common problems I repeatedly ran into was the use of single-use plastic utensils.
After taking millions of years to form, we use these banal objects to shovel food into our faces for twenty minutes before tossing 'em out to spend another million years wasting away who-knows-where.
I've tried using reusable utensils to curb this problem, but I always end up forgetting to bring them with me, so they don't really solve the problem.
The Daily Spork is born.
To solve this problem, I designed a utensil that's always with you - even when you don't bother to remember it.
It's designed to conveniently clip onto one of the few things that you never leave your house without - your keys. That way you always have it when you need it.
On top of that its simple, single-part design makes it easy to manufacture using the Precious Plastic injection machine.
Making the Mold
To make the mold, I used my middle school art teacher's Form2 3D-printer and hi-temp resin which has an HDT of ~260 degree C.
In terms of sustainability, this method is no good, since the resin can't be reused or recycled, so I don't want to continue using it over the long-term.
But for a kid who's self-funding the project by working odd jobs and serving tables, it is a cost-effective way to make highly detailed experimental molds.
Sustainable by Design Awards
A week after its public release, the Daily Spork won a Sustainable by Design award from Range, which resulted in the spork being showcased at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver for a week.
Daily Spork 0.1
In preparation for the Sustainable by Design showcase, I refined the spork design to make it more comfortable to use and easier to produce.
By relocating the mold gate, the spork can more easily be removed from the mold and the sprue can more easily be trimmed.
With the spork design refined and samples made, I had 24 hours to drive from Louisville, KY to Denver, CO to deliver the samples for the showcase.
I loaded my mom's old minivan up with the machines and all my belongings, and hit the road. With over 243,000 miles on him, Clifford the Big Red Van made it out to Denver without a hiccup.
~ thank you, Universe ~
Woodbine Ecology Center
After the trade show, I camped around the Denver area for a few days to take some time to breathe. My "plan" was pretty much to stay on the road indefinitely, camping out of my van and making Daily Sporks on the road.
I went looking for a campsite and stumbled upon this wondrous little place, the Woodbine Ecology Center. It's a 60ish acre piece of land that's used as a gathering place for various communities to spend time connecting with nature and learning about indigenous tradition and practices.
Totally by happenstance, Rick, the facility operator was about to do a purification ceremony with some of his friends. After showing me around, he invited me to participate, which I very gratefully accepted.
I couldn't have asked for a better way to begin this next phase of the journey I was about to embark on.
Grateful for his openness, I stuck around for a few days and spent some time volunteering at the center. We spent most of the time clearing fallen Douglas Fir from the forest floor to make room for native Ponderosa pines to grow, which had been all but eliminated and replaced by Douglas firs when early settlers harvested the most of the old growth Ponderosas to build what is now the city of Denver.
As I camped, I picked up the litter I found lying around.. there was a lot. I like to think most of it was left behind accidentally, but still.. the ubiquity of it was astonishing.
A Place to Sleep
Since the first night on the road, when I was driving out to Denver and stopped at a Rest Area to catch a few hours' worth of Z's, it was clear that I needed to build some sort of platform structure for nights when I was stuck sleeping in the van.
I had no idea how I was gonna manage to do that until I made a pit stop to visit my cousin, Andy. When I got there, I found out that he had a backyard full of old shipping pallets that he collected to use as building materials for furniture, sheds, and other things.
We designed it to be two separate platforms so that I'd be able to easily remove them from the van by myself when I needed to.
The platforms also functioned great as dinner tables at camp, as well as display tables for Earthworm demos. And in general, they just made it a lot easier to keep the whole van organized.
After building the bed, I headed to Ridgway, CO to meet up with my amiga, Carmen, who I met at Outdoor Retailer. We spent a couple days backpacking, seeing how we liked the Daily Spork while on the trail. Spoiler alert: It held up well.
After Ridgway, I began to make my way down towards Cimarron, NM where I planned to spend some time. The town Carmen was living in while interning for Growing Spaces was on the way, so I made a pit stop to see the domes in person. They've always intrigued me.
Long story short - they're awesome. You can grow mangos at 10,000 ft in January...
At first I found myself questioning, Is there something wrong with this? Defying nature in this way? After some thought, I came to the conclusion that I'm on board with 'em. There's not really anything 'natural' about farming in the first place - it's entirely a result of man's "interference" with nature.
As long as the "interference" doesn't negatively affect the natural environment or the food that you're growing (e.g. destroying top soil, petro-based fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, etc.) it's ok in my book.
These bad boys pass the test. They're simply a method for people to grow food in places where it's normally quite difficult.
Back to Art
Art has played an important role in my life ever since I can remember. When I went to design school, though, my creative efforts shifted from a place of self-expression to one more focused on problem-solving. Inspired by the natural beauty I was lucky enough to be surrounded by, I decided to have a go at getting back into art for art's sake.
Earthworm's principle of 'doing what you can with what you've got' and my being too broke to buy art supplies meshed well, resulting in a piece made with campfire charcoal and an old trail map. The shipping-pallet platform that Andy and I built was perfect to use as a drawing surface at my campsite. The subject is my memory of a nice stream-side spot found while backpacking outside of Ridgway.
Forget the plan.
At this point, I had been on the road for a couple of weeks, and my plan was pretty much to have no plans. Other than to keep living this way as long as possible, visiting friends, and making sporks whenever possible.
Seize the opportunity.
That was, until I received a very unexpected e-mail from Dave Hakkens, the guy who started Precious Plastic. He had recently won 300.000 euro for the project and was inviting people from all over the world to the Netherlands to take it to the next level. I had submitted an application to work on it, but honestly completely forgot about it, not expecting to hear back.
He invited me to join the team.
After sitting in my campsite for three hours in shock, I cut the roadtrip short and began heading back to Louisville to prepare for this next phase of the journey.
AUG - SEP 2018
Once I got back to Louisville, I set up a little workspace in my dad's garage so that I could produce some Daily Sporks before I left for the Netherlands.
I've spent the past month or so working through some final production kinks while I figure out travel plans.
To ensure the sporks come out nice and clean, bathed the injection barrel in white vinegar and used wire brushes to clean it inside and out. Squeaky clean :)
And printed some updated molds to make the new run of sporks.
Earthworm also received our first celebrity endorsement - Brian McCullough, lead vocalist of the up-and-coming group, Sylmar.
Production kinks are just about worked out, so I'm getting ready to produce Batch #001 of Daily Sporks, which I hope to get in people's hands before heading off.
My tickets are books - I'm leaving Louisville on September 28th - here's to hoping we can manage to pull this off in 10ish days :)