Caring for the Kenai, a local idea contest for high school students, announced its 2019 winners last week and two Homer High Schools students took home first and fourth place. Sophomore Austin Cline took first prize for his idea to recycle number-five plastics into 3-D printer filament.
Caring for the Kenai is an idea contest that a number of high school students across the Kenai Peninsula enter annually. This year, about 400 biology students entered essays describing their ideas to help peninsula residents prepare for disasters or help the environment. Eventually, 12 finalists were chosen to give oral presentations, half of which won prizes.
Cline said he came up with the idea to recycle number-five plastics when he came across a website for Precious Plastics, a UK-based organization that provides open source blueprints for machines that help covert unwanted plastics into usable products.
In one of its videos demonstrating how to build a number of machines, you can see a mechanical shredder grinding up plastic bottles that use to contain shampoo and cleaning products.
“You put it through and they come out in chips and then you separate those chips by color usually,” Cline explained. “Then you can put those chips into the extrusion machine, which heats them up to the perfect temp and then puts them through a tube that you can put on a coil that you can put in your 3-D printer.”
Cline is interested specifically in utilizing number five plastics – think butter containers and water bottle caps. Currently, only number one and two plastics are recycled on the Kenai Peninsula, and Cline said his project will not only benefit the environment, but also provide more opportunity for students to use 3-D printers in the classroom by providing cheap filament.
“Currently Homer High School has 3-D printers, but even before the budget cut, we didn’t have any funding to support classes that could use them. So, we don’t have any filament at the Homer High School,” he said. “Seward has a large engineering program, but they’d love to have a new way to get filament because it’s pretty expensive, and I’m almost positive Kenai has 3-D printers too, but other than that, not a whole lot of schools have funding for 3-D printers and stuff on the peninsula.”
Besides winning some cash for his project from the Caring for the Kenai contest, Cook Inletkeeper, Marathon Oil and Kachemak Advocates for Recycling have provided grant funding for Cline to build grinding and extrusion machines for schools across the peninsula.
He hopes to have those machines built by next spring. Homer High School student Vianne Sarber also took fourth place for her book titled “Sophie Saves the Sea.”
Homer High School was awarded $4,700 for both Sarber and Cline’s prize-winning ideas.