Mara Hitner: Sharon, could you let us know briefly about your background and your journey into Additive Manufacturing?
Sharon To: I started out my college career in computer engineering, so I really had no major connection to 3D printing or plastics. I remember vaguely hearing about it and thinking it was some far-out technology, but never thought I’d get a chance to be exposed to it (and then be really exposed to it) until I met my soon-to-be fellow Closed Loop Plastics co-founders, Aldrin Lupisan and Will Amos, during our time as undergraduates at the University of California, Irvine.
It was then that I was introduced to the wonderful world of 3D printing! When I joined the Speculative Prototyping Lab at UC Irvine, the team was already in the midst of working on an initial version of an off-grid plastic recycling system, and I came along to help automate the process. So the interesting part for me is that I actually got more involved with 3D printing starting from the filament side (recycling and extruding it) rather than the actual printing side, as that came later on when we ran a 3D printer farm of 42 printers for various art installations.
Mara Hitner: What is Closed Loop Plastics and what is the story behind it?
Sharon To: Closed Loop Plastics is an innovative plastic recycler that aims to divert post-consumer plastic waste on its way to landfill, and give it new life as structural 3D printing filament. What started off as an initiative to reduce the plastic waste that was being generated purely by 3D printing, transformed into a much larger dream of actually cleaning up our environment and essentially banishing the idea of “single-use” plastics.
We believe that plastic is an amazing resource if used and disposed of wisely, and want to make it easier for everyone to play their part.
Aside from simply recycling plastics, our larger goal is to fundamentally overhaul our country’s current recycling infrastructure. As it stands today, a lot of waste is being mishandled and the process itself is considerably resource-intensive. With our goal of a decentralized recycling infrastructure, we want to give regions the ability to recycle their own plastics, resulting in a larger volume of recycling and a reduced carbon footprint, since waste will no longer need to travel across the world in order to complete the recycling process.
Mara Hitner: To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
Sharon To: My greatest achievement in additive manufacturing would have to be the work that the Closed Loop Plastics team and I have accomplished in successfully creating our first full kilogram spool of upcycled post-consumer HIPS filament! As a team, we faced so many challenges getting our facility up and running and processing the materials to create filament of the best quality.
Witnessing our progress from our modest desktop setup when we were overjoyed by our ability to create even a 0.25kg spool of upcycled filament in a day, to our industrial-scale pilot facility where we can now reliably extrude 1kg in under an hour, has been one of the greatest joys of my work at CLP.
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