The heart of the Precious Plastic Community beats in the Netherlands
There is a wonderful bunch of people in the Netherlands, who form the heart of the Precious Plastic Community. They are the initial seed of the Precious Plastic movement and have enabled thousands of communities to build small scale recycling machines.
We proudly are one of them.
Our Shredder already travelled half way around the world
It feels already like decades ago that we ordered the parts of our first Precious Plastic Shredder on the Precious Plastic Bazar. I (Nike) was back in Germany visiting my family and our dear friend Jeff had donated the necessary funds so we could purchase the laser cut parts of our plastic munching “Jefforator” (take a hard guess how we chose that incredibly creative name…).
Carefully wrapped in some clothes, I stuffed the 50+ parts into my bag between a bunch of boat parts hoping that customs would not wonder too much what I am up to when I arrive in Panama City. The soon to be “Jefferator”, that weighs some 15kg by the way, then travelled up and down a windy and slightly scary road through the jungle with me. Our next stop was Cartí in Guna Yala, where we both hopped on a Lancha and sped some half hour across the Caribbean Sea until arriving at Maria’s sailboat Joana. She was anchored in front of the picturesque Green Island, one of the over 300 paradise islands in Guna Yala (where unfortunately plastic pollution is a huge problem!). Produced in East Europe, this Shredder surely already has some miles under its belt before it even got close to crunching up some ocean plastic.
Assembling the Plastic Shredder was not the hardest task
Having played around with various metal boat projects in the past, the assembly of the Shredder was a piece of cake for us. It only took us three attempts to get it right. Go figure! It might have also had to do with some rum cocktails being involved but that’s another story not to be told on this particular platform.
But back to the assembly. The shredder basically consists of three parts: the hex-bar axis with the ferocious cutting teeth lined up, ready to destroy any plastic that gets close to them, the housing that holds the shaft inside two bearings and a set of exchangeable sieves that determine the size of the plastic flakes that come out on the bottom.
We thought that lining up the teeth was the trickiest part and we would recommend two people for the assembly in general. Once the shaft sits snug in the bearings and the teeth cannot fall out of place anymore the rest will be pretty straight forward.
By the way, if you feel bold and want to build the parts yourself, you can find all the awesome blueprints for the recycling machines on the Precious Plastic Website. Yes, that’s how cool this movement is. All plans are open source and available for everybody to play with. Sounds inspiring? Totally is!
The Shredder is ready, now how do we turn the shaft?
In some foolish moment, dwelling in our off-grid, low power consumption liveaboard philosophy, we decided that we will try and use the shredder by hand. Who needs a motor… And sourcing one and a fitting gearbox seemed a little tricky in the remote islands of Guna Yala anyhow. This would be totally fun and hey, a little exercise has never hurt anyone, right?
Well, I admit it, this was not our best idea. We occasionally researched other projects that ran the shredder manually but somehow, we never decided on a system and then life got in the way and the shredder sat grimmly in some dark corner on Joana. You might know from first hand experience how these things sometimes go…
Did we find the perfect solution for operating the Shredder manually?
It’s slightly embarrassing to write it down black on white (not to mention publicly on the internet!), but it actually took two entire years until Maria came up with a solution that was not only available but also followed along with one of our principles: to reuse or repurpse something existing before buying something new. By this time, we had both successfully maneuvered our sailboats through the Panama Canal, visited the remote and stunningly beautiful Pacific coast of Colombia, sailed down to explore Ecuador’s rugged coast and back to Panama just before the start of the pandemic.
Maria had found an old manual winch that she had originally purchased to lift the anchor of her 72 feet steel yawl Joana. We discussed different options for about two days and after some trial and error and Maria – our jack of all trades – pulling out some bad ass welding skills, we had connected the winch to the shredder shaft.
Living on a sailboat does not make DIY projects any easier
If you are not a boater, you might not be familiar with this, but whenever you tackle a project on a boat, something either goes wrong or the right tools or parts are missing. The shredder shaft is made from stainless steel. Unfortunately, some desperate locals had somehow decided they wanted to take up welding and had stolen Maria’s argon tank from her boat in Ecuador. That meant that welding to the shaft was not an option. Since covid-19 was bustling in Panama City that was under complete lock down, we did not feel like going to the city to get some shaft couplings.
So, we did what we usually do: we somehow worked with what we have available. We did manage to turn the shaft of the shredder. But we can assure you: It’s not pretty and far from convenient. In the end, we used a pipe wrench on the other end of the shaft to add some extra torque.
It works, but it’s no fun – so let’s get some power to this!
We have to admit that there is room and need for improvement for this set up. It’s okay to shred tiny amounts of plastic to make two or three small flower pots. But you can only shred fairly thin pieces like the sides of shampoo bottles or cooking oil containers. The shredder strikes as soon as the plastic gets too thick. Shredding bottle caps is something we only dare to fantasize about in our wildest dreams. It’s also not very safe and when we have people over to show them the machines, we do have to giggle a bit when we explain them how they have to handle the shredder.
With the lock down lifted and the numbers of new infections slightly lower, we will eventually have to venture up to the city and either get some argon, some shaft couplings or – and that’s our favored option – get an electrical motor. Anyone has one laying around in the garage that they don’t need anymore? We are looking for a an electric motor with around 2-3 HP. The needed torque is around 260-300 Nm and ideal would be some 50-90 rpm. But hey, if you have anything with 1.500 or 2.800 rpm laying around then we can for sure figure out some gearbox system to adjust to our needed output rpm. Something along the lines of this buddy here. Anyone?
And if you happen to be a motor manufacturer or crazy generous and kind person and feel like donating one (or all) motors for our other recycling machines then you can find a list of what we need here. The ocean would be forever grateful.