UT seniors launching new organization, fighting against plastic pollution

Mengyuan Dong

Shocked by how beaches were littered with plastic when studying abroad in Thailand, marketing senior Tristine Lam said she wanted to make a difference to prevent plastic pollution.

Eager to engage in cleanup activities, Lam returned to Thailand last summer and said she met people from a global community called Precious Plastic, which creates practical machines that can melt down plastic waste and turn them into a wide range of products. Lam is now launching a branch of Precious Plastic at UT called Precious Plastic Texas, in partnership with students Pravar Kapoor and Ben Doherty, who also have a passion for sustainability.

“It’s hard to see that we are producing waste because there are janitors and construction workers cleaning up after us,” Lam said. “But it’s really important for us to be cognizant of how much plastic we are producing every day.”

Precious Plastic was founded by Dave Hakkens in 2013, and according to the organization’s website, it now includes hundreds of people. Hakkens uploads one informative video per month to teach community members his latest melting and constructing techniques.

However, being equipped with skills to make machines is not enough for the organization to achieve their big visions for the project, Lam said. The three founding members of Precious Plastic Texas are now recruiting, and Lam said they hope the organization can become a long-term sustainable project that is for students and supported by students.

“Our biggest challenge to overcome is finding a location to utilize for the process,” chemical engineering senior Kapoor said. “But we have a lot of support within the University and we are having the right conversations to get there.”

Lam said they will start building their first machine, a plastic shredder, this semester. To collect plastic in effective ways, Lam said they are planning on contacting the Athletics Department to take advantage of trash from football games and utilizing the 3D-printing filament wastes at UT makerspaces.

“We are advocating for resource recovery about all things,” Kapoor said.

Computational physics senior Doherty said the most essential component of tackling plastic pollution is making it easier for people to recycle.

“If it’s easier for them to recycle than it is to throw stuff away, they are just going to do it,” Doherty said. “But right now, it’s not easy enough if we want to get zero waste.”