George Brown researchers help turn trash into treasure

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Desk and chair made from recycled black plastics

Plastic Flux, a new start-up in Toronto, is looking to turn trash into something beautiful. They transform black plastic into functional furniture by shredding it and forming it into sheets that are then turned into tables, chairs and more. 

“Our business model is to try and divert trash away at the source and keep it out of landfill,” says Mohesan Sreekuladevan, co-founder of Plastic Flux. 

Along with his partner Hanson Wong, they came to George Brown’s Product Development Exchange (PDx) lab to custom build the sheet press needed to press the shredded plastic into moulds.   

“There's a European initiative called the Precious Plastic Community. They make open-source designs so anyone can join in on the initiative,” says Hanson. But to use these designs, they’d need to import specialized equipment. Instead, they wanted to keep it local.  

“We asked around, and George Brown kept coming up. It felt like the best place to build something that had all the customizations we needed,” says Mohesan. “We’re introducing the first sheet press of this kind in Ontario.” 

The PDx helps companies design, build and test new products and services. The lead researcher on the project was John-Allan Ellingson, a George Brown faculty in the Mechanical Engineering program.  

“A lot of the design activity went into reimagining the open-source design to be safer and more ergonomic,” says John-Allan. “The original focused on minimizing cost, more for the casual DIY-er than a technical, industrial application.” 

So the PDx team shifted some core components to be safer and easier to use—for example, moving the hydraulic pump and lever to a more ergonomic waist level.   

Why black plastic? 

In Toronto, black plastic isn’t accepted in the City's municipal recycling program. That includes takeout containers, garbage bags, plant trays and flower pots.  

“The optic sorting machine the City uses can’t process black plastics because the conveyor belt is also black,” says Mohesan. “It’s a huge resource, but right now it’s just more waste. We saw it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”  

Typically plastic, even when it can be recycled, has a lifespan of roughly 30 iterations or so. Each time it’s recycled, it gets downgraded until it ends up in landfill. 

"By making it into furniture, which can be used for 50 plus years, we have increased the lifespan of the plastic product and kept it out of landfills, for much longer,” says Mohesan. 

Hanson and Mohesan work together on the designs. “We use these plastic sheets like planks of wood, cutting, carving and putting them together,” says Hanson. “As designers, the thing that makes us excited is the results. It can end up looking a bit like marble — but marble that won’t chip and is much easier to move.”  

Armed with this custom equipment built at George Brown, Plastic Flux is ramping up their product offerings, building new moulds and eventually growing their community collection points to accept donations from consumers.  

“The world is ready to have this conversation, it's just a function of getting the right tools and getting the right people involved,” says Hanson. “We’re in that rare pocket of being able to help but also empower people to pitch in.” 

Find Plastic Flux at their website, Instagram or LinkedIn.