Researchers create innovative products from used plastic water bottles in Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria

This image shows a fruit picker in Kenya harvesting avocado with a 3D printed tool created from waste plastic water bottles.

It is one of six innovative devices created by researchers from Loughborough University as part of an 18-month project aimed at reducing the impact of recyclable waste in low-middle income countries.

The £150,000 initiative, called the Circular Plastics project, will run until December 2021 and aims to support local African businesses, such as farming, fishing and construction, by transforming plastic bottles into useful products.

The current range of products being developed are:

  • Customised fruit picker (pictured) ​- Customised for fruit to be harvested and locally available materials (netting/bamboo)
  • Adaptable boat baler ​- Uses a discarded water bottle and vacuum created by wave motion to pump water
  • Non-electric milk cooler ​- An evaporative flask to reduce the temperature of contents by up to 10 degrees
  • Customised machete peeler ​- Attached over the blade with optimised peeling angle for local produce such as cassava
  • Sand dredging adaptor ​- Adapted to meet locally available buckets for the dredging of sand used in the construction of housing
  • Modular fish farm system ​- Customised according to required size and locally available materials (netting/bamboo)

The process from sourcing waste plastic bottles to 3D printing. Credit: Loughborough University

To create the tools, plastic bottles will be sourced from communities in Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria and then processed into 3D printer filament.

Depending on the needs of local people and businesses, the reclaimed plastic is then turned into a product or tool that would specifically benefit that community.

Dr Mark Evans, of Loughborough Design School, said: “Low-middle income countries have largely been excluded from the benefits of innovative polymer products that make tasks easier, cleaner and safer due to high manufacturing costs.

“The project has effectively turned this on its head with the step-change benefit of using locally sourced waste materials in their cost-effective manufacture.

“The process makes the recycling of waste plastic water bottles and attractive economic proposition by converting it into filament for 3D printing.

“By integrating this with industrial design methods that included engagement with stakeholders in Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria, the capacity to 3D print complex forms without the need for tooling enabled the manufacture of niche products that would not typically be viable.”

Graphic illustrating the Plastics Project fruit picker being used in Kenya. Credit: Loughrborough University

The project has been selected as a Finalist in the Social Impact category of the International Design Excellence Award of the Industrial Designers Society of America, with winners being announced at their International Design Conference in September 2021.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Circular Plastic project is a collaboration between Loughborough, Aston and De Montfort Universities plus a UK-based NGO and project partners in Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/109

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

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