Design of a Plastic Waste Management System for Portobelo, Panama


Future Scientist

2013-2014: This team worked in collaboration with Future Scientist, a charitable organization that conducts science-based community development projects.

Portobelo, a small Panamanian town on the Caribbean seacoast, has irregular garbage collection and no home collection for recycling. Solid waste, particularly discarded plastic, litters many streets of the town. To develop a viable plastics waste management system the team had to consider cost and ease of implementation using local resources, training and education of the local citizens, and program maintenance. They conducted research and compared various alternatives, ranging from local landfilling, transportation to a regional recycling center, conversion or repurposing to locally useful products. In January they traveled to Portobelo with a Future Scientist team to collect on-site data and discuss alternative approaches with local citizens and community leaders. After conducting a metrics assessment, the team determined that forming the plastic into usable products was the most suitable solution for the community. The initial product recommendation was hanging garden containers that can be used by individual households to grow fruits and vegetables. A plastic shredder, melting kiln and molds to fabricate the required pieces were designed, and a prototype of the shredder was built and demonstrated.

The final report delivered to Future Scientist included a quantitative assessment of the plastic waste problem, an analysis of alternative solutions, design details for the recommended solution, and a plan for phased implementation.