Design of a Plastic Waste Management System for Portobelo, Panama


Future Scientist Team: Adrienne Horne, Raisa Rubin, Lawren Gamble

2013-2014: In collaboration with Future Scientist, a charitable organization that conducts science-based community development projects, this student team designed a plastic waste management system for Portobelo, Panema. Portobelo has irregular garbage collection and no home collection for recycling. Solid waste, particularly discarded plastic, litters many local streets.

In their work, the team considered 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 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, such as hanging garden containers for growing fruits and vegetables, was the most suitable solution for the community. The team designed a plastic shredder, melting kiln, and molds for fabricating the required pieces; the team also built a prototype of the shredder design.

The team’s final report 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.