How we are converting plastic waste to heart models, Eco-print

Plastic bottles. The group uses the plastic bottles to make 3D printing filament used by 3D printers to make different products.

With plastic waste choking our oceans, different groups are developing innovative ways to fight this menace.

Eco-Print is one of those groups using technology to rid the environment of plastic waste.

The four-member group which was formed five months ago through the Mombasa Plastics Prize has a very interesting way of recycling plastic waste and their idea runs along the line of three dimension (3D) models.

“What we do is use plastic waste like the bottles that are found all over to make 3D printing filament,” said Gabriel Mwaingo, member and technician at Eco-Print.

So what does a 3D printing filament do?

“3D filament is the raw material for a 3D printer and can be used to make different products,” said Mwaingo.

Several products can be made using a 3D printer including simple phone case covers, hearing aids for the deaf, and even prosthetics for amputees.

Mwaingo says the group aims to make products that can help in the education and health sectors.

“We want to make things like a heart model that can be used to teach science in school so that when learners learn about different parts of the heart then they can see that this is what a heart looks like not just a diagram in the book,” said Mwaingo.

The group joined in different activities including a beach clean-up exercise

Making prosthetics and things like hearing aids will also help bridge the gap for those without.

“Prosthetics are quite expensive, if we can take this plastic waste that is in abundance and turn it into something that will be beneficial to others while at the same time end the plastic waste menace in Mombasa then we will also have helped changed the mindset of people on how we can manage the plastics better while also improving our environment,” said Mwaingo.

Printing one model of any product can take up to two hours, but Mwaingo says it all depends on the printer and whatever you are making.

“If you have a good printer then making something as simple as a phone case can take around one to two hours. If it is something complicated, like I once made a small model of a heart and it took two hours, compared to the phone case the heart has a lot of complexities. Some printers are also faster than others which is also a factor,” said Mwaingo.

Model of a 3D printed heart.

How did Eco-print come up with the idea of 3D printing?

“We first met during the Mombasa Plastic Prize, all of us were among the 57 finalists who were divided into 14 groups. We all had different project ideas and the 3D printing idea was our Deogratias Taka, the group leader’s idea,” said Mwaingo.

“Even though we had different ideas, we chose the 3D printing project because we felt it had a bigger social impact and it will help with cleaning and conserving our environment,” he added.

What were the challenges faced by the team while working on this project?

“First challenge was the lack of or scarcity of 3D printers. We first went to the Red Cross but theirs had broken down, then we went somewhere else and it was the same thing. Luckily we were directed to Tech Kidz. We found theirs was working and that is how we started making our machine that can make the filament,” said Gabriel.

“When we began this project we also did not know about 3D printing, we had to learn everything from scratch. There’s also a shortage of 3D printing experts,” added Gabriel.

However much the challenges were, the group says they gained a lot through the six-month training under Mombasa Plastics Prize.

Team Eco-Print (FROM LEFT) Dafford Owino, Deogratias Taka Dala, Josphine Adongo Ochola, and Gabriel Mwaingo Ngure, during the announcement of the Mombasa Plastics Prize challenge finalists at Swahilipot Hub in Mombasa County.

“The Mombasa Plastics Prize gave us a lot of exposure and we also gained different skills, especially with regards to technology. We were also trained in public speaking,” said Mwaingo.

To support the youth in their quest to end the plastic waste menace in Mombasa County, the group called on the county government to set aside funds that will help with implementing such projects.

“Let them set aside funds and ensure that every group can access the funds. They can come up with a panelist who goes through the projects once they have been submitted by the different groups then later, after analyzing the projects, decide on how much to be allocated to each group according to their project,” said Mwaingo.

This, he says, will help motivate the youth to come up with innovative ways to keep our environment clean.

“The Mombasa Plastics Prize was not a County-funded program but a well-wisher’s (USAID) program. If the County could come up with something like the MPP then it will be very beneficial to us because the well-wishers will come and leave but the county government is here, meaning it will be easier to monitor the projects being carried out,” said Mwaingo.

The group has also called on Mombasa residents to be environment-conscious. He says people should start doing waste segregation at home and ensure the people they pay to collect and dispose of their waste are registered and properly dump the waste in designated places.

“What motivated us to form Eco-print or join the Mombasa Plastics Prize Challenge was the amount of garbage and plastic waste we saw that was strewn all over the county, it was a shameful sight. People have normalized dirt such that we see garbage everywhere and feel it’s the norm. People are throwing plastic bottles everywhere. The bottles then end up in the ocean,” said the Eco-Print technician.

“Something as simple as waste segregation and dumping your waste in areas specifically designated for dumping waste should not be the reason to live in a dirty place,” he added.

Another motivation was being able to create useful products from something people deem useless.

“Sometimes we make products and see how people are amazed, and this keeps us going,” said Mwaingo.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, The world produces around 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived programs that turn into plastic waste.

These plastic wastes find their way into the oceans and even our neighborhoods affecting both marine and human lives.