CircularízatE was born as a project in the School of Industrial Engineers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, aiming to demonstrate that circular economy is viable through the implementation of a demonstrator in the school (Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales – ETSII). The main idea behind the project is to avoid waste generation and make the most of it, extending its life as well as giving it “a new life”, by collecting the waste and using it as raw material to create new products. In this way, the loop closes, eliminating waste and moving away from the linear economy in which we are currently immersed.
In order to do this, we decided to initially focus on plastic waste. Originally, we wanted to collect all the bottles and bottle caps – which are PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastics respectively –, shred and extrude them in such a way that we obtain a filament that could be used to 3D print. Thus, what is traditionally waste, a plastic bottle, could once again be transformed into raw material: 3D printing filament.
We started our project by activating our social networks and began organizing collection campaigns at the ETSII school. Around Christmas of 2020, we designed a tree out of plastic bottles to catch students; attention. However, at that time we realized about a problem: the residue existed, but it was scarce. Finding enough plastic bottles was going to be a difficult task, considering that each bottle weighs approximately 8 grams … to obtain 1 kg of plastic we needed 125 bottles! On the one hand, we were glad that there was not so much plastic waste related to bottles, but on the other, we saw a challenge to our project.
Upon arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, the generation of waste related to plastic bottles in the ETSII school practically disappeared, meaning there was no plastic to recirculate, and, therefore, no material to carry out our project. However, what seemed at first an adversity, we managed to turn it around and make an opportunity out of it.
As a solution to the problems related to the lack of medical supplies, as result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the “coronamakers” emerged. This group of people organize themselves, selflessly and altruistically, and used their own 3D printers to manufacture PPE (personal protective equipment) during the most critical period of the pandemic. The “coronamakers” found themselves involved in the manufacture of visors, ear guards and other pieces of utility for health workers (parts of mechanical respirators), producing large quantities of material necessary to help solve the crisis. However, two types of waste were also produced: defective parts and remains of PLA (polylactic acid) – one of the plastics used in 3D printing – from cutting and part-supports.