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Designing and building a plastic brick compressor

Rehaan Irani, G12 student, East Campus

As part of Grade 12 student, Rehaan Irani's IB HL Design Technology major project, he designed and built a plastic brick compressor – a product that takes plastic waste and transforms it into bricks. In this article, Rehaan tells us more about his project and the inspiration behind it.

I have been attending UWCSEA since Grade 7 and throughout my time here, I have primarily worked on projects that hold a sustainable focus. This is largely due to the culture and message that the school propagates on encouraging students to take action towards building a ‘sustainable future’. As such, for my IB HL Design Technology project, I decided to pursue building a product that works to help manage the plastic crisis: a plastic brick compressor that converts waste plastic into bricks. 

Plastic is used everywhere in modern-day society and at this point, its use is inevitable. At our current rate of usage, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than the amount of fish. Plastics can clog our infrastructure, overwhelm our disposal sites and kill more life than imaginable. Given that most plastics stick around for a very long time, we can’t continue to keep filling up our landfills with this material. We have to come up with solutions that upcycle plastic in order to transition into a more circular economy. 

UWCSEA East Plastic Brick Compressor

I started from the drawing board, coming up with designs using Fusion 360 CAD (Computer Aided Design) to help communicate and identify flaws recurrent in my ideas. With consistent advice and feedback from peers and teachers, I was able to move onto prototyping with wooden models. This eventually led me to create the final design on CAD so that it could be sent out to be externally manufactured as steel parts. One of the largest challenges was figuring out how to build the compression mechanism. This is a product that is being designed for underdeveloped communities where there is a lack of access to reliable electricity. As a result, the product needed to be completely manual, easy to operate, durable, and easy to repair. Fortunately, I was able to use the rack and pinion mechanism of an old mortise drill to fit this purpose. 

UWCSEA East Plastic Brick Compressor

In the HL IB Design Technology course, sustainable design is a topic that is covered extensively. This includes designing to mitigate waste at all stages of the product’s lifecycle and to ensure that the product is able to have a social and economic impact as well. The best part about this project is that it tackles multiple problems with one solution. By turning waste plastic into bricks, it not only cleans up the environment, but it also provides these communities with suitable building materials. Additionally, it creates environmental awareness and generates social entrepreneurship opportunities for those who are able to make a business out of this concept. 

This project has opened my eyes to the extensive resources available at our school committed to enabling students to take action and drive a change. In particular, our Design Technology department has the ability to help students innovate and create solutions for causes and services they are passionate about. UWCSEA’s mission statement talks about creating a sustainable future and it’s the culture of innovation that exists in school that will help drive more projects like this, carrying out an action that works towards fulfilling UWCSEA’s goal.

Rehaan was a runner up in the Instructables Plastics Contest 2020. Find out more about his project submission, including step-by-step instructions here.

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