Two of our teammates recently visited New York City's main recycling facility and were able to get a tour as well as learn about the operations of the system. We were informed of a 10% threshold for contamination in a recycling bag, which is usually estimated visually. So, if a waste collector, sees food or liquid (10% of the all the materials) in a bag that is meant for recycling, she/he has to place that entire bag in landfill trash.
2.5 billion disposable coffee cups thrown away every year - almost all of it ends up in landfills. Each paper cup responsible for 0.24 lbs of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, 600 million pounds or 180,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions (2,500,000,000 *0.24) from just coffee cups.
There are state of the art recycling facilities that can separate the plastic linings from the paper material in the cups but unfortunately many people don’t know about this. Moreover, many coffee cups such as the Starbucks coffee cups are reusable. However, most people mistakenly believe the coffee cup is contaminated by drinks and thus discarded in the trash that is destined for the landfill.
Our model is aimed at creating an ‘at-source’ waste diversion mechanism for coffee shops to be able to separate the liquid from the cup before sort the of a cup into its recyclable/reusable parts - the plastic (lid) and the paper (cup and cardboard sleeve).
We 3D printed a sleeve that would hold the cup and a 'hook' that would act as a lid opener. We attached a servo motor to the sleeve to rotate the cup, and another one situated about 9 inches in the north-west direction from the lid opener. This motor was tied to a wire that could move the lid opener towards and away from itself. Furthermore, we added a at-home cheese grater that was angled in a way to allow liquid pass through the holes but slide the rest of the components into separate bins. Lastly, we programmed the motors to perform autonomously.
Our main challenge was the 3D printed sleeve that designed to only support one size of cup - a warm 'grande' drink from Starbucks. Another challenge we ran into included having the motors apply enough force to pull the lid off the cup, which was later rectified by changing the angle of the lid opener.
We are proud to have been able to achieve this prototype in the allotted time. We worked smoothly as a team, listening to each other and having meaningful discussions on how to best achieve our desired outcomes.
We learned how to work with motors and how to program them to make them work together in a seamless manner. We also improved our CAD skills through Solidworks.
The next step for Cupcycling is to improve our design to further reduce any margin of error, and also make a cup sleeve that can be modified to hold cups of various sizes. Additionally, we would want to implement stronger motors to perform the tasks more efficiently.