Laura Brower built the first prototype of a new plastic separation system in her backyard.
The aerospace engineer, 33, had a passion for reducing waste and an engineer's drive to solve problems.
“I was basically just doing research; I was really interested in getting all of the stuff out of the trash,” Brower said. “It just bothered me a lot that you could walk down a street in a strip mall and just see disposable plastic overflowing recycling bins, and you know that's happening all over the world.”
Brower founded Recycle Projects in 2012. Based in Boulder, Colo., the nonprofit's current focus is its Lifecycle Plastics program, dedicated to closing the loop on disposable, food-grade plastic in the United States.
The technology Brower developed is a density separation system for dividing different types of food-grade container plastic, similar to sink-float washing tanks already used in recycling centers. Her version uses liquids of different densities to separate the various polymers after they've been washed, producing a higher-quality product.
Simply stated, its ultimate goal is to turn recycled cups back into new cups.
Getting the project off the ground took some old-fashioned shoe-leather approach — facility tours, cold calls, research, store visits, asking for participation. Brower enlisted local Starbucks stores to collect discarded cold-drink cups, often tossed in trash bins on a customer's way out the door.