Paige Balcom knows how to make things. In middle school, she was an "inventioneer" who was part of a winning team in the 2010 FIRSTLEGO League World Championship. As a student at the University of New Hampshire, she joined Engineers Without Borders and won a Fulbright scholarship, work that allowed her time to study ways to improve the environment in Uganda.
Now Takataka Plastics, a venture she co-created with Peter Okwoko in Uganda, is in the final stages of a business to recycle PET bottles into multicolored tiles that can be used in place of ceramic tiles on floors and walls. The project also won a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, worth $15,000.
While PET is easy to recycle in developed areas, Balcom noted in a video about the project that Uganda and other countries lack the industrial equipment to successfully convert bottles for use in new bottles. But Takataka's small-scale program melts down the PET and uses the material for tiles, which decreases litter while creating new business opportunities.
"Takataka Plastics addresses the massive recycling issue while creating opportunities for marginalized street youth," the company notes. "The company established waste plastic collection sites and monthly neighborhood cleanups, and hires street-connected youth to prepare the PET plastic for processing and operate the machines that recycle plastic into consumer products."