Project repurposes Kelowna high school’s plastic garbage

Keneisha Charles, left, and her sister, Aaliyah, students in Grade 12 at Rutland Senior Secondary School, show off recyclable plastics that can be turned into necklaces, plant pots and fanny packs at the Operation Take Two container installation at the high school.

Voila! Discarded red Solo cups become necklaces.

Used plastic and bubble wrap morph into stylish fanny packs.

And old milk jugs and plastic bottles find new life as plant pots, decorative tiles, chess pieces and industrial parts.

All this magic is happening in a converted shipping container in the courtyard at Rutland Secondary School.

“We’re the only high school that has a project like this,” said Grade 12 student Keneisha Charles.

“In fact, it’s the only youth project of its kind in all of Canada.”

The idea for Operation Take Two started two years ago when the Interact Club came up with a way to recycle and repurpose the one ton of plastic garbage the high school generates annually. Interact is the youth division of Rotary Club designed to develop leadership and spearhead projects at schools and in the community.

Charles and a core group of about 10 other students brought the $43,000 Operation Take Two initiative to fruition by securing grants, donations and donations-in-kind.

A major contributor is Kelowna-based BigSteelBox, the supplier of shipping containers that are customized for housing, offices, storage and, in the case of Operation Take Two, a recycling centre extraordinaire.

Recycling bins for plastics are placed in every classroom in the high school.

Once a week, they are collected and brought to the Operation Take Two container in the courtyard and the materials are sorted into seven plastic categories.

All plastics are cleaned and dried and put through a shredder to produce plastic flakes.

“These flakes are the raw material for so many new products,” said Charles.

“We melt them in the oven (yes, the container has been outfitted with an oven, too) and compress and cool them into solids using moulds.”

That’s how the Solo cups transform into funky plastic necklace pendants, plastic wrap creates a fabric that can be fashioned into a fanny pack, purse or backpack, and plastic bottles turn into tiles perfect for a kitchen backsplash, plant pot or industrial parts.

The future addition of a 3D printer means virtually anything students can design can be made of plastic that was otherwise destined for the garbage.

The plan is to sell these products at farmers markets and online.

However, that retailing piece hasn’t been put in place yet.

Charles estimates it takes $3,000 a year to operate Operation Take Two, but sales of products made from recycled plastics generated in the facility could top $20,000 annually.

Student leaders from Operation Take Two travelled to Toronto last month to pitch Operation Take Two to investors on the CBC-TV reality show Dragons’ Den.

They can’t say exactly what happened, but Charles said it was an incredible learning experience.

They will be given a couple of weeks’ notice if the Operation Take Two segment will be included in the upcoming Dragons’ Den season airing September through December.

Part of the pitch was expanding the Rutland pilot project to high schools across the country.

Charles is graduating this month and will be moving to Toronto to attend Ryerson University to become a social worker.

“I’ll stay in touch with the Operation Take Two group here in Rutland, but other students will have to take over the leadership and production,” she said.