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Science and Innovations

NAU Student Turns Broken Sleds Into Climbing Gear

Tyler Linner

This time of year northern Arizona forests are snow covered and peaceful… and full of broken plastic sleds. But an enthusiastic entrepreneur in Flagstaff has figured out a way to turn that trash into treasure. Specifically, into rock climbing gear. Tyler Linner is a graduate student at Northern Arizona University. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with him outside a local sporting goods store, where he demonstrated his plastic-shredding machine.

Tyler Linner: So this is a Precious Plastic Shredder. It’s an open-source plastic recycling machine…. Has a bunch of big shark teeth in here—I’ll pull that plunger out, and you can see the shark teeth—well, you can’t see it because you’re on the radio—but we have a bunch of big shark teeth in here that kind of grab that plastic and munch it into tiny little—they look like sprinkles on a donut.

Melissa Sevigny: Tell me about this project, what’s happening?

What we’re doing here at SMR sports place—Snow Mountain River—is I’m trying to take these broken sleds from the forest, they’re HDPE—that’s number 2 plastic—and I’m trying to shred them up and reform them into sporting goods. Specifically I’m looking at climbing holds and finger boards, training boards, stuff like that… So I’m trying to take this waste that people leave in our forest, out there for free, trying to make stuff out of it that we can use and make money on.

Credit Tyler Linner
Tyler Linner with his plastic shredder

That’s so cool. What gave you the idea to do that?

I heard that the city wasn’t able to take several types of plastic anymore because of the China Sword policy. China found out we were giving them dirty plastic. You get peanut butter on your peanut butter jar and they can’t do anything with it, it takes too much money to clean it. They stopped taking our plastics, we’re stuck with it. We’ve been throwing a lot of plastic in the landfill. I said, if China can’t take it, if it’s not worth it for them, maybe I can do something.

Credit Tyler Linner
Plastic flakes

Can you show me how it works, can you turn it on?

Yeah, let’s get you some safety goggles…. All right, so we’ll turn this on (MACHINE RUMBLES)… Put the plastic in here… (CRUNCHING UP PLASTIC)… That’s about how it goes…. It’s kind of cool to feel, it’s very smooth, small chunks… (FLAKES FALLING IN BUCKET)

You take these tiny little…


You take these flakes of plastic, what happens next?

Flakes are a global commodity, it’s what plastic recyclers do in the meantime, they take your bottles or whatever and make them into flakes. After that you load them into a machine…. It melts the plastic, the melted plastic goes into the mold, and then it cools down, you pull the mold apart, and you pull a part out…. And then we can design our own stuff! Because we’re not buying a mold from anyone, we’re putting a piece of clay on the table and we’re molding it ourselves to say this is the climbing hold we want, this is the training board we  want, this is the product that we want to build.

What would you need to scale this up and handle all the plastic we have in our forests?

That’s a hard question because…. I would probably have to go into used industrial machines to be able to step this up, that’s a lot of money. I’d gotten ten thousand dollars in funding but that’s ten thousand dollars, and if y ou step up to the next level it’s gonna be half a million probably. It’s tough to think about, and it’s something where you need real institutional commitment for this stuff.

Thanks for talking with me today, I appreciate it.  

Thank you!

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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