He’s still in high school at the CHS, but his ideas on recycling and homelessness are gaining attention
Solve roaming and the problem of plastic waste in one go? It’s the kind of daring intersectionality that can get people excited.
Charlie Abrams is a senior at Cleveland High who is already known to have been a climate advocate since fourth grade. Now he’s sunk his teeth into something less abstract. Abrams started a nonprofit in 2020 called ‘Recycled Living,’ with the goal of making 20-pound building bricks from compressed plastic waste – and using them to build tiny homes for the homeless. . While there are a lot of questions – Recycled Living currently has a GoFundMe webpage to level up – there are some fascinating details about Abrams’ history.
The 17-year-old is known in Salem and Portland as a climate activist. He and his classmate Jeremy Clark were the main actors in the climate strike that saw thousands of children drop out of class and make their way to the city center on September 20, 2019. While working on the climate action and carbon pricing policy, he got a controversial world view. carbon credits, foresters and politicians. But in 2020, he took advantage of the long days stuck at home during the pandemic to tackle an idea he had two years ago: why not build tiny houses out of plastic waste?
Abrams had a side business for three years as a skilled animator, directing music videos on Blendr. He won an honorable mention from the non-profit organization “The River Starts Here” in July 2020 for his 26-second video “Walking With Trash” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nR3yD5pYZc).
He taught himself architectural rendering on Blendr software and designed a series of tiny houses that were more than the pallet shed model so often chosen by local authorities. He cites the eight-by-eight-foot cabins in the city of Los Angeles with no amenities and just a bed and a chair as the exact opposite of what he wants to do.
“Do we want to create a project where the community looks like a set of boxes with 64 padlocks on them? Abrams told Pamplin Media on a recent afternoon in the Pearl District. “We could create something beautiful within this community. These aren’t 64 square foot boxes. It creates something real that someone would want to live in.”
Abrams also built the three machines needed to turn the plastic into these bricks: the crusher, the heater, and the compressor. The crusher is laser cut from steel and assembled from a kit designed in Poland. The other two machines he designed himself. Again, he taught himself the engineering necessary to build all three. Rather than buying off the rack, they had to be custom made to make the big bricks he wanted. Someday, however, he’ll need a bigger shredder, he says. “When it comes to a larger nonprofit, we’ll buy industrial shredders, instead of building them from scratch. The process will be much smoother once we have more established funding.
Regular recycling only processes a few types of plastic. Abrams’ goal is more to keep plastics out of the landfill, and is almost omnivorous when it comes to plastic. His machine can take everything from hard plastic crates to thin plastic bags. (They avoid PVC, due to harmful chemicals like hydrochloric acid, which PVC releases at high temperatures.) So far, they have mainly used low density polyethylene and high density polyethylene (HDPE). Once shredded into flakes and mixed, they can be warmed to around 110 degrees in the heating chamber, softened and pressed into a steel form. The result is a plastic brick with two holes to allow the rebar to hold them together when laid.
Abrams has rented a warehouse in northwest Portland – but he says the machines and test bricks he made are currently in storage, awaiting funding for a larger warehouse.
The plastic used does not come from the recycling stream that Portlanders are familiar with. Rather than tackle the mountains of single-use plastic that consumers sort through, like food containers with Mobius’s loop or the arrow symbol chiseled on them, Recycled Living collects from a larger but lesser-known source. . They make deals with companies to recover some of their excess plastic. One company is the Traffic Safety Supply Company, which manufactures traffic signs. The ends of the steel poles come with a hard plastic cap, which is usually thrown in the landfill. Recycled Living takes them for the shredding pile. Recycled Living also works with grocery stores, which now receive products in plastic boxes. These boxes look like white cardboard, but cannot be recycled. Abrams also mentions the pallets of food that arrive in grocery stores wrapped 20 or 30 times in some type of industrial-grade Saran Wrap. “This plastic that’s got an adhesive on it, that’s super thin and elastic, can’t be recycled through our traditional recycling system. And that’s an absurd amount of plastic. We were able to take it.”
Recycled Living also works with PacSun, a trendy clothing company. “Each t-shirt they have is wrapped four times in different amounts of plastic bags,” Abrams remarks. “It’s useless plastic that traditionally can’t be recycled and goes to landfill.” The plastic quickly accumulated.
“It’s hard to express the amount of plastic our society uses across big business,” notes the senior from Cleveland High. “The idea is to recycle the plastic that goes to the landfill. So, with our partnerships with companies that have no other option, we are creating a solution.”
Abrams did CGI (computer generated imagery) for architecture, and says engineering for bricks isn’t complicated. It has not sought official approval from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for its building materials because the buildings are too small.
It takes a few hours to make a brick. According to Abrams, the next phase of the project will be to create a stand-alone system so that no manual work is required to move the mold to the separate machines. Abrams says the $ 20,000 they are trying to raise will be enough to start construction on land donated by the City of Portland – a deal he says is likely. He will donate household appliances and buy other building materials.
“When you take the cost of the actual structure out of the house and end up with things like drywall and insulation – all of that – the cost depreciates so quickly. Rebar, insulation: this material is incredibly cheap, when you look at it on a large scale, compared to what the house is made of, which is now free. ”
He said thoughtfully, “I’ve grown up here my whole life. I saw how homelessness, plastic pollution, how they went from problems in our city to crises. These are things that I want to resolve. My parents live here. I hope to continue living here. I don’t want to grow up in a city that has to deal with this. Our plan is to grow because of the revolution of this idea. It can work very well in other countries around the world. But I want to start here in Portland. That’s where I’m from, and it’s a city that really needs a solution like this.
Just as tent camps move people to little effect, plastic is immeasurably delayed. He wants to stop both.
“Plastic pollution is an extremely multifaceted problem. If we clean up the ocean and recycle this plastic, where does this plastic go, if it can’t be recycled through a recycling system? Instead of just moving it from one place to another. . ”
If you are interested in supporting the vision of seniors at Cleveland High, the “Recycled Living” crowdfunding site is – www.gofundme.com/f/recycled-living
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