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Students awarded funding for project to reuse plastic waste in schools

The students were awarded $6,000 from Microsoft in a competition

Team pic (everyone).jpg

Andrew John De Los Santos, Matthew Burmiester and Brian Boyle pose with their funding check from Microsoft on Nov. 20, 2019 in front of Wrigley Hall at the Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona.

A team of graduate students from the School of Sustainability was awarded $6,000 for their project, “The Circular Classroom” from Microsoft.

Brian Boyle, Matthew Burmeister and Andrew John De Los Santos' project is based on the idea of the circular economy, where resources are reused multiple times.

“Basically you use waste as a resource,” De Los Santos said. “If you have plastics, instead of sending that to the landfill, you can turn it into another product that can be repurposed.”

The group won its funding through the Microsoft Community Impact Pitch-off, a competition hosted by Microsoft and judged by its employees. Winners are picked from cities across the country and are provided funding and support for their winning pitch. 

The students were awarded $5,000 to implement their idea and an extra $1,000 in prize money. 

The project works by providing schools that already have 3D printers with a ProtoCycler capable of shredding plastic waste, like bottle caps, Burmeister said. 

That shredded waste would then be reused in the 3D printer to create materials school classrooms could use, Boyle said.

"I went to public school my whole life," Burmeister said. "I know that all the schools around here have a serious funding issue."

“We have this huge opportunity now to actually implement this concept,” Boyle said.

Boyle added that at first their concept was just a way to participate in the pitch-off and develop skills like presentation and pitching ideas.

But after winning the funding money, the group is now working on finding a school willing to work with them on their project. Over the next few months, they are planning to establish a relationship with a few schools and then begin implementing their ideas into the classroom.

The group is confident there are a number of uses for their idea. 

“Geography, for example, some classrooms already are using 3D printing to make topographical maps of different environments,” De Los Santos said. “Some classes use 3D printing to print out pie fractions to use that as an educational tool and some use it for art.”

De Los Santos said that their project will also teach students how to use a 3D printer and rethink how waste is used, which will allow them to think about sustainability as a whole.

“We want this project to live on beyond our involvement,” Boyle said.

 Reach the reporter at and follow @wmyskow on Twitter. 

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Wyatt MyskowProject Manager

Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.

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