Nestled in the North Davidson “NoDa” neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a bright white building surrounded by outdoor social spaces, sculptural art from reclaimed materials, and rooftop gardens, the Innovation barn. Inside the walls of the Innovation Barn, environmental education programs take place. Their motto is “Innovation through experimentation”.
Local initiatives communicate a broader vision
The Innovation Barn has ties to the non-profit organization Circular Charlotte, which aims to bring Charlotte into the circular economy by offering zero waste initiatives and creative events focused on recycling. The building itself is divided into several areas, which focus specifically on the areas of waste and sustainability, including places to compost food waste using black soldier flies, indoor aquaponic gardens, a cafe and a craft beer bar. Educating the public about the circular economy in a practical way is the goal of Envision Charlotte, which manages the day-to-day operations of the site itself. The building is owned by the City of Charlotte and is supported by various community initiatives, government grants and corporate partnerships.
Collection programs encourage proper recycling
Using the city’s waste stream is key to creating a circular economy. A collection program has been established for recyclable materials such as aluminum cans, plastic bottles and bubble wrap. Nearby residents can sign up to receive unique bags that are tagged and registered for their household or business. They can fill these bags with sorted, clean materials that will be picked up as needed and delivered to the Innovation Barn for later recycling. If contaminated or unsorted materials are found in the bags, the program will contact the household and remind them of the best way to recycle their products. After these reminders, if the contamination persists, the household will be unregistered from the program. This program aims to educate the community and involve them in the adoption of sustainability.
On-site collection bins allow more product to be recovered
In conjunction with the bag recycling program, community members are encouraged to drop off accepted recyclables 24 hours a day at one of the drop-off points. There are bright pink collection bins outside the Innovation Barn for this purpose. According to Daniel Heaton, who is on staff at Envision Charlotte, the community has been excellent so far in cleaning up and sorting these materials before they are dropped off. This makes it much easier for staff to continue the recycling process once the materials have been brought into the warehouse.
WEIMA and Innovation Barn
Envision Charlotte originally equipped the plastic lab portion of the facility with a small hand-fed pre-shredder to shred collected take-out containers. The material was then extruded in a tabletop extruder and the product of this process was used as filament in a 3D printer. This filament has been used to create bricks that can be used in place of cinder blocks in certain applications. The aim was to show a concrete example of how one plastic product can be transformed into another useful plastic product, thus giving takeaway containers a second life as well as a purpose.
“We are delighted to partner with WEIMA to help us advance our circular economy goals,” said Amy Aussieker, Executive Director of Envision Charlotte. “One of our priorities is to divert as much plastic as possible from landfill and having a shredder like this allows us to turn large volumes of number five plastic into flakes that can be used to extrude, mold or even process in filament for 3D Printers. We have engaged the public, involved local businesses and organized events to collect these materials, and with the help of WEIMA, we are making a difference.”
Pandemic plastic accumulation
During the pandemic, schools, hospitals and nursing homes in the region have started serving several meals each day in take-out containers for the safety of these populations. This means that these containers have started piling up in landfills. Several organizations washed and collected the used containers, and Innovation Barn began to shred and recycle them on site. The WEIMA granulator was a great help in this process, as the tabletop grinder was not able to handle such a large volume. Now that the shredder is installed, stored containers are shredded into reusable flakes much more efficiently.
A solution to maximize the transformation of plastic materials
In the summer of 2021, WEIMA America partnered with the Innovation Barn to make the plastics lab more efficient by loaning the facility a granulator with a soundproof enclosure. This meant the lab could process many more plastic containers in the facility while continuing to educate school groups and Charlotte citizens about the process of reinventing plastic waste.
“We knew immediately upon entering the Innovation Barn that WEIMA absolutely wanted to be part of Charlotte, a greener city,” said Audrey Brewer, North American Marketing Manager, WEIMA America, Inc. “Our company’s core values s really align with what Envision Charlotte is doing here, and we knew we could make the process easier by placing a granulator in the plastics lab. The impact of this project will be monumental and far-reaching, even beyond Charlotte. “Other cities are modeling their own recycling programs learning from what Envision Charlotte is doing. We are extremely proud of this partnership and excited to see where it is headed.”