Intel Turns Plastic Waste Into Pencil Boxes

Americans generated almost 31 million tons of plastic waste in 2010, according to the EPA, which represents almost 12.4 percent of municipal solid waste. Only eight percent of all that plastic was recycled. Every pound of recycled plastic used reduces energy use in plastic production by 84 percent and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, Keep America Beautiful calculates. Enter Intel, which recycled plastic waste generated by its Chandler, Arizona factory into plastic pencil boxes.

Organized by employees at the company’s Chandler, Arizona base, the project used only local companies to recycle the plastic into almost 4,100 pencil boxes. Over 1,500 pounds of polystyrene reels, which previously held yards of computer chip components, were collected from Intel’s Chandler-based factory. Recycling the polystyrene reels avoided 19 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of what 487 trees do over 10 years.

“We did not want to create additional carbon footprints by … shipping material overseas and shipping the product back,” said Anthony Kong, commodity manager at Intel. “That transportation doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“This is a pilot project,” Kong said. “We’re in discussions internally to see if we can get sponsorships on an annual basis. … Hopefully we can get this thing rolling and make it into a regular project. The supply lines are set up.”

The polystyrene reels first went to Gompers Habilitation Center which removed the labels. The Center offers vocational training for people with developmental disabilities. Then the reels went to Plastics General Polymers which ground the reels into ⅜ inch wide chips, and lastly went to Fiesta Plastics which molded it into pencil boxes. The bottom of the pencil boxes contains the messages “Sustainability In Action” and “Made in AZ of Recycled Materials.”

“The goals of this project were to repurpose Intel’s clean plastic waste stream, to help provide local students with the resources they need, and to find paths to zero waste,” said Kong. “The best thing is the kids will be able to learn from it,” Kong said. “We can go to classrooms. And the boxes were made in Arizona, not overseas. It’s neat for the kids.”

After being manufactured, the pencil boxes were filled with school supplies by volunteers from Arizona Science lab and National Engineers Week. The volunteers placed a bookmark in the pencil boxes that describes how they were created. The pencil boxes were donated to local schools, and local organizations such as Fans Across America, which helps homeless children.

A grant from Intel’s Sustainability In Action program funded the project, which the company calls a Grave to Cradle (G2C) project. Employees can apply for grants through the Sustainability in Action program to fund environmental sustainability projects. Last year, Intel provided $125,000 for nine employee projects, which included a rainwater harvesting project at a school in Israel.

Photo credits: Intel

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.