The Daily Illini

UI student recycles ocean waste for prosthetics

By Therese Pokorney, Staff Writer

While some people take measures to reduce plastic waste, one Washington-based couple is taking recycling to a higher level by figuring out a way to minimize ocean plastic while providing prosthetic limbs to those in need.

“We started with a goal of helping just one kid and now the company has taken a life of its own,” said Chris Moriarity, online University graduate student and co-owner of the Million Waves Project.

While experiencing life on the West Coast, Moriarity said he was always aware of the amount of plastic waste that ends up on the shore.

One night, after reading about how nearly 40,000 people in the world were in need of prosthetic limbs, Moriarity woke his wife, Laura, up and pitched the idea of the Million Waves Project.

“I asked my wife, Laura, who runs her own marketing agency, if she could put together a basic website and her marketing team just loved it,” he said. “It was about two weeks later when we launched the company on Earth Day.”

The couple began collecting plastic water bottles and processing them into a cross-cut paper shredder in their garage. Moriarity said the shredded granules are then shipped to the Vermont-based company Filabot, where they’re turned into filament and shipped back to the Moriarity’s.

Afer the filament is returned to them, the plastic is fed into a 3D printer and shaped into either hands or arms for the recipients. It takes about $45 and 30 plastic bottles to make one hand, Moriarity said.

“We focus on mostly water bottles since there are so many of them that need to be recycled,” he said. “That type of plastic is the easiest to repurpose. We basically just sit in the garage with scissors. The Million Waves Project is 100 percent volunteer-run.”

Moriarity said the plastic from water bottles isn’t strong enough to support the weight of a leg or foot being walked on. Since April, the project has given away 18 prosthetic arms and hands to children and adults around the world.

Moriarity said they can’t keep up with the demand as the company gains more traction, so the couple hosted a fundraiser to help purchase a commercial-sized shredder to increase their prosthetic output.

“Our current set-up can produce one school of filament paper per hour, which can make two hands,” he said. “With the commercial shredder, it can make 10 schools of filament per hour. Our ability to help more people is increasing exponentially.”

Moriarity said he and his wife currently work full-time jobs while raising their three kids and simultaneously devoting countless hours to the Million Waves Project. Moriarity is also attending an online master of business administration from the University to learn more about entrepreneurship.

“We have high ambitions, so we’ve partnered with the Washington Coast Savers,” he said. “They have warehouses full of plastic from the ocean that we can access for the project. We feel extremely lucky to be able to do this.”

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