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the plastic bag problem

The Plastic Bag Problem


EPAM Continuum and Footprint Zero Partner to Tame a Pollution Beast
 

An estimated five trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide, but there is no easy way to recycle them. 


The damage done to the environment is multiplying as a result. Startup Footprint Zero wants to change that.

An estimated one to three percent of plastic bags are recycled, which means the vast majority end up in landfills, waterways and blowing around all corners of the Earth. Because they are made from harmful chemicals, they present a long-term threat to our environment

Footprint Zero came to EPAM Continuum with an idea to create a device that would consume the unwieldy piles of plastic bags that households collect and compact them in a way that would be much easier to store and deliver for recycling. 

 

 

Making It Real

Our engineers, designers and consultants got to work in the Made Real Lab™, where technology and human-centered design intersect to create practical prototypes that drive innovation. Made Real Lab is an inventor’s dreamscape. It’s where EPAMers from different disciplines come together to develop an abstract idea into a product ready for manufacturing. We partner with our clients every step of the way, collaborating through each challenge and iteration until the product is ready to go to market. 

1000

Years it takes for a plastic bag to decompose

5 Trillion

Number of plastic bags produced annually

1-3 %

Portion of plastic bags recycled

Sources: OceanWatch Australia; TheWorldCounts

Co-Creating for a Greener Planet

 

The client had originally engaged EPAM for a software engineering project in 2019. As that project was wrapping up, the outlines of this new venture emerged. EPAM pivoted, calling on its experts in physical product development: innovators, user-experience and industrial designers, and mechanical and electronics engineers, who work together to bring an idea to life. Footprint Zero trusted EPAM Continuum with its vision. It was up to us to design a process to co-create a solution. 

So, how do you transform that mountain of single-use shopping bags and miscellaneous packaging into something useful? We knew the bags had to be collected and condensed, but exactly what that process looked like became the subject of a few weeks of experimentation. To get to the proof of concept, engineers and designers had to find the right mechanics for collection and compression, in a way that would be easy to use, safe and affordable. All types of plastic had to be tested along the way (e.g. PET, HDPE, LDPE and PP) because they have varying physical properties, which means they react differently to the mechanics of the device.

the plastic bag problem earth

Making It Real

Our engineers, designers and consultants got to work in the Made Real Lab™, where technology and human-centered design intersect to create practical prototypes that drive innovation. Made Real Lab is an inventor’s dreamscape. It’s where EPAMers from different disciplines come together to develop an abstract idea into a product ready for manufacturing. We partner with our clients every step of the way, collaborating through each challenge and iteration until the product is ready to go to market. 

1000

Years it takes for a plastic bag to decompose

5 Trillion

Number of plastic bags produced annually

1-3 %

Portion of plastic bags recycled

Sources: OceanWatch Australia; TheWorldCounts

 

 

 

Co-Creating for a
Greener Planet

 

The client had originally engaged EPAM for a software engineering project in 2019. As that project was wrapping up, the outlines of this new venture emerged. EPAM pivoted, calling on its experts in physical product development: innovators, user-experience and industrial designers, and mechanical and electronics engineers, who work together to bring an idea to life. Footprint Zero trusted EPAM Continuum with its vision. It was up to us to design a process to co-create a solution. 

So, how do you transform that mountain of single-use shopping bags and miscellaneous packaging into something useful? We knew the bags had to be collected and condensed, but exactly what that process looked like became the subject of a few weeks of experimentation. To get to the proof of concept, engineers and designers had to find the right mechanics for collection and compression, in a way that would be easy to use, safe and affordable. All types of plastic had to be tested along the way (e.g. PET, HDPE, LDPE and PP) because they have varying physical properties, which means they react differently to the mechanics of the device.

the plastic bag problem testing refining succeeding

Testing, Refining, Succeeding
   

Finding the right pressure, temperature and methods for deployment involved many rounds of testing. Too much pressure and the device would damage itself; too much heat and the bags could melt and stick to the machine, or they could release odors or potentially harmful chemicals. These are the type of puzzles for which Made Real Lab is built.

Because we follow strict guidelines on product development, EPAM Continuum brought in a test lab to conduct gas analysis on the air both inside and outside the device during heating to ensure it wouldn’t generate harmful gases. Of course, we researched optimal temperature ranges as part of our development process, but we also took the extra step to ensure the highest quality standards. 

the plastic bag problem slider

Our engineers developed a prototype, using our human-centric design approach, with all the features needed to build an affordable device:

  • A motion sensor detects an incoming bag, activating a group of slowly moving wheels to gently “take” the bag from the user and guide it into the receptacle.
the plastic bag problem slider

Our engineers developed a prototype, using our human-centric design approach, with all the features needed to build an affordable device:

  • Internal components remove most of the air from the bags so that a large number can fit inside the device (pre-compacting).
the plastic bag problem slider

Our engineers developed a prototype, using our human-centric design approach, with all the features needed to build an affordable device:

  • When a certain limit is reached, the device senses that it is time to heat the bags and further compress them into a brick, so users don’t have to guess when the receptacle is full.
the plastic bag problem slider

Our engineers developed a prototype, using our human-centric design approach, with all the features needed to build an affordable device:

  • Software, electronics and sensors work together to ensure users can’t open the device while it’s still hot and to compact the brick just the right amount (it must be easy to disassemble at recycling stations for sorting, but not so loose that bags could escape).
the plastic bag problem slider

Our engineers developed a prototype, using our human-centric design approach, with all the features needed to build an affordable device:

  • The device is designed for users to be maintenance-free, affordable and attractive for home use.

Taming the Beast
 

In just four months, we were able to carry the idea from thought bubble to proof of concept to working prototype. Now we are working to build an Alpha prototype with plans to be ready for manufacturing later this year. 

At the same time, the client is collaborating with recycling experts to promote a wider acceptance of this stream of materials by recycling stations. Footprint Zero’s ultimate goal is for plastic bags to be just as convenient and simple to recycle as everything else we leave by the curb. The client is working through the processing and logistics questions to make this happen in the United States first, with an eye to revolutionizing recycling globally. 

At EPAM Continuum, our range of technical and consulting expertise enables us to co-create and collaborate through the entire journey of a new product. We not only prototype and develop the product but also help our clients engage contract manufacturers, walk side by side with them through the mass manufacturing process and support product launch.

We are proud to be part of this important vision for a cleaner, safer planet.

the plastic bag problem

HEAR FROM FOOTPRINT ZERO

 

“EPAM Continuum brings a diversity of talent and expertise to their projects and, beyond that, they use the latest technologies in structuring, planning and managing the work. I think this team is much more focused and organized than any team I’ve worked with before. EPAM focuses on value throughout the development process and that builds trust.”

 

Ivan Arbouzov
CEO, Footprint Zero

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