ID Student Awarded Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

Hines College student brings attention to plastics recycling on campus

Anne-Elisabeth Baker

The University of Houston recently awarded Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design industrial design student Anne-Elisabeth Baker with a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), under the direction of faculty advisor Andrew Kudless, to further her research on recycling plastic and generate innovative ways of fostering sustainability on the University’s main campus.

Along with Hines College alumnus Steve Love, Baker is a co-founder and member of Precious Plastic UH, whose mission is to reduce plastic waste by rethinking the everyday use of plastics. Through a donation from Keep Houston Beautiful, Precious Plastic UH purchased a plastics shredder for the Burdette Keeland, Jr. Design Exploration Laboratory. In the workspace, Precious Plastic UH aims to have three other machines including an injection machine, a large sheet press, and a compression oven to help tackle the plastic waste problem. This workspace will assist in transforming plastic waste into valuable raw materials or products, including furniture, functioning tools, and modular elements.

“I was eager to co-found the Precious Plastic chapter here at the University of Houston with Steve and begin taking part in events and ideas focused around sustainability,” said Anne-Elisabeth Baker. “This upcoming year, I am hoping we can collaborate with other students on campus to distribute materials, create more drop-off stations to collect plastics, and inform others on what we are doing here at Precious Plastic UH. This research will hopefully begin to pique others' interests in the idea of recycling and plastic consciousness.”

Originally from a small town, Baker aims to use this research in creating new recycling infrastructure systems in small towns where there is currently little opportunity for communities to recycle. Her research develops processes for cleaning, sorting, and shredding the plastic along with safety material for others to use in the workspace. Through her research, a variety of informative plastic blocks will be produced to serve as reference materials for students. The hope is these materials will open minds to ways recycled plastics can be repurposed and identify opportunities for growth in the processes.   

I became involved in the Industrial Design program at the College because I wanted to focus on sustainability, specifically in packaging and how we can reduce the amount of waste produced by everyday consumers,” shared Baker. “The Industrial Design program has taught me to be resourceful and think more critically about the world around me.”

Later this summer, Baker and other members of Precious Plastics UH will demonstrate the utilization of the plastic shredder and the systems in place for her research.

“The Houston region is one of the largest producers of plastics, and we have the responsibility to work towards a circular economy maximizing the reduction, reuse, and recycling of plastics,” shared Kudless. “Designers have a critical role to play in this process and Anne-Elisabeth's research will help the Hines College develop new sustainable fabrication methods. Her project is the first of many projects that the College’s new Advanced Media Technology Lab will support imagining the future of fabrication and design.” 

To learn more about Precious Plastic UH, check out their website.

Anne-Elisabeth with plastic shredder

Plastic shredder

Shredded plastic to sheet

(from left to right)
Anne-Elisabeth, Co-founder of Precious Plastics
Steve Love, Co-Founder
Niell Gorman, former Precious Plastic UH President
Eric Sloat, Precious Plastic UH VP Eric Sloat