The U.S. lacks the infrastructure for substantial domestic recycling, and China stopped taking in American plastic in 2018. Lauren Choi, Engr '20, knew that these two factors meant more refuse bound for landfills, incinerators, and the environment.
In response, she designed and built an extrusion machine in her garage that turns Solo cups—yes, the ubiquitous vessels that fill trash cans after parties—into a usable yarn.
"I worked on that through my senior year as a proof of concept and launched a cup collection program on the Homewood campus that got a lot of attention from the student body," Choi says.
She has since ditched her garage and launched her company, The New Norm, to transform plastic into sustainable, wearable fabric. Ocean plastics and old fishing nets are up next as she wraps up five rounds of pilot production. One of the first designs using ALMARAE, the line of fabric made from ocean plastics, was a tote bag designed by Homewood undergraduate Shanthi Ramakrishna and her social enterprise company, Taara Projects.
As Choi aims to make sustainable fabrics a fashion-forward staple, she's readily seeking additional partnerships. "We're in early conversations with some really big brands that I think could be an opportunity for us to scale up," she says.