Forget Bitcoin. The hottest potential new currency lies in our trash bins, Arthur Huang says, and he’s built a portable recycling plant to prove it. His solar-powered Trashpresso turns plastic waste into small tiles that can be used to build walls and floors.
“These machines are a prototype of what we think the future of recycling should be,” says Huang, a National Geographic emerging explorer. Huang has fully built two Trashpresso machines so far, hauling them by truck on 40-foot platforms to far-flung places like Yushu, a county on the Tibetan Plateau. Film star Jackie Chan features the expedition in his National Geographic television documentary Green Heroes.
No matter where a Trashpresso goes, it finds plenty of plastic to shred and compress: Yushu was no different. “That microcosm of a tiny township has exactly the same problem as big cities,” Huang says. Water bottles and other trash, often brought in by visitors, end up in rivers and eventually the oceans.