College students want to turn Great Lakes trash into plastic snorkel

Design of snorkel that entrepreneurs want to make from recycled plastic. Image courtesy Tydal Aquatics
Design of snorkel that entrepreneurs want to make from recycled plastic.
Image courtesy Tydal Aquatics

If there’s debris along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, chances are pretty good it’s plastic.

The Rochester Institute of Technology estimates some 80% of the trash found along the Great Lakes boundaries is plastic, according to the Chicago Tribune. The institute found that 22 million pounds of plastic pollute the Great Lakes every year.

Into that trash heap steps a group of Michigan State University graduates and students who want to recycle plastic collected from lakes and oceans into snorkels, swimwear and other clothing.

A native of St. Joseph, Mich., who himself grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, Zach Scheid, a fifth-year senior majoring in supply chain management and entrepreneurship, is among those on a team described as “passionate about protecting the environment.”

Business development
In an entrepreneurial class, the group was assigned to develop a business and do the research to see if the company could succeed, according to Sheid. Credit for the idea goes to classmate Alex Windholz, said Scheid who, with four others, teamed with Windholz.

“We all grew up on Lake Michigan and loved everything it had to offer,” Scheid said. “We wanted to develop a product that helps take care of our bodies of water and decreases our environmental footprint.”

Plastics in the water run the risk of flowing into other states or even countries by drifting with the lake currents. And while the team recognizes the importance of removing trash from the water, Scheid said, it also wants to reuse that trash for products that are actually designed to be in the oceans and lakes.

“One of our team members is an avid snorkeler, so that’s how we came up with the snorkel design, which is a retractable snorkel made out of recycled plastic,” Scheid said. “Our products would also include swimsuits for men and women, hats, shirts and sweatshirts.”

Snorkel manufacturing
The company — Tydal Aquatics — is in early stages of production. It has developed a 3D prototype of two snorkels, social media pages and a website. And in June it won $2,000 from “The Hatching,” a Lansing-based competition that supports and helps fund prospective businesses.

The group still needs substantial funding. And it is seeking professional help to create an injection mold to make the snorkels.

“We are all college students, so it’s going be hard for us to come up with thousands of dollars without having jobs,” Scheid said. “But I love the Great Lakes and oceans, and I want to protect them so generations to come can get the same experience as I did.”

Brianna Idzior of Capital News Service contributed to this report.