Turning Ocean Plastic Into Prosthetics

Turning reclaimed ocean plastic into prosthetics seemed like a perfect idea for Chris Moriarity. Enrolling in the Gies College of Business online MBA program has helped him streamline the nonprofit – the Million Waves Project – that does exactly that.

“It’s serendipity,” said Moriarity, an Anacortes, Washington resident, who started the iMBA program just a few months before officially launching the Million Waves Project. “Being part of the iMBA has helped change how I run the Million Waves Project and how I present it to others.”

Million Waves takes reclaimed ocean plastic and uses it to 3D-print custom prosthetic limbs for children. The first prosthetic hand was given to a 9-year-old Seattle girl. Moriarity and his wife Laura literally cut up plastic bottles by hand before inserting them into a paper shredder before a 3D printer creates the prosthetic limbs.

Shell’s Puget Sound (Washington) refinery recently presented the Million Waves Project with a $5,000 grant to buy a high-tech machine that turns plastic into filament that can be used to make prostheses. The machine will allow the Million Waves Project, which has received national and international media attention plus celebrity endorsements from the likes of NBA player Kyle Korver, to monumentally increase its output of prosthetics.

The Million Waves Project also has partnered with e-Nable – an Oregon-based nonprofit that features a national group of 2,100 volunteers who produce 3D-printed hands and arms. Currently, any e-Nable volunteer may request sponsorship of a limb assembly kit from the Million Waves Project, which sends volunteers the items needed to put the hands together.

Moriarity said as the Million Waves Project refines its filament and tests its reliability in different climates, the nonprofit will be able to provide any or all of the 2,100 e-Nable 3D printer locations with the recycled filament to use in the printing of the limbs. Within several months, Moriarity said the Million Waves Project will be able to produce as many as 1,000 prosthetics a week.

Moriarity said about 40,000 children worldwide could use prosthetics created from 3D printers. He has three young children and works about 100 hours a week over several jobs and travels about 100,000 miles a year. He also makes presentations for Million Waves all over the country. He had been searching for an online MBA program for “years and years and years,” and the Iowa-native said he chose Gies because of its high ranking and because it conformed to his Midwest roots.

“I feel like Illinois was a choice that I made 100 percent myself, and I picked the school because that’s what I wanted,” Moriarity said. “It was a perfect fit for my lifestyle and something that was in line with my cultures and my beliefs. I’ve always been confused by people that treat their education like a punishment. How lucky am I that I’m able to get a new skill set while I’m doing all these other things that I want to do.”

Moriarity has never stepped foot onto the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, but he feels part of the community through the iMBA’s high-engagement classes, especially microeconomics. He said the class helped him develop presentation graphics, predictive data for when he should purchase more technology, and current production capacity.

“Now I know all the probabilities and production frontiers,” said Moriarity. “I’ve been helping other people run their businesses for a long, long time, but I learned more about stats through this iMBA program than in my entire previous careers. Now I can prove all the things I was saying.”

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