Asuka Kamiya, 12, a sixth-grader from Jozan Elementary School in Anjo, Aichi Prefecture, has been granted a patent for her can-recycling bin invention, which uses a magnet to automatically separate steel and aluminum containers.
It is rare for an elementary school student to be granted a patent. The Tokyo-based Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation believes there are fewer than 10 such students to date.
The recycling bin, made with plastic boards, measures 31 sq. cm and is 91 cm tall.
There are two compartments in the box but the slot to insert the cans is over one of the compartments instead of over the center, and the magnet is attached on the side.
This lets aluminum cans drop straight down while the steel cans, drawn by the magnet, drop into the other compartment.
Kamiya built it for a science project last summer with the help of her father, Toyoaki, 39, after recalling the characteristics of magnets that she learned in class when she was a third-grader.
Kamiya was inspired to create the work when she saw her grandfather separate empty cans next to a vending machine managed by the family in front of her house.
“The work seemed hard for grandpa. I thought of how I could help him,” she said.
She also noticed how various kinds of cans were discarded together at a garbage collection site on her way to school and wanted to do something about it.
The best part about her recycling bin is that she attached a curved plastic board under the slot to direct steel cans to the separate compartment.
After much trial and error, she found that a thin board exactly 3 cm long offered the best angle for the steel cans to drop.
“Even I myself didn’t think it would be possible to separate empty cans just by dropping them,” she said, still surprised by her own work.
Following her father’s suggestion, Kamiya applied for a patent last December and her invention was approved on Aug. 14 as a “recycling bin which can separate empty cans at low cost.”
Her achievement was announced at the school when it reopened on Sept. 1.
“I’m glad because I didn’t think it would be approved,” Kamiya said.
“Her work is an example that shows you can make something useful with a little creativity,” said Kenji Oda, 52, the school’s principal.
According to the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation, in two recent examples, elementary school students, both from Toyama, were granted a patent, one in 2006 and the other in 2009.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 2.