Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Circular City: An empirical approach to 3D printed up-cycling

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posted on 2022-07-28, 02:52 authored by Cameron, Sophia

Among many exacerbating environmental issues, plastic debris, with ubiquity and abundance, has significant impacts on local and global communities, environments and species. Contrary to common assumptions, New Zealand is no exception; 77% of litter cleaned up on coastal beaches in Wellington are from single- use plastics and volunteers are struggling to manage plastic pellets on central beaches. In addition, with Chinas new waste ban in place, the country is struggling to recycle plastic, and the current schemes in place consume considerable amounts of time and energy. There is, therefore, a critical need for innovative and localised up- cycling initiatives towards reducing post user plastic waste and extending product lifecycles within this region.

This research addresses the severe issue by investigating how Wellington post user plastic can be up-cycled using additive manufacturing technologies and utilised for new, longer lasting products. It introduces the opportunity for a circular system that can repurpose plastic waste while benefiting local communities, schools and environments. It allows for interaction, engagement and education at every stage of the creation process and thus empowers longevity and emotional durability. More specifically, this research has employed a ‘research through design (RtD) based on design criteria’ approach, beginning with a materials-led investigation. Materials inform design decisions made across three case studies to demonstrate the wide variety of potential applications and material possibilities. These include a university, a sports centre and a heavily polluted beach that are currently dealing with severe amounts of plastic waste. A range of waste plastics collected from each of the sites were trialled with a localised 3D printed up-cycling system in an iterative testing process, and the results determined appropriate material directions and subsequent contextual developments. The empirical investigation process provided a sound basis for developing designs as a creative response to environmental issues that can extend into our society, community and government. The applications and outcomes from this research have demonstrated how 3D printing technologies can facilitate sustainable plastic consumption, engage communities in the up-cycling process and address a throwaway society with longer lasting products. It provides the opportunity for waste management systems and small economies to entirely transform to allow for the diminution of post user plastic waste in our cities and more importantly, our environments.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Design Innovation; Industrial Design

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Design Innovation

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

869899 Environmentally Sustainable Manufacturing not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Design


Ok, Jeongbin; Fraser, Simon