A Circular City (2018)

A Circular City (2018)

Sophia Cameron

A Circular City  An empirical approach to 3D printed up-cycling (2018)

Among many exacerbating environmental issues, plastic waste, has significant impacts on local and global communities, environments and ecosystems. Contrary to common assumptions, New Zealand is no exception; 77% of litter cleaned up on coastal beaches in Wellington are from single-use plastics. In addition, with China’s new waste restrictions in place, less than 20% of plastic waste in New Zealand is recycled. In the spirit of “thinking globally, acting locally” Sophia’s Master’s thesis explores the opportunity for innovative recycling initiatives towards waste minimisation and extending product life-cycles within a regional context.

The scalable and distributed nature of additive manufacturing and digital 3D platforms present a useful and powerful tool for achieving more sustainable forms of production and consumption, thereby providing an opportunity to achieve localised up-cycling. This introduces the concept of small-scale site-specific circular systems 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.

Through a comparative assessment of local Wellington businesses, organisations and environments, three case studies were chosen for further investigation, including a community center, the University and a beach. These were chosen based on their proximity, involvement with the wider community, the severity of their plastic waste problem and their viability for implementing a localised, accessible system. From these findings, three speculative ‘scenarios of making’ were developed for further site-specific material and design explorations.

Building on Lionel’s low-cost open-source recycling lab, Sophia pioneered the next iteration of materials research with the School’s newly commissioned polymer recycling facility, in an exhaustive process of collecting, cleaning, granulating, blending and formulating printable filament. Each material responds to the 3D printed up-cycling process in a different and unique way and can be interacted with and customised throughout this process.

Students, volunteers and community members can become a part of the making process at every stage of the product’s lifecycle and can continue to cherish and respect objects from cradle-to-cradle. This highly interactive process, therefore, allows users to design their own narrative experience and develop tangible and emotional connections to their objects. The materials allow for this connection to be amplified, giving old products a continuous new life.

Materials and Processes – close-up


CAD modelling software – Rhino, Solidworks

Slicing software – Cura and Simplify3D.


3D printers – UP BOX, Ultimaker 3 extended and the BigRep.

3D scanning: Artec Eva

Main up-cycling equipment – Contherm Thermotec 2000, Conair 8 series granulator and Thermo Scientific Process 11 twin-screw extruder, spooler and palletiser.

 Project level

Master of Design Innovation Research Portfolio submission (MDI), supervisors Simon Fraser and Jeongbin Ok

External Partners

The project was supported by the New Zealand Product Accelerator.   

Conference Paper: A Circular City: An empirical approach to 3D printed up-cycling. Sophia CAMERON, Jeongbin OK & Simon FRASER. Unmaking Waste Conference, 2018, Australia

NZ Best Awards, Bronze Medal, Student Product 2018

NZ Best Awards, Bronze Medal, Toitanga, 2020