Plastic in Practice (2020)

Plastic in Practice(2022)

Maddison Jessop-Benseman

Plastic in Practice: an empirical approach to 3D printed upcycling in New Zealand Schools (2020)

During her undergraduate study, Maddi was particularly interested in sustainable design, and specifically designing for children. After assisting a summer research project focused on the upcycling of plastic waste into filament for 3D printing, Maddi decided to combine her interests in a more extensive postgraduate research project. The resulting MDI thesis explores how 3D printing technologies can engage school children more effectively with topics such as sustainability and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) by involving them directly in the upcycling process as a hands-on learning experience. It is based on the premise, that in addition to more efficient waste management systems in New Zealand, a cultural shift through education is fundamental for more effective management of plastic waste. In collaboration with students and teachers at St Bernard’s College , participatory research methods were used to inform the development of the programme.

The project was supported by New Zealand’s largest dairy co-operative Fonterra, who supplied an abundance of plastic packaging waste from products such as ice-cream containers and other forms of packaging for dairy products. The potential of using single-use dairy plastic as a filament for 3D printing was evaluated through experiments with a variety of different plastic types including HDPE, HIPS and PE. HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) from yoghurt containers proved to be the most successful for 3D printing applications – an extremely positive outcome given that this type of plastic cannot easily be recycled in New Zealand.

The thesis project then focussed on configuring a 3D printing education programme to encourage schools around New Zealand to get involved in the upcycling of plastic packaging waste from their local communities. In collaboration with students and teachers, participatory research methods were used to inform the development of the programme. The final output was an education programme proposal as well as a series of project outlines which could be integrated into Fonterra’s Milk for Schools programme while supporting classroom learning. The concepts and approach are transferable to a wide range of levels and STEM subjects.

Putting ‘plastic into practice’ has the potential to create localised upcycling systems within schools around the country, engaging students with sustainable systems, and inspiring a cultural shift towards a more circular economy.

 Materials and Processes – close-up


CAD modelling software – Rhino, Grasshopper plug-in and Fusion 360.

Slicing software – Cura and Simplify3D.


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

Main upcycling 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 Fonterra Ltd. and the New Zealand Product Accelerator. St Bernard’s College in Wellington generously provided the classroom context for the research programme.