Renewing Materials (2015)

Renewing Materials (2015)

3D Printing and Distributed Recycling Disrupting Samoa’s Plastic Waste Stream (2015)

Ocean borne plastic is considered one of our most serious pollution problems since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was first predicted and documented in the 1980’s. Born in New Zealand and with strong ties to the Pacific, Lionel Taito-Matamua experienced this first-hand during a family gathering in Samoa where he was taken aback at the alarming amount of plastic waste – from the micro to the macro – littering this seemingly idyllic environment. The situation has direct economic implications for Pacific nations who rely on healthy marine environments as a source of sustenance and income, as well as a very tangible asset for tourism.

Given the scale of the problem it is unlikely that it will be resolved by any single solution, but as a young industrial design student surrounded by emerging 3D printing technologies and processes, Lionel saw an opportunity not only to address the problem, but also to give back to his community.

Using Samoa as a case study, he proposed that distributed recycling combined with 3D printing offers an opportunity to repurpose and add new value to this difficult waste stream. It also offers potential to engage diverse local communities in Samoa by combining notions of participatory design, makerspaces and ‘wikis’ of parts, with traditional Samoan social concepts such as ‘Fa’a Samoa’, or the Samoan way and sense of community. Field work in Samoa established the scope of the issue where landfills, pit burial and illegal burning are common ways of waste disposal, while inadequate infrastructure and recycling systems is seeing ever increasing amounts of plastic waste entering oceans from land. Interviews with different stakeholders such as Government, waste management businesses, the arts and crafts community and education providers helped identify potential collaborative partners and product areas as well as the different plastic waste streams.

These experiments informed the design of speculative scenarios for workable, economically viable, socially empowering and sustainable systems for repurposing and upcycling plastic waste; printed out in the form of useful and culturally meaningful 3D printed objects, artefacts and products. Lionel suggested applications ranging from craft objects to create greater awareness of the issue by way of tourism and the Samoan notion of ‘mea alofa’ or ‘gifting’, through to functional utensils, architectural components and spare-parts on demand. This offers opportunities to expand Samoa’s rich and lively culture in artisan crafts into new self-sustaining communities, makerspaces and small-scale local industries, thereby creating a pathway of positive economic growth without needing to follow the same linear development path as industrialised economies, or compromising the region’s unique cultural heritage.

Lionel’s Master of Design Innovation thesis “Renewing Materials: 3D Printing and Distributed Recycling Disrupting Samoa’s Plastic Waste Stream” has become more than just another university degree; he is working to make an impact on real life. Now and in the future.

Materials and Processes – close-up


CAD modelling software – SolidWorks, Rhino


3D printers – Up Mini FDM printer

Main upcycling equipment – Filabot Reclaimer® and a Filabot Original® extruder

Project level

Master of Design Innovation Research Portfolio submission, MDI, supervisors Simon FraserJeongbin Ok

External Partners

The project was supported by the New Zealand Product Accelerator with special thanks to Pacific Recyclers Ltd. and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).