Turning trash into treasure

Research by a Victoria University of Wellington Master’s graduand is revealing innovative new ways to recycle waste in the Pacific using 3D printing.


Lionel Taito-Matamua - Image credit: Victoria University


Lionel Taito-Matamua, who graduates on 18th May with a Master of Design Innovation from Victoria’s Faculty of Architecture and Design, saw first-hand the lack of education in the Pacific around recycling.


“There is so much plastic and other recyclable waste in the Pacific and local companies, industries and people don’t know how to dispose of it properly.


“For example, landfills in Samoa are not divided into separate areas—paper, different types of plastic and organic waste are all mixed together.”


Lionel has found an alternative option to repurpose and reuse the waste to produce useful items.


“Once you separate the different types of plastic items from a landfill, you can shred them into small particles and extrude that through a specialist machine that makes the filament rolls used in 3D printing.


“The filament rolls can either be sold for use on 3D printers across the world, or people in the Pacific can start 3D printing their own objects, like souvenirs, household items and spare parts.”


Lionel describes the second approach as coming full circle. “Tourists arrive and buy bottled water, they discard their waste plastic bottles, and it’s recycled and made into something they take home to remember their holiday.


“This approach also creates jobs and incomes for local families. It’s the whole idea of creating a cottage industry through 3D printing and digital creation.”


Lionel has created 3D scans and models of various items, including shells and turtle skulls. “These also educate people about disposing of waste. We can transform materials that are potentially harmful to local wildlife.”


As part of his research, Lionel identified the importance of upskilling the general public about new technology and digital literacy and believes that outreach into local Pacific communities is needed.


“There is no point in us taking 3D printers over to the Pacific and establishing a system if locals aren’t the users.”


Together with his collaborative partners—Victoria’s School of Design, New Zealand Product Accelerator, VicLink and Te Ropu Awhina—Lionel has now created an outreach programme called Creative Pathways.


He goes into classrooms to give children the opportunity to interact with these different types of technology, and teachers to teach through new learning tools.


“It allows students to design projects that align with their curriculum and learning objectives, and introduces them to 3D printing and digital creation.


“This is especially important in subjects like science, technology, engineering, manufacturing, mathematics and design.”


Lionel will graduate with a Master of Design Innovation on Wednesday 18 May.