3D Upcycling: The Answer to All Your Home Junk?

August 16, 2016

3:06 pm

Have you ever turned an old 2 Liter bottle of soda into a terrarium? Does your workshop have glass jars that are full of nuts, bolts, screws, and other tiny bits of hardware? What about your garden? Maybe you are growing your summer tomatoes in old 5-gallon buckets. These are all examples of upcycling, taking old items and repurposing them for new uses. This is different than recycling because nothing needs to be broken down so that the raw materials can be recovered and used again. This isn’t to say that recycling is bad. It definitely keeps things out of landfills, but there is an environmental impact due to the processing. With upcycling, there is no such issue. Even better, when you combine upcycling with 3D printing, you can create some really cool stuff with things that are lying around your house.

Now that 3D printing is mainstream, home users and designers have been challenging themselves to come up with some creative ideas that combine items created using 3D printers with items that already exist in the home. Here are a few examples of this.

Mason Jar Turns Multipurpose Kitchen Appliance

You’ve just finished off a jar of your favorite, home canned jam. Now you’ve got this sturdy jar, with a threaded top. It’s both heat and freeze proof. Why throw it into the recycling bin, or worse chuck it into the trash? There’s so much more you can do with it. You can use a 3D printer to create a variety of new ‘lids’ for the jar to give it multiple new uses. For example, a lid with holes in it can work as a seasoning shaker. Make a lid with a flip top and you’ve got a portable drink thermos and a great cocktail shaker. Other lids can be fabricated to turn your item into a citrus juicer, water infuser, or even a slow drip coffee maker.

Upcycling for Decorative Purposes

Not all upcycling projects need to be so utilitarian. People have successfully upcycled a variety of items into wine glasses, candy dispensers, vases, picture frames and more. Even old toys can be upcycled for new purposes. One creative person even found a way to upcycle the dome lid and straw from a Starbucks cup. The great news is that this and many other similar projects are open-source. That means you can download the print files that you need. All you have to do is come up with the materials that need to be upcycled.

No 3D Printer No Problem

According to Dalia Lašaitė, CEO and co-founder of CGTrader:

“In addition to industrial and business clients, we receive many request from do it yourself enthusiasts for help designing 3D models. There is absolutely no reason for a lack of in home technology to discourage people who are interested in combining upcycling with 3D printing. In fact, we’ve seen 3D printing used to create items that would fit into upscale homes, and those that are worthy of horror movie special effects.”

In addition to commercial sources for 3D printing, many libraries, community centers, and junior colleges are also adding 3D printers to their labs.

Resources for Learning More About 3D Printing

If you’re interested in learning more about how to create and print out 3D objects, you have a few options. The first is to check your local area for hackerspaces. Many of these have 3D printers available for members, and often hold classes. If your local community college has 3D printing technology available, they likely have for credit and continuing education classes on using these devices.


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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien