Plastic Ocean by Kevin Krejci

Ocean Plastic Community Project

  • Secondary education
  • Geography

The Ultimaker Community Team will be launching a series of interdisciplinary projects over the next few months that challenge students to research, explore, design, and 3D print. Ocean Plastic is the first project of this series.

Pioneer George Reynolds of Ashwaubenon High School contacted me about working on a collaborative community project that had students design and 3D print real or imagined fish, sea creatures, plants, and coral. He envisioned the printed pieces displayed in a community-generated aquarium that would travel to exhibits and different schools. An important aspect of this project was that it would be open to all students at all levels and abilities.

George, who works with art and tech, shared another idea about a device that lived in a public space, ground-up plastic bottles, and extruded them into filament. When enough filament was available, the device would create an item and a robotic arm would deliver it to the person lucky enough to be there at that moment. He also imagined a version that could accept money and donate it to an environmental advocacy organization.

While George was coming up with his project proposals, I was thinking about materials and 3D printing. I visited 3DBrooklyn to talk about their experience making filament out of recycled potato chip bags and to pick up some Refil recycled PET filament. I devoured the books Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking the Way We Make Things and The Upcycle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. I reviewed the products that I buy and I started to replace some with those certified by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  

I also looked at companies that were taking advantage of “intentional” additive manufacturing versus “speculative” manufacturing in order to save time and money, and to reduce waste — companies like FarmshelfSylatechSnow Business10xBetaABB Robotics, and even the Etsy stores with their customizable, made on-demand products.

From George's starting points, coupled with my exploration into materials and our exchange of ideas, came The Ocean Plastic Community Project, which combines art, technology, research, and an understanding plastic.

Before you can use design to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem.

This Ultimaker Community project starts January 2018, and culminates at Construct3D 2018 on October 5-8, in Atlanta, Georgia, with an exhibition of a collaborative student-created imaginary ecosystem.

We are inviting all students, at all levels, and of all abilities, to research plastic, recycling, and 3D printing, and then to design and 3D print real or imagined sea life, fish, marine plants, coral reefs, or anything that will draw attention to the beauty of our oceans, how we are treating them, and how we can make them healthier. All printed parts to be included in the public display must be sent to Ultimaker's NY office by September 2, 2018 (contact [email protected] for details). We also ask that all models be uploaded to Youmagine where you can explain in the description how your file is part of the collaboration. All designs must include the tag “#OceanPlastic.” If you want to share research projects, student films, etc., please include those links in your description.


Plastic is cheap, lightweight, versatile, and the ideal material for many applications, from medical equipment to airplane parts, to fibers in clothing. Unfortunately, because some of our applications of plastic are based on single-use, a great deal of the plastic we use becomes waste. In fact, more than 8 million tons of it ends up in our oceans, and once there, it creates many problems: marine animals can be entangled in it, fish and birds can ingest it, and it interferes with the safety of sea transport, fisheries, tourism, and recreation. Plastic waste in our oceans also introduces toxins into the food chain, some of which may contribute to cancers, infertility, and immune, metabolic, cognitive and behavior disorders.

Exploring plastic, where it comes from, what it is, and how we use it, can help us be more thoughtful about what we make and how we make it. Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, yes, but also design better from the start.

How does 3D printing fit in? There is no question that 3D printing allows industries to abandon the linear, hierarchical processes created by the industrial revolution and to manufacture parts with more agility. And the types of materials used, such as thermoplastics, are perfect candidates for reuse after reuse.

Additive manufacturing encourages collaboration and allows designers and engineers to be more responsive to end-user needs, and to reduce production costs by being able to locally create complex geometries. By taking full advantage of 3D printing, we should be able to use less material, create complex and customizable objects where and when we need them, and open up design and innovation to more people. While your students may or may not be involved in manufacturing end-use parts, creating jigs or fixtures, producing prosthetics, or designing airplane or automotive parts, by providing them with access to 3D printing in schools and exposing them to the possibilities afforded by the technology, you can help prepare them for the future.

One of the most powerful and widely used applications of 3D printing in schools is rapid prototyping, which involves students in an iterative design process. While students have a chance to build resiliency and develop their critical thinking and communication skills, you might wonder about what to do with all those prototypes and failed prints.  If this use of plastic gives you pause, check out filabot's recycling program or print with PETG or CPE, which according to SIMS, my local municipal recycling facility, can be identified with Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) technology at plants and be sorted and recycled with the least amount of effort. Or follow Pioneer Erin Riley, a maker, educator, and artist's lead and transform your PLA scraps into art.

SIMS delivery
Image from my visit to local municipal recycling center

Along with designing and uploading to Youmagine a 3D model of an existing or imagined fish, sea creature, marine plant or piece of coral (See information about exhibition below), there are several ways to contribute to and participate in this project:

  • Have students explore past and current recycling and design initiatives, research alternative materials, and consider what might be done to protect the ocean. Then have them share their work online with the community.

  • Have students use Design Thinking to propose solutions to how we can keep our oceans alive and healthy.  Then have them share their proposals online with the community.

  • Have students research some of the topics  listed below and share their work online with the community.

  • Share a resource, lesson, or activity that is related to this topic that you have used with your students.

  • Incorporate a lesson from this project page and let us know how it goes.

  • For the exhibit in Atlanta, we invite students to research plastic, recycling, and 3D printing, and then design and 3D print existing or invented sea life, fish, marine plants, coral reefs, or anything that will draw attention to the beauty of the ocean, how we are treating it, and how we can make it healthier. Send printed parts by September 2, 2018, to Ultimaker (contact the [email protected] for details), upload  STL files to Youmagine
    and explain in the description how this file is part of the collaboration. Tag your designs accordingly, and don’t forget to add the tag “#OceanPlastic.” If you want to share research projects, student films, etc, include those links in your description.

Topics of study/research could include:

Add a resource, lesson or activity to the list

  • Artificial reefs

  • The Circular Economy

  • Benefits of 3D Printing: less waste than subtractive manufacturing, ability to eliminate shipping, ability to customize, etc.

  • Ecological impact of 3D printing (pros and cons).

  • Galleria mellonella (waxworms are able to breakdown plastic, transforming polyethylene into ethylene glycol).

  • Aspergillus tubingensis (a fungus which lives in the soil can grows on the surface of plastics. It secretes enzymes onto the surface of the plastic, and these break the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules or polymers)

  • Ultra-Chic 3D Printed Bikini Cleans the Ocean

  • Recycling

  • Life Cycle Assessment

  • The origin, usage and life cycle of plastic.

  • Where does our garbage go?

  • Plastic by numbers, what do the numbers on our plastic mean and where did they come from?

  • Social enterprises like:

Some Inspiration

Here are some models that might provide some inspiration:

animatronic little bit fish

Animatronic Little Bit Fish
by Pioneer Matthew Wigdahl


GRAPHICA: Print & Play Fish

giant seahorse

Giant Seahorse
by Harrison Baere


by crystalwhistle

coral reef

Coral Reef
by questpact

coral reef

Coral lampshade


Cryohabitat Coral Pack
by marcusnystrand

For more information about this project including resources and activities, go to the Ocean Plastic Community Project Page.

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