Fantastic plastic: designing solutions for workshop waste

Friday 15 November 2019

Rachael Hanrick works at the Australian National University (ANU) MakerSpace, a facility where anyone on campus can come and create.

An initiative from the ANU Research School of Physics, MakerSpace has, “a range of digital technologies and hand tools available for our users, and it is a place where study, research and hobbies collide”.

Anyone from the university is welcome to use the space, and it serves as an interdisciplinary incubator for projects and ideas.

“We know people learn by doing, and we have created a space where people of all disciplines can work together to experiment, investigate, prototype, and solve problems,” said Rachael.

Rachael is a true ‘non-traditional’ engineer.

“I transitioned from a mechanical engineering career into fine-furniture making. Now my current work at the MakerSpace combines the best of both worlds,” she said.

Rachael is interested in combining her skills as an engineer, craftsperson, and designer to come up with creative solutions to waste reduction problems.

“I have recently been experimenting with using recycled packaging materials in my woodworking practice. As an engineer, synthetic polymers are phenomenal materials that have revolutionised our way of life over the last century.” 

“As a maker, I contrast that with the value we place on a well-crafted piece of furniture made from renewable, sustainably harvested timber. I’m interested in the discrepancy of value we associate with each of these materials, and how we can educate people to see them differently,” said Rachael.

Through her work in the MakerSpace, Rachael has been creating a community of like-minded people.

“I’ve been playing with small scale plastic recycling at home (mainly high-density polyethylene), and have been connecting with people across campus who are interested in setting up a more generally accessible campus plastics recycling facility,” she said.  

Rachael also helped lead a team of later year engineering students in their Capstone project, where they investigated how to recycle the plastic leftover from the 3D printers.

“We tasked a team with solving the problem of our 3D printing polylactic acid (PLA) waste. They worked this semester to investigate methods of collecting, shredding and extruding recycled filament from failed 3D prints and scrap.

“The project team exemplified what we do here at the ANU MakerSpace, getting their hands dirty and crossing discipline boundaries between physics, business, design, social science and engineering. This project is really just the beginning of what we want to do to reduce our waste, with a number of avenues identified for further investigation,” she said. 

Going forward, Rachael is interested in continuing the work that the students have started, and creating a more permanent solution to plastic recycling on campus.

“We are working towards the creation of a small-scale plastics recycling facility that can be incorporated into the existing ANU MakerSpace network, drawing on work that is already underway in various pockets of ANU.”

Rachael predicts that using design thinking will be a key factor in creating sustainable solutions to waste in the future.

“[Design] can be used in education and altering behaviours, through to implementing systems that consider manufacturing and consumption waste from cradle to grave,” she said.  

“Our planet will not support endless growth, and to support our ever-increasing population we need to chase efficiency and productivity gains. Minimising waste in that context is not only rational, but necessary.”

If you are interested in getting involved with Rachael’s project or want further information, you can get in contact at


Image courtesy of @ANUMakerSpace: Benchies printed at the ANU MakerSpace from 3D filament recycled on campus, by the Capstone engineering team who have been busy extruding and testing recycled 3D printing filament from our PLA scrap. 

Updated:  10 August 2021/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing