Utilize Your Creativity

Meet Courtney Naismith and Matthew O’Hagan from Utilize Studios.

Courtney and Matthew are part of a growing movement in Aotearoa which looks to creatively use, re-use, and recycle our rubbish. Their experiments with 3D printing technology allowed them to take plastic rubbish and turn it into quality designer products.

What do you think this lampshade is made from?

The duo met at Victoria University of Wellington, where they were both studying towards a Master’s degree in Design Innovation. Their passion for the environment, and their desire to improve it, saw them working with unwanted, unrecyclable plastic rubbish.

Throughout our degrees we both leaned towards that more sustainable side of design, and we felt almost responsible for taking action, and incorporating that into our process”.  – Courtney

Some types of plastic are easily recycled, such as plastic bottles. Other plastic, such as old fishing nets, cannot be recycled and end up in landfill.

We sure do make a lot of plastic rubbish in this country, approximately 252,000 tonnes of plastic are sent to NZ landfills each year!

Courtney and Matthew took different kinds of rubbish: plastic bags, drink stirrers, fishing nets, buoys, harakeke (flax) fibres, and experimented with turning this rubbish into 3D printer filament.

“We only ever worked with materials that couldn’t ever be commercially recycled, it was all basically ending up in landfill, so a large part of it was using new technology to say ‘Hey, why aren’t we recycling these, is there a way that we could re-use these materials?’” -Matthew

They used this one-of-a-kind filament to print beautiful objects such as baskets and furniture. These unique objects can take pride of place in your home and create more conversations about rubbish and recycling.

Experiments with Rubbish

Creating a new type of filament might sound like an easy enough process, but the reality of turning a pile-of-rubbish into a beautiful object was difficult. The different types of waste had to be cleaned, mulched and melted together. The plastic rubbish had very different properties from PLA (polylactic acid – commonly used 3D printing filament made from organic sources), making it hard to get the melting consistency right. This new filament had to feed well through the printer, and then harden in a predictable way.

From coffee stirrer to 3D printed lampshade

There were endless rounds of testing, tweaking and trying out different ideas.

“It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of long days, and experiments and adjusting variables along the way. Variables such as what temperature we can use to melt these materials down. How do we ensure the material comes out consistent, so that we can use it again? We were doing as much research as possible, seeing what other people having been doing in New Zealand and around the world.” -Matthew

Despite the difficulty of the task, Courtney and Matthew are grateful for the knowledge they gained. The pair had used 3D printers before, but they had always had a technician or manual to refer to if something went wrong. Creating these custom filaments has given them a much better understanding of how 3D printers work, they even recently built their own printer for their workshop!

Many long days were spent experimenting with the filament recipe!

Since graduating from university, Courtney and Matthew were inspired to take their ideas further, and have launched their own business, Utilize Studios. They are now focusing on beautifully made, limited run, 3D printed baskets, bookends and magnets.

Unfortunately, they no longer have the equipment to create their own filaments but are committed to using 100% recycled filament in their products. They hope to develop their business to a point where they can start to recycle plastic into custom filaments again.

Courtney and Matthew with their new products

When I asked what advice they would give to young innovators, this is what they had to say:

To explore their creative side, whatever passion they may have, even if its small… continue developing those skills and mkae sure you enjoy it! – Matthew

Make sure you are doing what you love. This will keep the motivation going in the low points. Make sure you are having fun, staying creative and doing it your way. – Courtney

Courtney and Matthew undertook this work as part of their Master’s theses in design innovation.
Courtney’s thesis: Aircrafted Artefacts, Additive Upcycling Plastics within the Aviation Tourism Industry.
Matthew thesis: From Line to Loop, A Circular 3D Printing Initiative for Upcycling Commercial Fishing Plastics.


Innovation – Creating a new version of an existing invention and improving it.  E.g. the ballpoint pen is an innovation of a quill and ink pen.  The iPhone 13 is an innovation of the iPhone 12.

Industry Waste – Rubbish created by businesses from their day to day tasks. For example the plastic cups given out on airplanes, or the nets used by fishing boats.

Filament – A thin reel of continuous plastic thread which is fed into a 3D printer.

3D printer – A printer capable of printing 3-dimensional designs from digital files. Filament (usually made from plastic) is fed into the machine, melted, and then squeezed out onto the waiting bed. 3D objects are created by squeezing out one layer at a time, until the entire design has been printed.


Kirihou – Plastic

Hangarua – Recycle

Rāpihi – Rubbish

Ruapara – Rubbish dump/Landfill

Pūrere tā ahutoru – 3D printer

Hangarau – Technology

Auahatanga – Creativity

Learn More

New to 3D printing? Check out this great video explaining how it works, and some of the amazing possibilities.

Interested in 3D printing? Check out the 3D print lab at MOTAT, or book your students into our 3D design and printing workshop.

By Phoebe Drayton, MOTAT Educator

For more stories and activities that teachers can share with students, visit our MOTAT FUN Teacher’s page!