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Master of Industrial Design student wins grant for plan to reduce waste in the studio

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

ASU graduate Ryan Colwick is turning plastic waste from the studio into recycled filament.

When Arizona State University graduate industrial design student Ryan Colwick noticed how much plastic waste he and his classmates generated during studio projects, he thought there had to be a better solution.

Students often build several rapid prototypes of their studio projects, leading to a lot of plastic waste from 3D-printed sketch models. Colwick took a challenge from one of his professors to find a solution to this problem, which resulted in ThermoLab, a waste-reduction filament recycling program to be implemented in The Design School.

“My hope is that we can set up a system to recycle filament into products that students can purchase for use in the studio,” said Colwick. “By setting up the infrastructure to implement and collect data on usage, my aspiration is that we can both bring 3D printing costs down for students and raise funds to replace aging hardware, all while reducing our environmental impact.”

Taking inspiration from other programs that have incorporated the technology and seeing the equipment in use in engineering labs around campus, Colwick realized this was an innovation that could be put to good use in the industrial design studios of The Design School. He said the initial observation clicked after taking a sustainability elective where he was encouraged to see waste in everyday situations. Students in industrial design studios often rely on 3D printers for rapid prototyping of a design solution for their current projects, and although he said it’s effective for iterating toward a useful product outcome, this process contributes to more plastic waste.

Colwick received a Sustainability Challenge Grant from ASU’s Changemaker Central, a community action grant program that exists to foster students’ ambitions and ignite social change within the greater community. Funded by the Sustainability Initiative Revolving Fund, the program has awarded 28 projects since being established in the fall of 2018.

“We’re here to support those ‘aha!’ moments,” said Siobhan Lyons, coordinator at Changemaker Central at the ASU Memorial Union. “Ryan knew exactly what change he wanted to inspire related to the work he and his classmates do daily. And the fact that this project will live beyond his tenure here at ASU will continue the legacy of this grant for the benefit of future students and encourage more sustainable practices in the studio.”

Colwick, who graduates this semester with a Master of Industrial Design, answered a few questions for ASU News.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I realized I wanted to have the ability to design anything so my passion started with architecture, then graphic design; after that came fabrication, which led me to industrial design.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: How much it actually costs to make a product vs how much we pay at the store.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I liked the environment and the promise of a travel studio to a different country.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It doesn't matter whether you graduate from an Ivy League or a community college, the only thing you take with you is the talents you sharpen.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: At my studio table watching movies or listening to Spotify while I work on prototypes.

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?

A: I received the Paul Klett Scholarship and the John Meunier Scholarship. For graduates there are not a lot of opportunities for financial assistance compared to undergraduate support, but I was glad to have some assistance along the way through my advanced degree.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would end the housing crisis for homeless veterans.

rcabrera@asu.edu