Sustainability at the MakerSpace

The NYU MakerSpace is committed to fostering initiatives and projects around sustainability with a focus on circular design and designing waste out. We embrace the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and support them through projects such as Urban Food Lab, a hydroponic farm, the NYU FREEdge, a community fridge addressing food insecurity, a Plastic Shredder to recycle failed 3D prints, training, workshops and mentoring of entrepreneurial ventures (such as RISE, We Are the New Farmers). Sustainability, Circular Design and systems-thinking are principles underlying all the programming and mentoring that we do here. The NYU MakerSpace is one of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's profiled universities, a group of "worldwide universities undertaking compelling teaching or research programs in the circular economy." Learn more about the sustainability initiatives happening at the MakerSpace below.

Circular Design @ the MakerSpace

The plastic shredder is an endeavor started by MakerSpace staff to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic waste by breaking down failed 3D prints into small flakes, which are then melted into usable filament. The free 3D printing option at the MakerSpace leads to frequent usage and therefore, generates many failed and unused prints. In Fall 2019 alone, more than 15 pounds of failed PLA prints were collected.

Circular design is the process in which products and services are created without a traditional beginning, middle and end. Tim Brown refers to it as creating products with a continuous life cycle where less waste is generated and products are “made to be made again.” To introduce the concept of circular design to NYU students, the MakerSpace received a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability. The grant provided funding to hold workshops and trainings centered around the environment, hire sustainability ambassadors to build the plastic shredder, and share their creation at the Construct3D conference where they won the "Crowd Favorite" award!

Inspired by Precious Plastic, an initiative that exists to reduce plastic waste, the MakerSpace team of sustainability ambassadors decided to create their own plastic shredder. Undergraduate students Sayed Ananda, Angy Lara, and Carlos Martinez-Mejia worked together to manufacture the shredder and fine tune a plastic extruder that was purchased from Noztek. To determine the effectiveness of the shredder, the number of PLA spools purchased were compared to the number of spools created using the shredder, the amount of PLA material being discarded from failed 3D prints were measured, and the amount of PLA that could not be used due to a shredder error were tracked.

In addition to manufacturing the shredder, the team also hosts various workshops to help spread awareness and educate people on sustainability. To discuss textile waste and the ecological risks that accompany fast fashion and the textile industry, activities such as turning an old t-shirt into a reusable tote bag have been implemented. Additional topics of past workshops include different methods to identify types of plastic, alternatives to minimize plastic use/waste, and resources for local plastic waste centers.

Picture of the MakerSpace plastic shredder.
Picture of failed 3D prints on a table.

Urban Food Lab

The Urban Food Lab, located on the ground floor of the MakerSpace, is a vertical farming class that encourages students to apply their interests and multidisciplinary fields to urban farming via a hands-on aquaponic farm setting. The vertical farm involves a cycle of sustainability in which fish feed on sustainably sourced fish food. As a result, nutrient-heavy waste is produced and pumped through hoses to the roots of plants via grow shelves. The waste produced by the fish ends up providing valuable nutrients to the plants, creating a sustainable yet effective farming system.

What initially began as an idea developed into a small model of the farm through the Prototyping Fund, which was provided by the NYU MakerSpace and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. The Urban Food Lab was then awarded a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability, allowing for the project to scale up to the current aquaponic vertical farm that is located in the MakerSpace. After receiving a second Green Grant, the Urban Food Lab joined the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program and now serves as NYU’s first vertical farming class!

The class promotes sustainability and farming to students by giving them the opportunity to run their own project while connecting their specialties and techniques to the vertical farm. Currently, the team has been focused on determining if certain types of plastic should be degraded by mealworms, fungus, or genetically modified bacteria for the EPA's "People, Prosperity, and the Planet" grant. The project was born when a VIP student tried to reproduce the results of composting out polystyrene with mealworms. When the resultant material reacted poorly to a plant, the investigation of whether this is truly a productive method of degrading plastics began.

Students of the lab are also responsible for maintaining chemical levels, repairing damaged equipment, and regulating the temperature for optimal performance. Previous student projects include farm-to-pharmacy cosmetics, building robots to test chemicals, growing edible mushrooms, redirecting sunlight through optical fibers, analyzing air quality, and so much more! The lab provides an environment for undergraduate students to receive guidance from graduate student mentors and explore new farm technologies.

Due to the pandemic, the farm has temporarily shut down but the Urban Food Lab team continues to stay active on social media. To learn more about what they do, progress pictures, updates on the farm, student projects and more, visit their Instagram profile here.

urban food lab action


Originally known as Project Avocado, the NYU FREEdge was launched in 2015 in collaboration with Design for America (DFA) NYU to address food waste on the NYU campus and reduce the prevalence of food insecurity. The NYU FREEdge is a human-centered design initiative, consisting of a community refrigerator located on the downtown Brooklyn Tandon campus, just outside the MakerSpace where members of the community are invited to give and take food as needed.

Many college students across the country are unable to afford nutritious food. According to Recycling Works, the average college student wastes 142 pounds of food a year and CUFA, the College and University Food Bank Alliance, reports that 30 percent of college students face food insecurity.

To foster community engagement and battle the issue of food waste on campus, the first NYU FREEdge was installed and served as the first community fridge on the East Coast. In 2016, the team received the NYU Prototyping Fund, allowing them to expand a successful prototype to the NYU Washington Square Campus. In 2017, the team developed a second prototype involving a Raspberry Pi touch display that tracked the number of user interactions and took pictures of the food inside when the fridge was closed. During this stage, a color coded sticker system to discard food after a week was also implemented, ensuring freshness and food safety. To ensure that the FREEdge is continually kept clean and the project maintained, the MakerSpace took on the FREEdge as a collaborative project with DFA NYU in 2019. Since then, the FREEdge has had a regular stream of food donations from departmental events and from the NYU community.

Due to the pandemic and limited building access, the NYU FREEdge team has had to temporarily scale back the project. Instead, the team is has been supporting the community outside of NYU by holding dry goods food drives and making regular donations to local community fridges around Brooklyn. They're also working to grow the NYU FREEdge community by sharing food waste tips on their social media channels @nyufreedge and planning to host a workshop later this semester.