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Turning Unwanted Items into Treasure through Upcycle Challenge

collage of various household items

Over the course of two weeks, Wentworth Institute of Technology students collaborated across disciplines to transform purposeless or unwanted products and give them a new life.  

Hosted by Accelerate, the Upcycle Challenge launched with special guest speakers Sarah Healey, strategic account manager at Casella Waste Systems, and Carlos Villamil, assistant professor of Industrial Design at Wentworth, discussing upcycling’s role in the recycling ecosystem and sustainable design techniques.  

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality. 

Immediately following the kickoff event, eight teams were formed—representing all class years, three clubs (Costume Club, Green Team, FrauHaus), and seven different majors—and created a wide range of products ranging from a light-up side table to a receiver-based computer. 

Team projects were highlighted during the challenge’s final event where students, faculty, and staff celebrated the innovative thinking and building that had transpired during the weeks before. At the end of the evening, two teams were awarded prizes, decided by public vote: 

  • Charles Rizk, Jonathan Yannis, and Nick Faro: Desktop computer 

  • Isaiah Simpson: Old pallet prop rack 

Description of Projects: 
person standing with chair and table

Table and Chair - Dan Nguyen 

Both pieces were free from Facebook Marketplace and needed a new home, but the table contained massive surface stains, while the chair had only a few screws and loose joints with the sides coming off. “I had originally thought I could just sand everything off or paint over the wood, but that would be a waste of the natural grain,” said Nguyen. “For the seat, I gave it a good cleaning and fixed the joints. I also re-upholstered the seating to fit the color scheme of the table to make a matching set.” 

man gesturing to a phone

Exploded iPhone - Zachary Bell & Rebecca Gomez 

Making a framed, exploded view of an early iPhone and its internal pieces for tech preservation and history. This project uses old residence hall furniture to build a frame with a thin plexiglass layer, allowing a viewer to easily see the components and their respective descriptive sketches. 

people standing with a chair

Chair - Colin Powers & Brie DuMont 

“While on co-op, we found this Eames-style hair by the dumpster and we knew we couldn’t pass it up,” said Powers and DuMont. Unfortunately, one of the legs was broken, so the duo created new legs, while maintaining the Eames feel. They used the plastic seat and the metal frame from the chair, some metal beams found in the ID studio, and built the wooden parts to tie it all together.  

person holding up cutting board

Cutting Board - Kevin Crawley 

An overused wood chair that was falling apart transformed into a cutting board with a curved, organic form.  

people posing with wooden shelf

Picture Frame Shelving - Jesse Sarkisian, Maggie Becker Becker & Nhiem Ngo (The Green Team) 

A shelf that made from found materials. The group used a pallet for wood, an old picture frame, and an air conditioner found in a local park. 

woman showing an LED table

LED Harp Table - Michelle King & Emma Conant (Frauhaus) 

An upcycled broken harp with no strings, repurposed into a side table that doubles as a light fixture. The materials used include wood, resin, and LED lights. 

people posing with desktop computer

Desktop Computer - Nick Faro, Jonathan Yannis, & Charles Rizk 

A working desktop computer that appears as an audio receiver. The receiver serves as the frame, and the parts were taken from old, abandoned desktop computers. “It’s a computer that doesn’t look like a computer at all,” said the group.  

person standing with Medieval storage rack

Medieval Storage Rack - Isaiah Simpson 

Upcycled prop weapon rack for the Costume Club built from two old wooden pallets.  

Majors represented in the Upcycle Challenge were Industrial Design, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Networking, and Applied Mathematics. 

Accelerate will next host a 2022 Energy Challenge kickoff event on Monday, March 14 at 6:00pm in the lobby of CEIS. This week-long challenge will task teams of students, faculty, and staff to generate feasible ideas that can be implemented on Wentworth’s campus with the goal of reducing the university's carbon footprint and converting to green energy.