Turning Trash into Treasure: Upcycling Cups on Campus

light fixture made of recycled cups
Posted on May 22, 2014

When assigned the final project to create an "intervention on campus" in Architecture 204: Intro to Design Studio, Sandy Bole ‘16 and Julian Edgren ‘16 set high standards for themselves. Rather than relying on more readily available materials, the two sophomores spent a weekend collecting thousands of used plastic cups from four of Princeton's eating clubs for their project, which they fittingly named, "cUpcycle." 

Edgren describes cUpcycle as “the upcycling of cups- turning something that would have otherwise been recycled or sent to the landfill into something with a higher value.” Of the 5,000 cups Edgren and Bole collected, they were able to repurpose 3,000 of them to create durable chairs and creative lighting fixtures. The rest are being saved for another potential use.

two students with their recycled cup project Julian Edgren ‘16 and Sandy Bole ‘16, cUpcycle creators

In building the structures, the cups were securely attached using a glue gun as well as fishing wire that was run through holes, allowing them to be tied together. The rims and curves of the cups were used to make the pieces as strong as possible, and the rims were then painted for aesthetic purposes. Bole said that the construction was very time consuming to get the right shape and curve while utilizing the natural shape of the cups.

“The Wave was the most difficult structure to make, taking approximately 6-8 hours with both of us working together,” Bole said.  “The light sphere took about an hour and a half.”

the wave made of cups The Wave

The inspiration for the project came to Bole and Edgren after noticing the large amount of cups used by the eating clubs, and seeing the potential to change that use.

“We wanted to raise awareness about the amount of waste eating clubs produce,” Bole said. “We were curious about how much waste is produced and found out that the amount actually exceeded our expectations.”

Both students expressed an interest in continuing with the project, and ultimately hope to spur change in the eating clubs.

“I don’t think it has triggered any change yet [in the eating clubs],” said Edgren. “But now it is in the minds of the eating club presidents and maybe that will trigger a conversation.” He pointed out that the furniture, which is for sale, could give the clubs' waste a new and decorative life and help to raise awareness. 

light fixture made of cups cUpcycle light fixture at Earth Day Picnic

Overall, they said that the response from students has been positive. The chair structures, which were used during the Earth Day Picnic, fit right in and were admired by attendees. 

“Princeton students do recycle and think about recycling. But there is still waste and always room for improvement,” said Edgren. Bole added, “Recycling makes you feel better psychologically. I’m more interested in upcycling. People think it’s okay to still use a lot because it’s being recycled.” When asked about their view of recycling at Princeton, both Bole and Edgren commended students on their recycling efforts, praising the new single-stream recycling roll out.