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Upcycling at Camp Invention

“As prototypes unfold, they allow you to work on things, they allow you to make changes prototypes don’t often work, they break, they change, you have new ideas. You have to manipulate them a lot. Your prototype has to be flexible.” 

Steve Sasson, Inventor of the Digital Camera and 2011 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee


At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we know that prototyping with everyday objects can produce incredible results. For example, in order to provide affordable medical equipment in poverty-stricken areas, Collegiate Inventors Competition® finalist team NeoVent used a yogurt container and duct tape to prototype their lifesaving infant respirator!

Like many inventors before them, NeoVent used a technique known as upcycling — the act of recycling an object to create an item of greater value. Because these everyday household objects are readily available and routinely discarded they represent ideal prototyping materials for those who want to innovate at a moment’s notice.

Transforming upcycled items into invention prototypes is one of the most popular activities at our Camp Invention® program. By donating sharable items for upcycling throughout the week of camp, parents can ensure that their children will have the materials they need to explore their creativity. Read below for ideas on everyday upcycling materials that might be hiding in plain sight around your house!

Suggested Upcycling Materials for Camp Invention

  • Small or medium boxes
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Cannisters and containers
  • Cups and lids
  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam trays
  • Rubber bands
  • Miscellaneous paper (construction, magazines, newspapers, etc.)
  • Balls and sporting goods (no golf clubs or bats)
  • Pulleys
  • Springs
  • Strainers
  • Washers
  • Unwanted toys (building blocks, car/train tracks, game parts, pinwheels, plastic figurines, toy vehicles, etc.)
  • Unwanted DVDs, tapes and cases

It is important to note that not all household items are appropriate for our upcycling activities. Below is a list of items not to bring to camp:

  • Containers that have stored food or liquid
  • Batteries
  • Cords
  • Glass
  • Glitter
  • Hangers
  • Medicine containers
  • Packing peanuts
  • Paint
  • Wire

Learn More About Camp Invention Today

As our flagship summer experience, Camp Invention inspires the next generation of innovators by introducing them to revolutionary NIHF Inductees! Many of these inventors prototyped the designs of their world-changing inventions using the same upcycling techniques that our students learn at camp. From creating island survival tools to producing the ultimate farming equipment, each day our campers are challenged to invent creative ways to solve complex problems. To learn more about Camp Invention, we invite you to visit our website.

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