Waste to Riches: how recycled filament can transform the 3D printing industry - Our Daily Green

Friday, May 22, 2015

Waste to Riches: how recycled filament can transform the 3D printing industry

recycled plasticLet’s face it: plastic isn’t great for our environment. There are giant landfills of plastic in countries around the world, a small island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean, and plastic bags that carry our purchases from most stores. That’s a lot of waste, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. Imagine if we could harness our plastic bottles, bags, and packaging to create brand new items and drastically reduce our carbon footprint. That’s the idea behind new 3D printers like the EKOCYCLE Cube, which employs a special filament made from 25% recycled plastic. Equal to about three 20oz PET bottles, it’s a welcome trend in the 3D printing world. As we head into a more sustainable age, here are some of the exciting features to expect with a recycle-ready printer.

  • 1. More Affordable Filament:

Typically, filament cartridges for a standard 3D printer will set you back around $50. The plastic material isn’t cheap to fabricate and then roll into a spool, but production costs go down considerably when you use recycled plastic instead. In fact, it’s often more energy-efficient to recycle household polymers (like milk jugs and shampoo bottles) through a 3D printer than taking them to a recycle plant. This is especially true when the recyclable materials need to be transported long distances before being reprocessed. Printers like the EKOCYCLE have brought us one step closer to a fully recyclable system, where you can feel good about buying sustainable filament and spend less money in the process.

  • 2. More Recyclable Materials: 

Organizations like the Plastic Bank and the Ethical Filament Foundation have made it their mission to bring awareness to our filament usage and set environmentally friendly trends for 3D printing. The Plastic Bank understands that plastic waste is an enormous problem around the world, so they’ve created a printing center to educate poor citizens in developing countries about recycling their plastic. These wasted resources are worth around $15 a kilogram when processed into filament, so it’s a real opportunity for people to improve their financial situation and clean up their towns in the process. To achieve similar goals, the Ethical Filament Foundation works with companies to increase the use of recycled filament. In this emerging market, they want to set clear environmental standards for the industry.

  • 3. New Printing Sources:

Right now, 3D printing uses around 30 million pounds of plastic per year, and it’s expected to reach 250 million pounds by the end of the decade. To offset some of that consumption, designers have been coming up with new printers that harness glass and sand as a resource. Glass has the potential to become a bigger source for 3D printers, although the recycling technology is still in its early stages. Creative engineers like Markus Kayser are already using sand as a printer source — he created a printer called the SolarSinter to harness sunlight and melt down sand in the middle of the desert.

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