3D Printing: The Answer to Our Recycling Issues?

It’s no question that the production of plastic contributes directly to CO2 emissions that are fueling a large problem facing our planet: climate change. To top that off, according to Plastic Oceans more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year. But how can 3D printing—a process that uses plastic, be the solution to our pollution problem?

Many companies are beginning to address that issue with innovative processes such as recycling waste products to create the materials that are used in 3D printers. A company called Willow Flex has created 3D print filament made out of compostable raw materials, meaning that the filament is able to disintegrate in a compost pile and promote plant growth. The filament is able to be used on FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and Bowden printers and can print at a speed of 50-70 millimeters per second. It’s also heat resistant to 221 degrees Fahrenheit and cold resistant to as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

WillowFlex Compostable Raw Material

Another company called 3D Brooklyn has launched a beta of recycled potato chip bag filament. It’s a 100% recycled PP/PE (polypropylene and polyethylene) blend that’s heat resistant to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Just one pound of the filament is equal to forty-five recycled bags and reduces carbon footprint by over 50% compared to non-recycled virgin plastic.

Most interestingly, 3D-Fuel has produced a new line of “Eco-Friendly Composite Materials” made of different waste and waste byproducts from coffee, beer, hemp, and trash. Each filament has its own unique property and smell: the coffee prints a rich brown color that has a natural grain and smells like a latte during the printing process, the beer filament is a golden color with grain and smells like barley grain, and the hemp is a translucent medium brown with grain and smells like lawn clippings. The trash filament uses upcycled Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to create the spool of material, and each spool sequesters .909 pounds of CO2 equivalent—that’s equal to the same amount of CO2 that’s emitted from a car driving 1.1 miles. (3D-Fuel. “3D Printing Materials to Fuel Your Creativity.” 3D-Fuel. N.p., 2017. Web. www.3dfuel.com/.)

Cathedral printed in Wound Up Coffee filament.

The only problem that arises with these new materials is the cost. The average price of ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) filament is anywhere from $0.04-$0.06/gram. That’s a common material used in FDM printing but is not biodegradable; although it is possible to recycle by reheating it again after it’s been heated to be reused as a filament. The prices of the recycled material mentioned in the paragraphs above are as follows:

Willow Flex’s Compostable Raw Material:                                                    $0.12/gram

3D Brooklyn’s Recycled Potato Chip Bag Filament PP/PE:                      $0.05/gram

3D-Fuel’s “Wound Up” Coffee Filament:                                                       $0.08/gram

3D-Fuel’s “Buzzed” Beer Filament:                                                                 $0.08/gram

3D-Fuel’s “Entwined” Hemp Filament:                                                          $0.09/gram

3D-Fuel’s “Landfillament” Trash Filament:                                                  $0.08/gram

It is exciting to see so many companies going in the direction of environmentally friendly materials. As research develops we may see the materials becoming more readily available and cost-friendly like their ABS and PLA (Polylactic Acid) counterparts, and the 3D printing industry could be used as a major combatant against climate change, plastic pollution, and waste.



“Guide to Green 3D Printing – 4 Ways to Be More Sustainable!” Pinshape 3D Printing Blog, Pinshape Inc., 5 July 2017, pinshape.com/blog/guide-green-3d-printing/.

“The Facts.” Plastic Oceans, Plastic Oceans Foundation, 2017, www.plasticoceans.org/the-facts/.

“Recycled Potato Chip Bag Filament PP/PE.” 3D Brooklyn, 3dbrooklyn.com/shop/3dbk-filament.

“WillowFlex.” BioInspiration, bioinspiration.eu/willowflex/.

3D-Fuel. “3D Printing Materials to Fuel Your Creativity.” 3D-Fuel. N.p., 2017. Web. www.3dfuel.com/.

Posted in 3D Printing, 3D Technology Blog.

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