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Perpetual Plastics – 3D Printing With Waste

Posted on October 27th, 2017 by in Chemical R&D

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With 3D printing on the rise and an ever-increasing volume of waste plastic making its way into the ocean, there are organizations around the world looking to make a difference.

Collecting waste plastics, processing and turning them into something useful is a serious business. Producing 3D printer filament from different types of scrap plastic is one area that’s drawing quite a bit of interest.

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in turning waste plastic into filament, and one company who are making it their mission to produce recycled filament to an exceptionally high quality.

Making The Filament

At first glance, the process of turning recycled plastic waste into filament for 3D printers isn’t especially complicated. We can just melt down and shape the plastic, right?

Well different types of plastic are treated slightly differently and so there is a necessary sorting process as soon as materials have been gathered.

In fact, the logistics of gathering the plastic can be a significant challenge in itself. Whether it’s collecting waste from the ocean, recycling centres or simply the scrap from failed or unwanted 3D printed prototypes, we’re not short of places to source the waste from. Each channel has its own unique challenges and issues to overcome.

Once the plastics have been gathered, they are next cleaned and broken down into small parts (pellets or flakes), before being formed into their final structure. Most of the processes for producing 3D printing filament require the plastic to go through a “pellet” form, before being melted and extruded into the final spooled filament, so this is a common step.

A team from the University of Cambridge carried out a study which looked at redistributing material supply chains for 3D printing last year, which gives a helpful overview of the steps involved in recycling plastics if you’d like to read more.

Better Future Factory

A group of Rotterdam based alumni from the Delft University of Technology founded the Better Future Factory a few years ago and set out with the goal of combining innovative engineering with strong storytelling to build a better future.

One of their projects is the Perpetual Plastic Project, which they launched in 2012 as an interactive recycling installation where plastic waste can be recycled on the spot. The installation is a great tool for demonstrating how the process works and also highlighting the value of materials we so commonly see only as scrap.

The group also produce a range of recycled 3D printer filament under the name ReFil. With a range of filament to choose from, including some made out of blue PET bottles, recycled car dashboards (which was a project kicked off in 2015 following a successful Kickstarter), and more recently white food packaging, this is a powerful demonstration of recycling in action.

Addressing The Plastic Problem

Products like these, as well as the Perpetual Plastic Project installation, give a tangible example of how we might begin to address The Plastic Problem. This really is recycling in action, in a way which is easy to understand for people young and old. The whole process, end-to-end, can literally happen in front of your face.

As the quality of recycled filament improves and the usage of 3D printing continues to grow, perhaps this could not only be a way of using recycled plastics, but also something which changes peoples outlook on the value of the plastic they would normally throw away.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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