Just like every other industry that rapid prototyping/3D printing has touched along its path, it has also revolutionized recycling. 3D printing, compared to other methods of production, has always been a lot more eco-friendly; a fact that will become even more apparent as time goes on. It of course, also causes one to become even more efficient, as production increases a lot and the amount of waste that occurs as a result is almost non-existent in many cases.
There have been a lot of plastic wastes in landfills and oceans, something that most people agree is a problem and requires a solution. There are many researchers who are working towards finding a solution for it, and what better way than to recycle the plastic through 3D printing?
You no longer have to wonder what to do with the plastic bottles in your home after you’re done using them, as you can simply feed them to your 3D printing machine (if you have one) and it will automatically transform into material that you will be able to use for in your 3D printing. The old plastic bottles are turned into filament, which can also be called “plastic ink”. You can either purchase such filament for rapid prototyping purposes, or you could get yourself a machine that would be able to turn them into filament for you. This will also be a great way to recycle and turn old plastic into something creative, so in a way, this could be seen as an investment. After all, old plastic bottles are already being used to make fleece for jackets.
The machine that turns old plastic to filament is called ProtoCycler, which was created in 2013 by David Joyce, Alex Kay, and Dennon Oosterman. The machine doesn’t just make use of empty plastic bottles, but it also uses 3D projects that were rejected as well as any other type of plastic imaginable. These are then grinded, melted, extruded, and finally wound up onto a spool. Also, one does not need to worry about the consistency of these rapid prototyping materials, since a special computer controlled system ensures that the filament’s width remains consistent throughout.
Not only is this method a lot more environmentally friendly and cheaper in the long run, it also gives you a lot more options than normal store bought filament. For one, it gives you a lot more color options. Also, if the use of 3D printers is more frequent and if used in schools, this will allow the cost of these machines to be reduced due to competition and economies of scale.
However, you have to admit that something that has been produced professionally would ultimately be superior to an easier (and eventually cheaper) alternative. It is said that although the filament is just as strong as the store-bought filament initially, each reuse causes the filament to become weaker. If you end up reprinting your model too many times, the material might become frail and brittle. Also, another thing is that multicolor plastic works in the same way as paint when it comes to blending, which means that frequent use of the same recycled plastic will cause your filament to become brown in color.
However, this is a better and cheaper alternative for someone who plans on mass producing things. If the quantity is what matters over the quality, then this is perfect for rapid prototyping. Other people as well have also worked on similar solutions as such as ProtoCycler, and one such device is called the Recyclebot. Initiatives as such has made filament extremely accessible to people, since rapid prototyping services can easily require a lot more filament than you may have been ready for.
Additionally, such a method of recycling plastic to make filament actually has several economic advantages as well. There are around 15 million people worldwide in various developing countries derive their income from picking up waste, and although this is not an easy way to make a living, these people living in the poorest nations are also made to work under terrible conditions. 3D printing technology will change that through a foundation known as Ethical Filament.These ideas have garnered attention in the world of rapid prototyping, just as they should, as these ideas have also been encouraged and appreciated by the users of rapid prototyping services.
That is not all, because of the hype over filament being created from recycled plastic, some companies have even begun to build 3D printers with built in recycling machines that would perform the same job as the other machines mentioned above. Although the printer with the built in recycling system hasn’t been released yet and is still under progress, we can only imagine the great impact that it would have on the 3D printing technology and world. It’s great to see this progress and innovation in today’s world because as we all know our planet is a precious and limited commodity.
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