Is 3D Printing the Future of Recycling?

Published on 18th, January 2022.

Waste plastic is a real problem. It’s not biodegradable, it can leach out toxic chemicals as it slowly bleaches and deteriorates in landfills, and nowhere near enough of it gets recycled. Plastic is filling up landfills, contaminating the groundwater and getting in the oceans – seawater is now riddled with tiny particles from disintegrating plastic objects.

OK, enough green sermonising – where does 3D printing come in? Are we the new bad guys, endlessly churning out plastic things in our workshops, offices and spare bedrooms? Will 3D printers be banned to stop bits of filament going up turtles’ noses?

Actually no. 3D printing could put a serious dent in the plastic problem – and trial schemes are already underway in two European cities.

In those cities – Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Thessaloniki in Greece – you’ll currently find projects combining recycling and 3D printing on an industrial scale. You’ll also find an increasing amount of 3D-printed plastic street and beach furniture, whish has been produced by those projects. And it’s all done with recycled plastic.

The goal of the projects is to create what they call a “circular stream”. In a circular stream, residents bring recyclable single-use plastics to the Print Your City centre; there they’re sorted, shredded, coloured and extruded into filament. Large industrial Fused Deposition Modelling printers then print a variety of objects, many of which are designed by interested citizens.

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