3D Printing

The Perpetual Plastic Project Uses 3D Printing to Eliminate Waste

While working on an article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has recently received a little bit of coverage in Italy (not by the mainstream media, though), I ran in to the Plastic Bank project. At the same time, I began imagining a 3D Print Shop, perhaps an FDM/FFF based 3D Print Shop, that recycles everything it sells. This way its customers would never throw away anything, just bring it back to the store to make it into something else.

Naturally I am not the only one, nor the first one, to realize that one of the most important promises of 3D printing is that we need not waste anything anymore. In the future, that is starting now, we will spend a little more money to get something that is made specifically for our needs and then we will recycle it into something that fits our new demands. This model can potential eliminate the culture of buying “things” indiscriminately and throwing them away without a second thought. This would likely mean a radical change to our economies and controlled de-growth, but enormous gains in terms of environmental sustainability.

This is also what the Perpetual Plastic Project (PPP) is about. The social enterprise created by Rotterdam (Netherlands) based Better Future Factory, which launched their mini-factory at the Lowlands festival in 2012 and took it around Europe for the better part of last year, attending Maker Faires and events where anyone could discover how easy it is to recycle used plastic cups to make new objects through 3D printers.

The mini-factory has five stations where the used cups are washed, dried, shredded (by hand) then extruded into filament and 3D printed into new objects. These are mainly rings used as a souvenir to carry the message and spread it into the community. Local recycling of plastics is what this project wants to promote but even more importantly it wants to convey that recycling can be a fun and rewarding experience.

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The next step for the PPP is to bring large companies, that produce bio-plastics or use plastic disposables, into the loop to begin a virtuous cycle where companies can actually cut costs and even grow revenues by recycling their plastic materials.

In the past two decades, many people in the western world (though still not enough) have started to feel good about recycling plastic, even when it just means putting the plastic waste in the correct bin. Now, it seems, it is time to step it up: local, immediate recycling means not just a long term reward in terms of better health of the world’s environment but also immediate gratification, in the form of a ring, a toy or, in the future, more useful objects. Perhaps even money, as plastic is, pound for pound, more expensive than steel. Money often complicates things, bringing into the picture personal profit and interests, however, much like plastic, it all depends on how it is used, and looped.