New Desktop Plastic Recycling Device Could Make 3D Printing More Planet-Friendly

The Filabot. Photo by Whitney Trudo.

Over the last year or two 3D printing has enjoyed a boom of sorts, as the technology has decreased to a size and price that’s at least somewhat feasible for the average consumer or hobbyist. At the same time the cost of plastic filament — the raw material 3D printers heat and then deposit to fabricate objects — has kept use of the technology beyond the reach of most individuals.

But now there’s a new desktop system that not only has the potential to solve the cost-of-filament problem, but to also make 3D printing an ally in efforts to cut down on the average household’s plastic waste.

The Filabot was developed by an American college student, Tyler McNaney, who raised raised over three times his initial $10,000 goal with a Kickstarter campaign to get the project off the ground. Aficionados were paying $350 for the first-run version fo the device, which can transform most forms of household plastic waste into filament, as well as recycle failed 3D printing projects for another go-round. Treehugger has the details:

The Filabot can turn most types of plastic into filament, including HDPE, LDPE, PET, ABS, PLA and NYLON-101. That means the machine can turn most plastic waste you might have around your house into a building material. Things like milk jugs, soda or water bottles, trays, plastic wraps, water pipes, luggage, packaging, biodegradable plastics and even Legos can become something new.

This also means that 3D printed projects gone wrong can also be fed into the Filabot to be made again, giving more room for trial and error without the fear of creating lots of plastic waste.

This system lets us imagine a future where we’re not only 3D printing replacements or repair parts for our things instead of throwing them away, but using waste plastic to in the process.

Filabot had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year where supporters paid $350 to get a first run version of these machines and the team is slowly working out kinks to get them out to public, though no official price has been released yet.

On the other side of the equation — moving 3D printers themselves into the realm of everyday devices Americans keep in their homes — MakerBot recently unveiled a 3D printer for the consumer market. Then Cubify did them one better, releasing a consumer printer that’s smaller, more aesthetic, and, arguably most important, cheaper.

To give a few examples of the scale of plastic waste problem: Only 10 percent of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally each year is recycled. In the United States specifically, 31 million tons were produced in 2010, and only eight percent was recycled. 51 billion plastic bottles are used globally every year, while only one in five are recycled. And plastic bags and cigarettes make up 80 percent of marine litter, and plastic bag litter has become such a huge problem that country’s around the world are taxing or outright banning them.

In some ways, the problem may actually be worse in the developed world. For instance, while India’s official government does a poor job dealing with trash, an informal trash economy has sprung up that successfully recycles 56 to 70 percent of the country’s recyclable material. In Europe and the United States, the amount is closer to 30 percent.


8 Responses to New Desktop Plastic Recycling Device Could Make 3D Printing More Planet-Friendly

  1. fj says:

    Potentially more exciting may have been the announcement of iron-strength paper back in 2008

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Plastic pollution is one of our gravest problems. All plastic produced really ought to be completely biodegradable into harmless substances, but, naturally given our suicidal bent, it is not. Another thought-fart- why are we bothering with 3D-printing or any other technology when we are about to make ourselves extinct? We ought to be spending every technological effort on ecological repair. Of course, if 3D printing could prove useful in that overriding effort, well and good. My Luddite streak is showing.

  3. 3D printing will be particularly helpful in more remote areas. As long as they have a cheap printer, solar power, a satellite connection to the web and excess plastic they will be able to “print” badly needed replacement pieces, or even download the specs for new equipment.

    Reminds me of another technology that may help even in such areas, a high efficiency nanotech approach to solar:

    “Details of the solar steam method were published online today in ACS Nano. The technology has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent. Photovoltaic solar panels, by comparison, typically have an overall energy efficiency around 15 percent. However, the inventors of solar steam said they expect the first uses of the new technology will not be for electricity generation but rather for sanitation and water purification in developing countries.”


    “Changes in temperature, pressure, and mass revealed that 82 percent of the sunlight absorbed by the nanoparticles went directly to generating steam while only 18 percent went to heating water.”

    The technical paper is open access:

    Neumann et al. (2012) Solar Vapor Generation Enabled by Nanoparticles. ACS Nano, Online 10.1021/nn304948h

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes, and perhaps I stayed up too late watching the tennis but while we are fiddling as the planet burns, could we also get on top of that little apostrophe problem, ME

  5. Freedem says:

    Scalable 3d printing that could recycle waste into stuff, and repair any gadget with a piece broken off would go a long way to turning the culture around. Turning empty plastic bottles into a valuable commodity and eliminating much of the “Consumer” culture. Instead of buying a gift you would make it to your design to to the job needed.

  6. fj says:

    yes, nanoparticle heating could prove to be a real game changer.

    . . . an example of all the exciting advances when the fossil fuel industry stops monopolizing our future.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Are you are confident that nano-particles will not become another pollution nightmare?