The market for 3D printing is expected to double every 3 years. That is good news for anyone looking to get involved. A bigger market means lower costs in the form of cheaper materials and printers.
What impact will a bigger 3D printing market have on the environment? 3D printing produces over 275 tons of plastic waste per year. Granted this is not like what traditional manufacturing produces but with the continued growth of 3D printing, it could soon be. How do we handle the waste?
The most effective way of dealing with plastic waste from 3D printing is recycling. This could either be through recycling centers or upcycling.
In this article, we explore some simple ways you can reduce the amount of waste you produce from 3D printing. If you’re worried about how much plastic waste 3D printing produces and what impact that will have, this article has a few tips and tricks on what you can do.
What Can I Do With 3D Printer Scraps?
Most 3D printer scraps can be either repurposed or reused. Repurposing could be using the filament to calibrate a 3D printer. Scraps can also be reused as part of a new print in the form of infills, connectors and welding rods.
Repurposing scraps to calibrate a printer
Incorrect printer settings will almost always result in a failed print. This is the most common reason why 3D prints do not turn out as planned. The second most common cause of failed prints is poor filament quality just in case you were wondering.
Filament scraps can be very useful in helping you get the right printer settings for your next print. Not only does this make good use of waste material, it also reduces the chance of creating more waste material from a bad print.
This is especially useful if you’re just getting started with 3D printing. Keeping some filament scraps handy gives you something to experiment with to find the right printer settings before you blow a roll of expensive nylon by extruding at the wrong temperature! Source
Also, we recommend that you check out our post “What to Do with the Last Bit of Filament? (Leveraging Excess Filament)“
This is probably where filament scraps have the most utility. As the raw material in a new print. Certain prints might need to be joined or welded together. Scraps can be used to make the connector pins, rivets or hinges in prints that need joints.
If you have a 3D pen, you can use that in combination with your scraps to weld parts of a print together. Here is more on 3d pens (What Surfaces Can You Use A 3D Pen On? All You Need To Use One!)
If you’re working on a print that does not need perfect infills, you can use your filament scraps to make them. Why waste material on concealed interiors no one will see?
In some cases, you might even be able to start a completely new print, even a smaller one, with your printer scraps. Maker communities have tons of small models you can get for free and use to create something from scraps you would have otherwise thrown away.
Can 3D Printer Waste Be Recycled?
3D printers use thermoplastics. These are plastics that can be melted down and molded. Thermoplastics are easier to recycle compared to thermoset plastics. Most types of filament can be recycled. At present, however, most recycling programs do not recycle 3D printing waste as it is classified as Type 7 plastic.
There are smaller companies that handle the recycling of 3D waste. To find them you have to call around your local area to find out which materials they handle. If you can’t find anyone to recycle for you, recycle it yourself by re-extruding it.
How to recycle printer waste by re-extrusion
There are two main steps involved in re-extruding printer waste. These are shredding and extrusion.
- Shredding. First you need to cut or break the waste into small pieces. You can use a filament shredder, basic paper shredder or even a simple household tool like a hammer.
- Extruding. After you’ve shredded, you need to melt the pieces down and run them through a filament extruder. You can buy or make your own extruder using cheap salvaged materials.
The upside of recycling your own filament is of course less waste. It does, however, come with some downsides.
For one, the tolerance of recycled filament is more variable. That means you might need to use bigger or smaller nozzles. Also, the quality of the filament will not be the same as the composition of the plastic has changed due to re-extrusion.
How to reduce 3D printer waste
Reducing your waste will give you less cause to worry about trying to find a reclamation center that accepts 3D printing material. Here are a few ways to reduce printer waste.
- Print without supports. Using minimal supports or eliminating them can help you achieve prints with far less excess to cut away. One thing you should also consider is printing two halves you can then join together. The flat bases of the halves can eliminate the need for a support.
- Use a brim. Rather than use rafts to make your model stick to the print bed, print with a brim instead. Like supports, rafts waste a lot of material since you need to remove them from your print.
- Use the right print settings. Make sure to test your printer settings. Find the right settings for the material you’re working with before you start printing.
- Print in smaller sizes. You should also consider making smaller prints where printing to scale isn’t necessary, for example with prototypes. You could also apply this to detail as well. Print with less detail if strict fidelity to your model isn’t crucial. Source
Also, check out our post “Is 3D Printing Environmentally Friendly? what you need to know!“
What Can You Do With Discarded PLA?
PLA is the most commonly used filament. It is also the most biodegradable as it is made mostly from organic matter like cornstarch. Theoretically, the organic composition of PLA makes it compostable.
It does, however, take a very long time for this process to occur naturally. It takes a year or longer depending on how wet the climate is. The wetter the climate the quicker it occurs.
Composting works best in a controlled environment. Composting at home would likely take far too long and leave unwanted trace heavy metal residues in your garden. The better way to deal with PLA waste would be to recycle it through re-extruding. Source