3D Printing Recycling Issues and Unemployed Gnomes

Above is a great TED talk by Mike Biddle of MBA Polymers.  You’ve probably only briefly glanced at those little numbered recycling symbols on plastics, but those are a huge deal for recyclers.  How do they work?  Does an army of little gnomes sort items by number?  What about the items that aren’t numbered?  In the TED talk Mike discusses the paramount issue in traditional plastic recycling, separating the different types of plastics, as even small amounts of cross contamination can cause large issues when making viable pellets to make new plastic items.  This separation is complicated by the fact that mechanical methods traditionally struggle because physical properties like density, used to separate other recyclables, are so similar between plastics.  This means large amounts of plastic are doomed to secondary applications such shredding as simple filler, use as junk mixed plastic or even incinerated or land-filled rather than truly recycled.  MBA has developed a trade secret process (theorized to work off precise cyclonic separation) that allows them to separate plastics cheaply, autonomously and with a high degree of purity.  Sounds like the gnomes are headed to the unemployment line.

Most 3D printed objects today are some form of plastic like ABS.  Your 3D print may be new and wanted today, at some point in the future it will probably be discarded, most people don’t print family heirlooms after all.  We believe we should do our best to be environmentally friendly 3D printers.  We’ve written in past about a great device where you can recycle your own plastics into new filament with Filabot as one option.  You could also head over to Thingverse and download a recycling symbol library to add to your printed objects.  However, if you don’t do either of these, Mike will be there to make sure your 3D print is turned into a new object rather than land-filled.

Recycling symbols related to 3D printing available in Thingverse library.

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