Printing a resource-efficient world: Part 2

By Tracey Grose

The preceding blog entry from June explored what recent advances in 3D printing and design tools could mean for the developing world. 3D printing doesn't require a developed industrial sector, and it's already providing affordable options for the production of shoes, water testing equipment, eye glasses and more.

The growth of 3D printing offers new economic opportunities and environmental gains. The market for filament for 3D printing is growing rapidly. And the cost for filament, roughly $30 per kilo, is out of range for many people. A recent article in Tech Republic explains how developments are good for the environment and local economies: "Using recycled plastic in 3D printers can help create jobs, open new markets, and even change the cycle of poverty in some cases."

According to the Ethical Filament Foundation, 15 million waste pickers around the world collect, sort and process recyclable materials in cities in developing nations. Urban centers struggle with waste management, and recycling can improve resource efficiency and reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Foundation is working with waste pickers in India as well as Central and South America to develop fair trade markets for recycled plastic used in the production of filament. In Pune, India, the Foundation is working with a cooperative of self-employed waste pickers called Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) to collect and sort plastic waste and Protoprint, a social enterprise that produces the filament.

Open source tools are supporting developments. In addition to the printers and design tools, tools are emerging for the recycling of plastic and the production of filament:

  • Recyclebot: Developed by Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technology University, the Recyclebot offers an inexpensive, open-source option for economically transforming old plastic into filament.
  • Filawinder: Launched on Kickstarter in March of 2013, Filastruder aims to make 3D printing affordable and produces the open source spooler.

The growing maker movement is democratizing production and also spawning new supplier networks. This is translating into new economic opportunity for traditionally disenfranchised communities.

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