What is eco-friendly 3D filament?Eco-friendly 3D filament is a new alternative to the classic plastic filament. 3D printing requires a lot of energy and often uses non-biodegradable materials. For example, ABS is made from petroleum. It is one of the most common 3D printing materials when it comes to filament extrusion.
In addition to the ecological footprint, the cost of 3D filament spools (between 20 and 50 euros per kilo) can be a concern for consumers that use large quantities of material.
By incorporating a biodegradable plastic base (in the form of fibers or powders), it is possible to create filaments that include a high percentage of organic material.
3D printing from recycled plastics
How to make 3D printing materials from plastic waste
Thanks to Tyler McNaney’s Filabot, or MIT’s Recyclebot, it is possible to create ecological filament at home by recycling plastic waste. These machines turn waste into a 3D filament that a 3D printer can use.
A bottle of milk recycled by the Filabot converts into 2.5 meters of 3D filament.
First, the machine crushes recyclable plastic waste (bottles, boxes, etc.) to transform it into plastic pellets (or granules). The recycling machine then heats and extrudes these pellets into the shape of filament. The filament is then wrapped around a spool so that it can be reused again by a 3D printer.
Image of the Filabot plastic extruder’s recycling process. Recycled plastic is inserted before exiting as a 3D filament that a 3D printer can reuse.
Various 3D printed objects made from old plastic waste that was turned into filament by the ProtoCycler.
Reuse 3D printed objects and plastic print waste
3D printing requires patience and involves a lot of testing to perfectly configure a 3D printer and produce quality 3D models. Many of these tests result in print fails, extra material, supports, or simply old pieces that are no longer useful.
Plastic waste extruders such as the Filabot or ProtoCycler can recycle this plastic waste. This innovation, with its ecological aspect, also represents a big cost saving for the users who can reduce their 3D filament expenses.
Buy 3D filament made from recycled materials
The Dutch startup Refil sells 3D filament made from two recycled plastics, ABS and PET. These two plastics mainly come from plastic bottles and car dashboards. This award-winning innovation is called Refilament.
According to Refil’s co-founder Casper van der Meer, the recycled filament (free of toxic additives), boasts the same features as ordinary filament and is available at a price between 30 and 40 dollars a spool.
Black ABS 3D filament produced by Refil from old car dashboards.
3D printing with biodegradable 3D filament
PLA, a cornstarch-based 3D printing material
With ABS, PLA is the most commonly used 3D printing material when it comes to filament deposition.
PLA is made from cornstarch. It is compatible with most 3D printers using extrusion 3D printing technology.
Unlike ABS, PLA is a biodegradable material. Thanks to its non-toxicity, PLA can also be used to 3D print objects that will be in contact with food.
The main weakness of PLA is its high sensitivity to moisture and its tendency to break rather than bend. It makes it more difficult to handle than ABS.
Green and blue frogs 3D printed from PLA.
A colorful and complex geometric figure 3D printed with paper using a Mcor 300+ printer.
Sustainable 3D printing: paper, an alternative to plastic
Mcor Technologies is a 3D printer manufacturer that has successfully made 3D printing material from paper. Their Laminar 3D printing technology successively cuts sheets of paper and glues them onto each other to 3D print an object.
Paper is not as environmentally friendly as PLA, but it is a serious alternative to more toxic materials. It also costs much less: a ton of paper costs around €1,300 while a ton of PLA costs between €5,000 and €10,000.
Plant-based 3D printing materials
Many plant-based filaments have been developed, such as the soy-based FilaSoy or SeaWeed, a material made from seaweed. The Algix from 3DFuel is also available and is made from nuisance algae.
Wood is also a material that is used to make natural 3D filaments. For example, Laywood is made up of 40% of wood, which gives it a touch and appearance similar to wood.
ColorFabb has even developed two 100% organic filaments: the WoodFill, made up of 70% PLA and 30% wood fiber, and the BambooFill, half bamboo and half PLA.
Finally, oysters and coconuts have also been experimentally used to create new 3D filaments.
A small 3D printed elephant made with ColorFabb’s Woodfill material.
3D printing with recycled building materials
3D printed houses made from recycled concrete
The Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering received attention in 2014 by 3D printing ten houses in less than 24 hours. These were 3D printed from a mix of cement, industrial waste, and recycled fiberglass. In 2015, they did it again, this time with a four-storey building, and also succeeded in less than 24 hours.
In January 2018, the same company 3D printed bus stops at Fengjing Town in Shanghai.
In Amsterdam, a canal house was also 3D printed by DUS Architects in 2016. This house, designed in partnership with Henkel, is 3D printed with bioplastics. It consists of 80% ecological materials.
Examples: two innovative projects to recycle plastic waste
An eco-friendly 3D printer launched by Coca-Cola, 3D Systems, and will.i.am
will.i.am, who was previously creative director of the 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems, had teamed up with Coca-Cola to create Ekocycle. The Ekocycle is a 3D printer that uses 3D filament, of which 25% is made from recycled plastic bottles.
“Ekocycle’s goal is to collaborate with the world’s most influential brands and use technology, art, and fashion to change an entire culture. It’s the beginning of a more sustainable lifestyle through 3D printing. Waste is waste only if we waste it.” says will.i.am.
Ekocycle will be able to 3D print objects with a build volume of one hundred cubic centimeters, with a minimum layer thickness of 70 microns.
Three 500ml Coca-Cola bottles are needed to make one Ekocycle cartridge. The available colors Coca-Cola’s emblematic colors: red, black, and white.
Picture of Jennifer Gadient and Fabian Wyss in front of their van, equipped with a 3D printer to recycle plastic waste from beaches.
will.i.am, a founding member of the Black Eyed Peas and 3D Systems’ previous artistic director, presenting the Ekocycle eco-friendly 3D printer.
Clean beaches and 3D printed souvenirs of the sea
In 2014, two Swiss entrepreneurs, Jennifer Gadient and Fabian Wyss, launched the Seafood Project. This project aimed to clean the beaches of France, Spain, and Morocco by recycling all plastic waste into 3D printed objects.
The couple left France in October 2014 and drove down to Morocco in their van, in which they had all the necessary equipment for 3D printing.
On the beaches, they recovered plugs, bottles, and other plastic waste. With the help of an extruder and a shredder, they transformed this waste into 3D filament. They then 3D printed objects with an Ultimaker 3D printer and sold them on their website.