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Recycling 3-D printed parts

This article was graciously provided by the Division of Applied Mechanics at Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala University.

Plastic 3-D printer is commonly used by makers, in education and research. Effected by sustainability reasons, mostly PLA is chosen as raw material. PLA is a thermoplastic polymer and it is produced out of sugarcane, cornstarch, or similar. Since the material is produced by organic substances, one may think that its use is very kind to the nature and it is degraded simply like a fruit compost. In reality, PLA degrades better than other commonly used materials like ABS or PEEK; however, it is only compostable, in other words, we need to make sure to send it to the correct facility to be recycled fully. In the case of mixing different polymers, its recycling becomes problematic or even impossible. In larger entities, where 3-D printer is used in large quantities, it is possible to recycle with high efficiency.

How is it possible for makers to use 3-D printer in a more nature-friendly mode?

Division of Applied Mechanics in Ångströmlab is transforming its additive manufacturing and testing facilities in order to increase resource-use efficiency in line with SDG 9. We aim for re-using the material in order to reduce the waste production. The idea is simple, one printed part is not thrown away; instead, it is transformed to a filament in order to 3-D print another structure out of it. For this aim, a wood chipper (Fig 1 right) makes the parts small to fill into the extruder (Fig. 1 left, in front) for producing new filaments to be used on the 3-D printer (Fig. 1 left, in the back). Reducing waste is possible in some cases and we start the transformation in the core of education for a more sustainable future.

Figure 1: A wood chipper (on the right) makes the parts small enough to be able to be filled into an extruder (seen in the left picture in front) for producing new filament that can be used 3-D printers.

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