One person’s trash is another’s treasure. Let’s take a look at the mountains of discarded plastic that has been 3D printed into amazing products, how it’s done, and the printers and products used. Additive manufacturing is ideally positioned to not only raise awareness of how plastic waste can be repurposed but also to become a big part of the solution.
Recently, beach furniture in Greece and public benches in Amsterdam were 3D printed from local waste plastic, as were the 2020 Olympic podiums. The German automaker Audi is now 3D printing factory assembly aids from its own used packaging materials, Coca-Cola is printing urban furniture from plastic bottle waste, and US carmaker Ford is 3D printing parts for its Super Duty F-250 from plastic dental molds that otherwise would go to a landfill.
Many of these recent initiatives to repurpose plastic waste are demonstration projects to raise awareness about plastic recycling or beta tests to assess its viability, but each successful project brings the goal of a plastic circular economy closer. As with most things having to do with sustainability, recycling, and environmental preservation today, practices will really change as a result of regulation and public pressure, of which there is a growing amount. The EU and some states in the US have set recycling targets for 2030 or sooner. Additive manufacturing has the potential to play a large role. The ability to profit from the practice will also be a driving factor in its adoption, and there are plenty of companies today doing just that.