A Zero Waste Lab was just opened in Thessaloniki, Greece that directly recycles plastic into outdoor furniture. For the public, closing the plastic waste loop with direct recycling is one of the more compelling selling points of 3D printing as we all feel the guilt of our plastic waste. The facility is run by THE NEW RAW as part of the Print Your City project of Coca-Cola; it locally processes waste plastic into filament for a large-format 3D printer that then produces outdoor furniture to be placed around the beachfront.
Their 3D printer is a large robotic arm equipped with a hotend extruder, a configuration that’s growing more popular in the industrial 3D printing space. Robotic arms can already replicate the cartesian movements of cuboid 3D printers, but their additional axes allow for much more complex motions, including the diagonal printing employed by the Zero Waste Lab. The diagonal orientation provides more strength because weight will never be applied perpendicular to the print lines, where 3D prints are weakest.
The Print Your City website is interactive, allowing citizens to choose the shape and color of a piece of 3D printed furniture. They can also pick where they’d like it to be placed as well as what additional features to include, such as a tree pot, a water bowl for pets, a workout bench, a bike rack, and more. The site indicates how many kilograms of plastic will need to be recycled to 3D print the piece (mine would take 91kg), and a plaque is also attached to the 3D print that states the same. Over 3,000 designs have been submitted since the site launched in December 2018 and THE NEW RAW plans to recycle four tons of plastic over the duration of the project. That equates to about 50 pieces of furniture, a lofty goal.
Panos Sakkas and Foteini Setaki, founders of THE NEW RAW, stated, “Plastic has a design failure. It is designed to last forever, but often we use it once and then throw it away. With Print Your City, we endeavor to show a better way of using plastic in long-lasting and high-value applications.” This isn’t the first direct-recycling-with-3D-printed-furniture initiative and it won’t be the last; large-format 3D printers are becoming increasingly accessible in price and usability, and affordable furniture is always in demand.