A proposal for developers of slicing software to make 3D print recycling easier.


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I can’t help but feel concerned about the growing pile of waste 3D prints that I am generating. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that most 3D prints are not easily recyclable, especially when it comes to PLA, which is the most common 3D print material. While PLA is touted as being recyclable, there are numerous obstacles that make it difficult for recyclers to collect identical materials to re-make into filament.

The primary issue lies in the fact that every print is made of slightly different material and colors, making it challenging to gather the exact same material for recycling. Sure, it might be possible to batch all the prints together and create a sort of “Frankenstein” filament, but this wouldn’t yield satisfactory results. Today’s FFF 3D printers rely on high-quality and chemically consistent filament in order to produce good prints. If the filament used is of poor quality, the prints will be subpar as well.

Another problem lies in the collection of thermoplastic for recycling into filament. Where can one find it? The only practical approaches I’ve come across so far are ventures that specifically collect items like Pepsi bottles. These bottles, by definition, have the exact same PET material. However, when I look at my growing pile of waste prints, I realize that I have no such options. The only alternative is to send them to the landfill, as putting them in the recycling bin would also lead to the landfill.

This is due to the fact that plastic objects are inspected at the recycling center and sorted according to their material. If the material of an object cannot be identified, it is set aside and eventually ends up in a landfill. But how do the workers at the recycling plant determine the material? Do they wear special glasses that highlight different types of plastics? No, the workers rely on specific recycling symbols embossed on the plastic parts. The common symbols pictured above are what they typically look for, as plastics are officially categorized into broad groups. It’s important to note that the labeling systems may vary in different jurisdictions, but the principles remain the same. One thing worth mentioning is that there is no symbol specifically for “PLA,” although it could potentially fall under the “Other” category.

While it is true that 3D printers use a significant amount of PLA, it seems to be a small fraction of overall plastic consumption. This realization makes me contemplate what would happen if my waste prints did have these symbols. It would certainly be feasible to emboss symbols like this onto 3D prints, as we already do this on our 3D models. However, this practice is not common because it is considered too difficult. We do not have the ready-made embossed figures to apply to our models. But what if we did?

Imagine if 3D printer slicing systems incorporated a simple feature that could stamp a recycling symbol onto a model before slicing it. For many models, it would be easy to apply the stamp to the bottom of the print. My proposal is for those involved in building 3D print slicing systems to include a feature that allows users to easily apply recycling stamps to their print jobs. These symbols cannot be applied to the 3D model files themselves since we don’t know what material will be used to print them. It could be ABS, HDPE, PP, or a combination of them in several print jobs. That’s why the slicer must be the step where the symbol is applied. To ensure its implementation, the software could even prompt users to apply a stamp before exporting the GCODE file. Additionally, the selection of the stamp could be automatically determined by examining the material used for slicing. For most prints, which are made of PLA, the stamp could be #7. However, there are occasions when I print with PET, PP, and PS (as ABS or ASA). If such a feature were available, I would definitely utilize it. I would be able to look at my stack of waste prints and feel good about putting them into the recycling bin.

So, here’s a call to all software developers: could we include a recycling stamp feature in future 3D print slicing software? It’s time to think about innovative solutions to address the growing environmental concerns associated with 3D printing. Let’s work towards a more sustainable future together.

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“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”


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GCode-Guru

Meet the mastermind behind NozzleNerds.com: GCode-Guru, a 3D printing wizard whose filament collection rivals their sock drawer. Here to demystify 3D tech with a mix of expert advice, epic fails, and espresso-fueled rants. If you've ever wondered how to print your way out of a paper bag (or into a new coffee cup), you're in the right place. Dive into the world of 3D printing with us—where the only thing more abundant than our prints is our sarcasm.

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