With Reflow, Yesterday’s Trash Can be Today’s 3D Printed Treasure—and Wastepickers Get Paid!


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reflow_logo_blueTrash. What to do with it is part of our internal daily conversation from the minute we wake up and need to toss away a tissue or used coffee grounds and breakfast leftovers. The journey of waste (and guilt) continues to evolve with the coffee you picked up along the way in the morning, a bottle of water to get you through mid-morning, and the low calorie frozen meal you heated up in the lunchroom at work. There’s that pick-me-up soda you bought for an afternoon jolt and maybe even a paper receipt to come with it. With the constant choice and running between the recycling bin and the trash can, it’s enough to make you want to implore everyone you see to please not give you any more stuff to throw away.

While we all know a friend who would have made the Olympic team for recycling champions, were there one, most of us just don’t have time to be that perfect. And because we don’t always get trash to the correct spot, and as some simply don’t care (where are these folks? Shame!), wastepickers around the world are rewarded—generally minimally—but they are able to collect trash for some recompense. The term ‘wastepicker’ is of course the politically correct word today for impoverished people in developing countries who pick up trash and are able to get money for items like glass and plastic bottles.

UntitledThe Reflow team, headquartered in the Netherlands, wants to use the recycling of that very trash to give back to wastepickers, as they are aware of the imbalance between the service they do and the lack of income they receive—at less than $2 per day.

At Reflow, they point out that these often very hardworking individuals are a help to the public by ridding areas of refuse, and helping to contribute to the local economy. With that in mind, they’ve created a new 3D printing filament which can be created out of plastic bottles. What once was a piece of trash in the street now has the possibility of turning into the world’s next great innovation, and you will be able to order the materials soon in early bird Kickstarter fashion as the Dutch company launches their campaign in early May.

The company states that revenues will flow right back to the wastepickers, who may be quite surprised to hear about this wonderfully ambitious new program that will also be responsible for feeding 3D printers around the world.


A wastepicker in Africa.

The goal on Kickstarter will be to sell Reflow’s first 5,000 rolls of filament. This just the beginning of the role they hope to play as they believe developing nations will be the first ones to experience the massive and positive disruption of 3D printing.

“Just like mobile banking skyrocketed in Africa because of broken banking structures, 3D printing will take off because of broken distribution lines, high costs of transport, and lack of capital for large scale production,” states the Reflow team in their latest press release.

They state that with each kg of filament bought by a user globally, 120 bottles have been taken off the streets where they lingered previously as trash. Those 120 bottles result in an income of $3 for wastepickers. It all makes logical sense, actually, and absolutely everyone involved wins.

The Reflow team is hoping to sell, beyond Kickstarter, 50,000 kg of filament in their first three years. The number to accompany that? Should they succeed, wastepickers will be looking forward to incomes that increase by $200,000—with a total of six million bottles having been retrieved and recycled into awesome 3D printing filament.

UntitledThey support open-source technology, and the 3D printing filament is designed to be compatible with that. They see themselves as a community enterprise, depending on partnerships with local companies like STICLAB, as well as networks like 3D Hubs. Reflow will also be working with the World Bank on the ReFab Dar project in Tanzania, and they state that they also depend on the ‘valuable work’ of local engineers and inventors in Tanzania too.

We’ll keep you updated as they launch their Kickstarter campaign, to include Reflow filament and 3D printed art pieces from artists like Joshua Harker, who has been using the filament to make rewards. They also invite you to join their challenge to contribute designs for them to 3D print during the campaign. Should they choose to use your 3D design, you can win numerous rewards, from filament to other submitted designs. See Reflow for more information should you decide to enter. Were you aware that wastepickers are living on so little around the world, and that they rely on that as an income? Discuss in the Reflow 3D Printing Filament forum over at 3DPB.com.

Reflow Teaser from Reflow on Vimeo.

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