One of our greatest ecological challenges, in my estimate, is tackling the problem of plastic waste. The Earth simply can not sustain the levels of pollution generated by a material that can take anywhere from 80 (plastic cup) to one million (plastic jug) years to decompose. The stats are so grim for plastic waste that whenever I refresh on my numbers, I fall into a deep depression as I try to imagine the world just 50 or 100 years from now. According to the Institute for Sustainable Communication, plastic garbage in the ocean alone kills one million sea creatures a year; Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour; and Americans only recycle 1-2% of the 10.5 million tons of plastic waste generated annually.
The good news here — information that keeps me from falling into that seemingly-inevitable deep depression — is that more opportunities for recycling are on the horizon. Precious Plastic wants to spread the word about their plastic recycling machines that can also inject and extrude so you can make filament from recycled plastic and 3D print new creations. Now we’re talking!
Precious Plastic’s plan, as outlined on its website, is to make it easy for people to establish their own plastic recycling workshops. Developing the recycling machines, sharing the open source machine blueprints online, spreading this information, creating new products — including 3D printer filament — using the recycled plastic, holding clean-ups, and building recycling communities are all part of the company’s grand vision to tackle some of this overwhelming plastic pollution problem.
Let’s take a closer look here at the machines and what we can create with them. The machines, which include an extruder, injection molding machine, compressor and shredder, are “made from basic materials, affordable, and easy to build.” Build all four, and you can have a veritable factory. After grinding plastic objects up into chips with something that emulates a high-power blender, you can blend different materials to create new textures, blend colors together and create weird patterns, or make a small production out of a solid mold. Most importantly for us, the extrusion machine can also make raw materials (think filament!) that you can use and share with others.
Ingenious, right? You have the complete cycle here, from the recycling of plastic materials to the creation of new objects. I am personally convinced that there’s not a person out there who owns or is considering buying a 3D printer who wouldn’t consider this excellent alternative option for the production of their own filament.
A recent Reddit thread on the subject seems to be in agreement that the Precious Plastic machines are a great contribution to 3D printing. One user expressed concern that the filament size made by the extrusion machine looks bigger than 2.85 mm, to which the original poster, “engineerd3d,” responded: “It may be bigger. But they are open-sourcing the plans and they work hard to show people how to reuse plastics as well as being generally caring people.” Another user added to the issue of filament size: “You can choose your nozzle size very easily. Only thing you need is a drill bit that’s the same diameter as the filament you want to produce.”
Another commenter wondered how the machine would work with filament made from HDPE — one of the most common household plastics — to which engineerd3d responded by linking to RepRap’s HDPE page and stating that settings would likely have to be tweaked to use HDPE filament, but that it is possible.
If you are as excited as I am about a set of machines that shred, compress, inject, and extrude recycled plastic, you can help spread the word by making a machine yourself, sharing your experience, and telling your maker friends about Precious Plastic’s grand vision to merge plastic recycling with 3D printing in inexpensive, easy-to-build machines. Here’s a video of the machines at work that you can also share. Discuss in the Precious Plastic 3D Printing & Recycling forum over at 3DPB.com.