Ironically, the maker community is made up of a large group of generally ecologically-minded people who are now responsible for making, as well as discarding heaps of plastic filament, not to mention 3D models that for one reason or another become unwanted and end up in the trash.
No one wants to have trashed plastic piling up all over the office or workshop, and along with that, none of us really want to have the pleasure of 3D printing killed by the guilt of creating more trash and any sort of environmental harm. Most of us are pretty in-tune with recycling these days and even find joy in it—taking that one step further is the art of composting, which allows you to reduce waste even further by tossing organic scraps into the compost bin.
Now, what if you could combine composting with 3D printing? Marina Ceccolini is an Italian designer who was motivated to bring the ultimate, in not only highly available material, but a completely ecologically friendly process. And let’s face it—everyone’s gotta get a kick out of cooking at the 3D printer with part of last night’s meal or this morning’s coffee grounds.
Ceccolini calls her material ‘Agridust.’ Inspired by nature—as so often happens in many innovations—Ceccolini was examining a dried orange peel, struck by its seemingly durable, sturdy nature while in its desiccated, degrading state. Not stopping there, she began examining other compostable items such as peels from other similar citrus fruits bearing harder exteriors, but also more seemingly delicate ones like tomato skins. She put them all into a big compost blend, including shells from peanuts, coffee grounds and more—all items that anyone who composts is well familiar with seeing in the ‘pile’ or bin.
Putting together an industrial design project, Ceccolini combined all the naturally recyclable items and then had to find a way to hold them together. She found that potato starch was not only a great binder, but it was compatible with 3D printing as well.
“These technologies are mainly used to create the first prototypes and objects that serve only for a first phase of the study,” says Ceccolini. “I don’t want to eliminate the use of plastic, because in some sectors that is unthinkable, but in the case of disposable products, you might start to think and act differently.”
Considering how many first prints are just tests anyway, and how many prototypes makers—especially novices—often send through the 3D printer before reaching the desired shape and effect, Agridust offers a way to test and enjoy more 3D printing without worrying about the environment—the only concern is that the 3D printed items will not last indefinitely and are considered disposable.
Considering some pretty frightening statistics regarding the amount of waste we are using through 3D printing, Ceccolini’s Agridust material comes just in time—and means you don’t have to feel so bad about that half-eaten apple or the raw kale your kids just couldn’t quite stomach. Overall, the ‘recipe’ for the material is 64.5% food waste and 35.5% potato starch binder. To be used as a 3D printing material one would need to replace the classic extruder with a syringe.
“The waste recovered in this way will return in the form of biological nutrient to the earth, but before that, it can carry out other functions such as pots for plants and packaging going to decrease the use of plastic and cost required for landfilling,” says Ceccolini. “Now, most fruit and vegetable waste is not used as compost, and unfortunately it is easier to throw the waste in a landfill than in a compost bin. This technique can retrieve the value of the food.”
Ceccolini’s project, which she considers to be ‘a project of recovery and valorization of waste fruit and vegetables,’ is one that she now considers must be taken to a higher level to come to full fruition in helping to realize a way to reduce the use of plastics in 3D printing worldwide. As energy sources like vegetable waste and oil for use in fueling cars becomes more widespread, it’s not so foreign a thought to think of this as a viable material in 3D printing.
“The project was not born to be just a concept,” she says. “The idea is to take it forward with an expert in this sector.”
Is food waste something you’ve ever considered as a viable source for 3D printing? Have you had any other similar ideas along these lines that might work also? Tell us your thoughts in the Agridust forum over at 3DPB.com.