While 3D printing is all about iteration and rapid prototyping, a hidden side effect of this abundant creation is the abundant disposal. Any hobbyist will know that waste is produced easily and often in desktop 3D printing in particular, particularly when using cheap and plentiful PLA filament. Whether it’s in the form of rafts, support material, or failed prints, we’re drowning in an ocean of trash.
This waste, unlike common household waste, is difficult to dispose of in an environmentally-conscious manner. For starters, most recycling centers don’t accept 3D printing waste, which is classified as Class 7 plastic. But what of the claim that PLA is “biodegradeable”? Well, according to Engineering.com, “Though PLA is compostable and recyclable, calling it biodegradable would be a bit of a misnomer because composting the material requires an industrial composting facility, of which there are only 113 in the U.S.”
Plus, facilities that actually can process 3D printing waste only accept industrial waste, so you can’t just show up with a couple of garbage bags every month.
That’s where Project PLA hopes to come in. A Kickstarter campaign and fledgling company in the making, it aims to collect 3D printing waste from US households to process in an environmentally-friendly manner. In founder William Sloth’s own words, “Project PLA is the middleman that connects makers with industrial composting facilities, therefore enabling PLA to be actually biodegradable.”
Sloth, a High School Junior, plans to sell boxes for hobbyists to mail in their 3D printing waste, allowing the waste to be composted industrially at scale. In theory a much greener option than dumping this 3D printing waste in the regular garbage, which would place it in either 1) landfills, for many years, or 2) the ocean, obstructing the digestive tract of sea turtles. (Everyone knows what happened to plastic straws, so we suggest avoiding the second outcome at all costs.)
Project PLA plans to start out accepting only PLA waste and empty filament spools but hopes to expand to include ABS and PETG in the future.
The initiative is currently headed by high school junior William Sloth, a 3D printing enthusiast with a green conscience. He’s established relationships with several facilities capable of composting 3D printing waste, and his ongoing Kickstarter campaign aims to raise funds to start the process at scale. As pledge rewards, SLoth aims to mail out boxes of varying sizes for backers to ship their PLA waste and empty spools back. Ground up and presumably collected into batches of a scale acceptable to an industrial facility, it is then that the PLA can be properly composted.
As one of the early initiatives of its kind in this space, Project PLA is definitely a step in the right direction for our plastic-loving industry. Perhaps one day, when materials become more advanced, you’ll be able to chuck FDM waste in the garden with your crusts and vegetable trimmings. But until that day comes, Project PLA might be one of the few ways you can continue printing with a clear conscience.
License: The text of "New Initiative Aims to Recycle PLA Waste, Empty Spools" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.