Although 3D printing is still in its infantry, it manages to raise a lot of discussions. Recently 3D printing technology has grabbed the attention of environmentalists, pondering on the effect it has on our surroundings.
Of course, 3D printing seems to solve a lot of problems with material use and waste production thanks to the additive manufacturing approach it makes use of. But is it 3D printing really as eco-friendly as we have been thinking? Is it really no shipping involved when considering 3D printing? How eco-friendly are the materials used by the additive manufacturing? We will try to address all these questions in this post.
Barriers to sustainable 3D printing
Making an object of mass manufacturing involves a lot of processing, cutting and adjusting, until the desired object gets its shape. During this process, a lot of material is being disposed of. Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, is the process of adding one layer of material on top of the other. Nevertheless, printing complex 3D printable models means making use of support.
The support material keeps your 3D printed object from collapsing. The amount of support material used for printing a 3D model depends on its geometry and orientation. After having your item 3D printed, you must clean the support to get the finish and final look of the object. And according to many hobbyists, not only is the support material hard to remove from the printed model, it also gets into the garbage.
- Plastic material ending up into the garbage
We already know that support material, after being removed, gets into the garbage. But there is also the material from failed prints, which also ends up in the bin. The best option, in this case, is to recycle it and use it for other 3D printing objects. However not everybody knows how to recycle plastic material, meaning that they will have to approach a company specializing in providing recycling services, which might be seen by many as not worth the effort, preferring to buy a new filament spool instead.
However, there is one sustainable solution for reducing material ending up into the garbage – the use of biodegradable plastic material. Two of the most largely used 3D printing plastic materials are ABS and PLA. ABS is preferred by most hobbyists because of its durability and cost. However, this material is very toxic and is not biodegradable.
It also releases toxic fumes which might be disapproved by many 3D printer users. PLA, on the other hand, is a material manufactured from corn starch, it is biodegradable, doesn’t release toxic fumes during printing and the result of the 3D printed object is remarkable.
- Use of electricity by 3D printers
It might seem that using 3D printing technology and household 3D printers might reduce the amount of shipping and transportation services, thus eliminating a considerable share of pollutants. However, we should not forget that 3D printers operate on electricity. Electricity holds a significant share in damaging the environment. Even though 3D printing eliminates transportation, it is the way you use the device that has a more or less significant impact on the environment.
Solutions for a greener 3D printing process
Each problem has a solution; it is the way we act that makes a big impact on our environment, and our self-awareness.
Because 3D printers operate on energy, and an alternative has not been invented yet, it is up to us to reduce the time they run. For this, there are several solutions:
- Reduce print time by printing hollow objects. Printing hollow objects will cut down the running time of your 3D printer. However, there’s more to this. A hollow object uses less material as well. This means that you will kill two birds with one stone.
- Print objects with simpler geometry. Another solution that refers to less use of the material would be to design 3D objects with simpler geometry that will enable printing them without support. Also, setting up a certain orientation for the part to be printed it can eliminate the need for much support material, and thus reduce waste.
- Using plastic that requires a lower temperature. We all know that when creating a 3D object, the extruder melts the build material prior to adding it one layer on top of the other. Higher temperature means more energy used. In order to decrease the use of electricity, you can print objects in plastic, which is easier to melt than metal.
- Multi-part printing. This solution will enable to cut down printing time, plus energy use, thus having an eco-impact on the environment.
- Printing in biodegradable material. Lately, 3D printing hobbyists with environmental awareness have been offered a lot of solutions to make their hobby less endangering the environment. It is already known by those who use 3D printing on a constant basis that PLA is one of the most eco-friendly filaments on the market. Made from corn starch and sugarcane, the filament has a sweet material smell and doesn’t release health-damaging substances at high temperatures. There is also a wide variety of PLA blends that give the printed part a special finish, such as wood and bamboo. The PLA is mixed with recycled wood and bamboo fiber, contributing to giving the printed object a wood look. There is also beer filament, made from waste byproduct from the beer-brewing process. It is good to see that filament manufacturers are developing more eco-friendly and green material for 3D printing technology.
- Filament recycling. Although many plastic filaments are not biodegradable, they can be recycled. Both a failed object and the support material that is being used to print a 3D model can be recycled and reused, thus eliminating the need to buy new filament and to toss the material from failed attempts. Filament recyclers can reduce the costs of 3D printing and make the technology greener. There are different recycling machines available. One thing that the users should consider, though, is that the material should be clean and separated so that the plastic is only ABS or PLA.
- Using SDL technology. SDL, or Selective Deposition Lamination, is a 3D technology that allows printing in paper. For several years now, Mcor Technologies has been developing an alternative to plastic 3D printing, showing how paper can transform into colorful and professional parts that are surprisingly durable.
All these solutions can make their impact on the environment on the long run. However, it is up to us to take the efforts to a new level and make our Planet greener. It doesn’t necessarily mean to go the extremes and deprive oneself of some of the hobbies that make your life more entertaining. It means that if you want, there is always a possibility to make it in an eco-friendly way.
About / Bio
This article was written by Gambody, a 3D marketplace where users can buy and sell 3D files of game related models.