3-D printing is a potentially revolutionary technology. It enables manufacturing from anywhere by anyone with access to a printer. With 3-D printers, businesses can rapidly prototype, consumers can cheaply produce replacement parts, hobbyists can endlessly tinker, and DIYers can easily create whatever they decide they need. The International Space Station is even starting to 3-D print in space.
There’s just one problem: the whole process uses a ton of plastic. 3-D printing has the potentially to be much more environmentally friendly than traditional factories, but it’s not there yet. One of the biggest hurdles is how much fresh plastic is used in 3-D printing filaments, the plastic “ink” that the printers turn into 3-D objects. That’s why startup Dimension Polymers is creating a recycled 3-D printing filament.
“People are really excited about 3-D printing technology, but there hasn’t been much attention called to its environmental impact,” says Mark Sherman, a co-founder of Dimension Polymers. “Just as fast as the technology is growing, so too is its carbon footprint.”
Today 3-D printing uses up about 30 million pounds of fresh plastic all made from petroleum, according to Sherman. He says that based on current trends, that translates to 1.4 million barrels of oil by 2020.
It is currently possible for environmentally conscious 3-D printing enthusiasts to create their own filament using a device called a filament extruder. But the extruders can be expensive, difficult to use, and may not always create uniformly high quality filament.
“Using a do-it-yourself extruder is a very intensive process so not everybody is going to do it,” says Sherman. “It doesn’t address the problem at a large scale.”
Dimension Polymer’s commitment to reducing the environmental impact of 3-D printing even extends to the packaging for filament. They’ve created a filament spool that is made from 100% recycled materials and is itself completely recyclable.
“We noticed that the industry currently uses a large plastic spool, which doesn’t come from recycled plastic and is also not recyclable in your home or office recycling bin,” says Sherman. “So it’s not only the filament on the market that’s causing a problem, it’s also the packaging. We thought that our whole product, not just the filament should be eco-friendly.”
In order to bring their prodocut to market, Dimension Polymers is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to produce a large run and get the business off the ground. The Kickstarter runs through March 3.