As the number of 3-D printers grows, so does the amount of plastic goo used inside them, and the piles of potentially useless plastic doodads they create. One designer has come up with an alternative material for printing: food waste.
Italy-based designer Marina Ceccolini created the material, called AgriDust, after taking note of the shape and strength of a dried tangerine peel. She whipped up a blend of some of the most commonly wasted foods in local landfills–coffee grounds, bean pods, peanut shells, tomato skins, and orange and lemon peels–and held everything together with a 3D-printer-friendly binder made from potato starch.
The material could replace plastic in certain short-lived products, like packaging or plant pots, and could also be used to print out samples before making a final product. “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.”
It could start to reduce some of the millions of pounds of plastic used in 3-D printers now; by 2020, experts estimate that we may be using as much as 1.4 million barrels of oil in 3-D printing.
It’s not the only possible alternative–3-D printers can also use everything from ice cream to human cells–but the material is also one small response to the fact that 30% to 40% of all food grown is ultimately wasted. While the best solutions have to do with getting people to actually eat food before it goes bad, and most of the impact of food waste has to do with the energy that goes into growing food, it’s one way to help food at least stay out of the trash. Once someone’s finished with the 3-D-printed object, it can go in a compost bin.
“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.”
Though Ceccolini came up with the design as a student project, she plans to pursue it. “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.”