Sep 23, 2014 | By Alec

Many people will agree that a delicacy for some can be a poison for others. Plastic – our number one printing material – is cheap, convenient and incidentally very suitable for extrusion-based 3D printers, but it has some drawbacks.

If used carelessly and never recycled, it can cause some serious problems. Perhaps the most difficult to combat is plastic pollution, which has is already widespread. Estimates suggest that enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times, while only 50 percent of it has been used more than once. Meanwhile, only 5 percent is recycled and plastic takes somewhere between 500 to 1000 years to degrade.

But there's some good news as well. Designers from London-based Studio Swine have recently launched a noble Kickstarter project that seeks to make 3D printing a part of the solution, rather than the problem. With this project, they hope to make a dent in the world's largest accumulation of plastic.

For most of the plastic ends up in the world's oceans, where it can drift around for years. While most of it breaks down into small segments, it doesn't disappear. Annually, it poisons about a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals. Eventually, most of the world's plastic is collected into crazily five large 'ocean gyres', garbage patches of floating debris that collect at locations where currents converge.

While one can be found in just about every mayor ocean, one of largest gyres is the North Atlantic Gyre. As it's constantly in motion, it's very difficult to correctly measure its size, but estimates vary between 'twice the size of Texas' and 'the size of the entire US'. As Wikipedia teaches us, the patch mainly consists of smaller plastic particles and can therefore not be seen in satellite photography while it isn't easily detectable for casual boaters or divers either.

This, however, doesn't make it less lethal as plastic particles can easily penetrate bodies: approximately 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

Unlike most Kickstarters that include 3D printing, the Studio Swine team are not offering a cool toy or accessory; instead they are asking for donations that will allow them to implement their 'Sea Chair' project on the High Seas.

The team taking on this challenge consists of the duo behind Japanese/British Studio Swine (Alexander Groves & Azusa Murakami), the 3D printing expert Andrew Friend and filmmaker Jurriaan Booij. Together, they hope to 'make something inspirational and capture the imagination as well as very real solutions that people can act on.'

To do this, they have developed a device that can collect plastic particles from the ocean, melt these on the spot and use these materials to print furniture that really makes you think. And it even runs on solar power! As they explain on their Kickstarter:

We have always been drawn to the sea, a fascination which led us to first conceive the 'Sea Chair' a project which is about making furniture using plastic that is polluting our oceans. We first heard about the huge problem of marine plastic in 2010, since then we have been designing a series of devices and contraptions to collect and process the sea plastic into sea chairs with tags indicating the geographic coordinates of where it was made.

The project began by collecting plastic refuse on the shores of Cornwall in the UK and using it as 3D printing material. Since then, they have greatly improved their equipment. It now allows them to take their machinery on board of boats and work on site to collect even the smallest plastic particles floating around the oceans. Sadly, it's unknown what kind of printer they based their device on.

We've built a new machine - a plastic extruder which melts the plastic at sea with only the power of the sun, forming a 3D printer that is can be used either on sea or on land, far from any external power source and where plastic trash exists without the facilities to recycle them.

With this Kickstarter, they hope to raise the funds to take their ingenious 3D printer – which works with a parabolic mirror to generate heat – to the seas. 'We want to take the project to the North Atlantic Gyre to make a design collection with the waste we remove, as well as a film that can really engage the public about the issue of sea plastic.'

Funds raised will be used to realise the sea-bound project. Crucially, it will be used to allow the team to go aboard the Sea Dragon, a 72ft research vessel that will be taking scientists and ecologists to the seas to study plastic pollution. 'the passenger fee on the boat is very expensive, and we need your help to pay for our place on the boat'. Any money left over will be used to allow internationally acclaimed filmmaker Juriaan Booij to document their voyage and activities. 'The film would bring the issue of Sea Plastic to a wider global audience and increase the calls for action.'

This project is thus one of the most unusual Kickstarters we've reported on, though that might be a good thing . For the £6500 (approximately $11.000) isn't being used to develop cool trinkets, but it really seeks to use 3D printing to tackle on of the largest environmental problems the world is facing. Perhaps in the future we can all print to reduce pollution? Be sure to check their Kickstarter campaign!

Also take a look at this video detailing their inspiring project:


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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