Dec 3, 2015 | By Andre

The idea of recycling plastics to be reused in a 3D printer is something I’ve been asked about a great number of times since surrounding myself around the technology a few years ago. I would sometimes reply, mostly in jest, about the possibility of a Mr. Fusion type device as seen in Back to the Future II.

Just throw in some old juice containers and product packaging and out comes enough energy to fly a car. Or... for the sake of my reply, a nice bit of plastic filament with the potential to print anything you can think of. Ultimately, the idea always felt like science fiction to me.

But as the months and years went on, cost-effective and relatively portable filament extruding slowly came into being. First the Filabot funded on Kickstarter but was soon faced with delay after delay. Then there was the Filastruder and of course that 83 year old gentleman that won the $40,000 prize for creating a filament extruder for less than $250.

Still, after all of this I would still reply to those inquiring about recycling in 3D printing that the filament from recycled materials is unreliable due to variable diameter output and potential contaminates that could clog the nozzle.

How pessimistic of me.

Two travelling Swiss surfers have taken it upon themselves to start Project Seafood in an effort to prove to anyone paying attention that sustainable 3D printing is indeed possible and the world should know their story.

Equipped with a Noztek filament extruder, a Filamaker manual shredder, a modified original Ultimaker and a lot of passion, Jennifer Gadient and Fabian Wyss hope to demonstrate that a sustainable and circular economy will one day soon be possible.

While travelling along the Mediterranean coastline of Spain down through Morocco, they’ve been collecting plastic waste that has washed onto the beaches from the ocean. The amount of waste just scattered around must have been shocking to them. In fact, they found so much wasted plastic, they soon focused their efforts on High Density Polyethylene generally in the form of shampoo bottles, small containers and lids that are better suited for their machine.

They then hand wash the material in the sea, rinse it off in a bucket of sweet water, let dry and begin shredding about 15 - 20 times until the plastic is fine enough to be useful for the filament extruder.

Although they admit the effort to produce reliable filament is a difficult undertaking, they have proven that it’s absolutely possible to do.

After all this, there remained some issues on the printing side of things, but the open nature of the Ultimaker allowed for some modifications to be made so to assist them in their task. By adding a customized heated chamber, a dust filter and a large 1mm nozzle, some of the obstacles that the imperfect process provided to them were minimized.

They write thatfirst layer adhesion is quite challenging when 3D printing with HDPE, as this material tends to warp and delaminate strongly, even when using a heated print bed. Our latest discovery is printing on a textile fabric. The adhesion is very promising and the print can be removed without significantly damaging the textile surface.

It’s overcoming obstacles with intuitive solutions like this that give me hope that there are people out there making the right decisions necessary for a sustainable future. I think from here on out, whenever anyone asks me about recycling and 3D printing, I’ll point my response to stories like this.

They’re taking the baby steps necessary to raise awareness that change is possible with modern and generally accessible technology. So while Back to the Future’s Mr. Fusion remains in the realm of fiction, the story of Jennifer Gadient and Fabian Wyss is anything but.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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