Mar 30, 2016 | By Alec

As the 3D printing community consumes vast amounts of plastic on a daily basis, it’s strange that recycling isn’t a more prominent theme in the community. To be sure, our failed prints are hardly responsible for filling the oceans and beaches of the world with non-degradable plastic, but as localized consumers of many different plastics, we could play a huge role in fighting plastic pollution. The only downside: not every plastic is easily 3D printable and recycling equipment is very costly. Fortunately, Dutch open source recycling initiative Precious Plastic has just launched an excellent alternative: they have provided all the blueprints and equipment necessary to set up your own recycling plant and allows you to reuse plastics, either as 3D printable filament or with DIY molding machines.

If Precious Plastic sounds familiar, that’s because it has actually been around for some time. Starting out as the 2013 graduation project of Dave Hakkens for the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, it has since grown into a spectacular and inclusive recycling initiative that relies on open source sharing to reach every corner of the world. Dave has just launched this excellent concept through his website. “Starting today, you can turn plastic waste into new valuable things. We developed the tools & machines, share the blueprints online for free, enabling people all over the world to start a little factory!” he tells us.

And it couldn’t come at a better time, as plastic pollution is reaching unprecedented levels. “It’s used everywhere, but also ends up everywhere. Damaging our planet, which is weird. It’s a precious material that is laying around everywhere for free. We could also turn this waste into something new,” Dave explains. Right now, only about ten percent of all manufactured plastics are being recycled, even though we are warned about precious oil supplies running low. So why not recycle more? In part, the problem lies with manufacturers, who have the ability to invest in recycling machinery, but can still optimize profits by simply dumping plastic into landfills.

Instead of sitting around and waiting for oil prices to increase to such an extent that recycling becomes a viable option, Dave has taken matters into his own hands – and is seeking to put it into all of our hands for free as well. In a nutshell, he and his team have designed DIY recycling machines you can build from scrap materials and provide all the know-how necessary to build these machines at home, recognize and sort out plastic waste, and turn it into new products – either through 3D printing or through (injection) molding. “We will teach you all the basics to get started, how to separate different plastic types, build your own machines, best ways to collect plastic, templates to download and much more. Once you’ve watched them you are ready to start a little recycle factory. Good luck!” he says.

This fantastic initiative is even making it possible for developers in the third world to overcome the machine barrier, as all parts are easily scavenged, replaced or customized. “By using basic materials, tools and universal parts the machines can be built all over the world,” they say. “Our machines blueprints and tutorials will always be freely available online for anyone to access and use.”

So what kind of machines do you need to start your own recycling factory? Firstly, a Shredder, through which pre-sorted plastics can be turned into fine particles. “Plastic waste is shredded into flakes which will be used in the other machines to create new things. You can select the output size of these flakes by changing the sieve inside the machine to create different patterns and processes,” they explain. Using their DIY extruder, you can turn these flakes into 3D printable filament (depending on the plastic), or use their injection unit to heat plastic and force into molds. Dave and co have even shared blueprints for a plastic compressor, which compresses heated plastic into molds using a carjack. “Well suited to make large and more solid objects, the oven itself is also a great machine for prototyping and making plastic test,” they say.

With these machines, the sky is virtually the limit. “Working with plastic yourself allows you to mix different materials and create new textures. Blend colors together, make weird patterns or keep it plain and simple,” they say. Depending on the scale of your production, a range of sellable products is easily realized. The gorgeous examples seen above perfectly illustrate this.

Now of course Precious Plastics requires quite a bit of care. The machines – especially the shredder – can obviously be dangerous to users (and their kids), so always take as many safety precautions as necessary. The same goes for plastics, which can obviously release dangerous fumes when heated. “Many researches show that keeping the temperature of the plastic in the melting zone (not burning it) isn’t harmful. When doing hands-on research we noticed most people working in plastic industry work according to this rule. However to be on the safe side, we personally try to avoid inhaling any plastic fumes, wear carbon-mask if we are experimenting and always make sure there is good ventilation,” Dave says.

But through a sensible approach, Precious Plastics definitely offers revolutionary opportunities. Not just for starting a small business, not just for saving money on 3D printable filament, not just for cleaning up your neighborhood. But it also enables us all to make a contribution towards stopping pollution and cleaning our oceans and beaches. If you’re interested, you can download the full release of all blueprints and necessary data through the Precious Plastics website here. Through extensive video tutorials on everything from separating plastics to building the machines, anything is possible.



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Joe Q wrote at 4/6/2016 5:23:50 PM:

I agree. Not all plastics are created equal. Desktop FDM printers use PLA or ABS, neither of which are common in consumer plastic waste.

Guy wrote at 3/30/2016 5:39:09 PM:

I can't imagine recycled HDPE or PP is very friendly to FDM/FFF 3D printing. Why do they make no mention of what materials they are using for the filament?

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