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General

How Sustainable is PLA?

“Is PLA is sustainable?” “Is PLA is biodegradable?” “Is PLA is compostable?” “Is PLA is recyclable?”.

As a brand of 3D printer filament, questions like this are received on an almost daily basis. As sustainability is central to our business model and ethos, we feel it is our duty to interrogate the cliché environmental claims.

This post seeks to therefore explore the credibility of each of the four key environmental benefits put forward by industry and marketers alike.


3D Printing

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is one of the main types of 3D printing. FDM is an additive manufacturing process in which a thin filament of plastic wire feeds a 3D printer; the print head melts it and extrudes it onto a build plate.

PLA is the most popular 3D printing filament material – as exemplified in a recent survey which shows that more than 95% of 3D printing users use PLA. 

Most Popular 3D Printer Filament Materials

Is PLA Sustainable?

Growth of Crops Used to Make PLA

Bioplastic refers to plastic made from plant / biological material instead of oil. Polylactic acid / polylactide (PLA) is an example of a bioplastic.

However, bioplastics – such as PLA – compete for land with food crops. According to the Guardian, bioplastics need several million acres of farmland, which reduces the space available for food crops growth. However, this problem may be over-stated as according to an estimation by European Bioplastics, “… the land area used to grow biomass for the production of bioplastics in 2017 corresponded to 0.016 percent of the global agricultural area, 97 percent of which are used to grow food and feed. Even with the predicted high growth-rates… the land-use share would only slightly increase to up to 0.021 percent of the agricultural area by 2022.”

Is PLA Biodegradable?

Biodegrading of Plastic

Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to decompose after interactions with biological elements. Whilst PLA is biodegradable, it does so very slowly. Analysts estimate that a PLA bottle could take up to 1000 years to decompose in a landfill. Even NatureWorks, the world’s largest producer of PLA, have openly accepted that its products would not fully break down on landfill sites. 

Is PLA Compostable? 

Composting Process

While biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, compostable materials require special composting conditions.

According to Elizabeth Royte, writing in Smithsonian, ‘PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a controlled composting environment in fewer than 90 days. However, ‘controlled composting environment’ refers to industrial composting facility heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and fed a steady diet of digestive microbes. 

Whilst this proves PLA is biodegradable / compostable, again it’s a feasibility versus practicality argument. The Guardian found that only a handful of anaerobic digesters exist in Britain, and even then without a centralised collection infrastructure the average consumer is unable to access such facilities.  

Is PLA Recyclable?

Recycling Process

As concluded in a 2016 academic paper, “…mechanical recycling presented the lowest environmental impact…”. The (mechanical) recycling process of PLA includes the following steps: separation, grinding, washing, drying, extrusion, cooling, granulation and sieving of recycled PLA. 

Whilst recycling PLA is certainly feasible it is not necessarily practical. Because PLA of different origin than regular plastic, it must be kept separate when recycled, otherwise it can contaminate the recycling stream – thus making such streams unsaleable. As the BBC stated in February 2019, the technology for plant-based compostables has come so far that it is hard to tell which is plastic and which is bio-plastic (PLA). 

Some 3D printing users are recycling their (PLA) 3D printing waste by shredding failed / unwanted 3D-prints and using a desktop extruder to remanufacture into filament. Whilst this is indeed a useful way to recycle 3D printing waste and avoid landfill, it is far from cheapmany desktop extruders will set you back hundreds of pounds – and many challenges exist, as we discussed in a recent blog post. 

Conclusion

PRODUCTION GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS INCLUDING BIOGENIC CARBON UPTAKE (Natureworks.com)

Whilst there are elements of greenwashing when it comes to the marketing of PLA, the evidence still suggests it is a step in the right direction in our attempts to reduce the consumption of non-renewable petroleum. Not only is PLA plant-based, but [according to Natureworks] it also emits a fraction of the greenhouse gases compared to other plastics, as well as much less energy intensive.

Specific to 3D printing, the improvement of 3D printing hardware and slicing software is reducing print failures and thus wastage. Of course the ease of 3D printing will still breed masses of unwanted prints, however, low cost, upcycling solutions do exists, as we discussed in our recent blog: What to do with Failed Prints and 3D Printing Waste.

In order to work towards a circular economy framework for bioplastics such as PLA, investment is required to catalyse technological innovation in order to develop a sustainable recovery infrastructure for bioplastics such as PLA. Once achieved this will give rise to further landfill avoidance and an increase in PLA recycling – be it mechanical recycling or composting.

Filamentive

Filamentive PLA 3D Printer Filament

Whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, academic research has found that “material sustainability is an issue that can no longer be ignored due to wide adoption of 3D printing”. The use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic epidemic unless we can find a sustainable solution.

Filamentive, a brand of high quality 3D printing filament, with a primary objective to drive environmental change in 3D printing.

Recycled PLA – sourced from post-industrial extrusion waste – is used in lieu of virgin PLA where possible – in fact in 2018, more than half of all PLA filament produced was made from recycled sources, resulting in:

  • Reduced environmental impact of plastic-rich products
  • Minimised plastic being sent to the diminishing landfill sites
  • Avoided the consumption of the Earth’s oil stocks
  • Consumed less energy than producing new, virgin polymers

More information of the Filamentive filament production process can be found here.



Hopefully this has been an interesting and informative read – feel free to visit
filamentive.com for more information or email us.

Recycling Failed and Waste 3D Prints into Filament: Challenges

In response to growing interest into the area of recycled filament and the regular enquiries we receive regarding failed/waste 3D print recycling, we thought we’d take the time to clarify our position – this article specifically will focus on the challenges preventing us offering such a service (currently). 

Do you accept 3D printing waste?

Can you recycle failed prints?

Will you recycle our PLA waste back into PLA filament?

The example quotes above are just an overview of the types of emails, calls and enquiries we receive on a daily basis. As a provider of 3D printing filament made from recycled plastic, we feel it is necessary to explain the current challenges of recycling failed & waste 3D prints into recycled 3D printer filament.


Environmental Need

Whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, academic research has found that “material sustainability is an issue that can no longer be ignored due to wide adoption of 3D printing”. The use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic epidemic unless we can find a sustainable solution.

How Filamentive Produces Filament

Sustainability is at the heart of our business model. Where possible, recycled materials will be used to produce our 3D printer filament – we are the first filament brand to declare the recycled content of all 3D printing filament products, in accordance with ISO 14021.

Material sourcing

A careful selection criteria is in place in order to guarantee quality, consistent waste streams. We use both post-consumer waste – for example recycled PET bottles to produce our ONE PET filament, as well as post-industrial waste – such as material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process, which is how we produce our PLA filament. 

Manufacturing

Plastic filament for 3D printers is produced by a process known as plastic extrusion. This process starts by feeding plastic material (pellets, granules, flakes or powders) from a hopper into the barrel of the extruder. The material is gradually melted by the mechanical energy generated by turning screws and by heaters arranged along the barrel. The molten polymer is then forced into a die, which shapes the polymer into the shape of filament – typically either 1.75mm or 2.85mm in diameter. The extrusion work is currently outsourced to our specialist producer who are able to guarantee quality, consistency and manufacturing at scale. 

Quality assurance

All feedstock streams are meticulously checked to ensure homogeneity. During extrusion, filament is measured by lasers from 2-axes, with an alarm bell sounding if the diameter falls outside our high standards. Filament is then wound onto bulk spools for visual inspection before it is put onto the individual spools to be packaged. Each batch produced undergoes a rigorous 3D printing test; if we’re not happy with the print quality then it won’t leave the factory, simple as.


Challenges

Quality control – High quality filament is essential for high quality 3D-prints. Should we ever begin to accept returned 3D printing waste, it is very difficult – perhaps impossible – to verify that the returned plastic is entirely Filamentive material. There is variation between PLA formulas – let alone different materials altogether – and so if the waste-stream is contaminated, the filament extruded will unusable. Furthermore, an academic study found that were significant deteriorations in most mechanical properties after three recycling cycles” – which basically means that even if waste could be successfully separated, the filament quality would be very low, and in order to maintain mechanical properties, virgin material needs to be added which may negate the environmental benefit. 

Logistics – Plastic has a high volume-to-weight ratio which can make collections less efficient than the collection of other recyclable materials that weigh more. This is a major reason why plastic waste recycling rates are low in general. In a nutshell, this basically means plastic is expensive to transport which is barrier for customers and suppliers alike. Also, as we do not yet manufacture in-house, any waste would then need to be sent to one of our production partners which will incur transport emissions and perhaps offset some – if not all – environmental benefits. 

Economics – As with any business strategy, the financials need to be viable. Should customers not be willing to send their waste back at their cost, we would need to add the cost of waste collection and recycling into our product price. Whilst this would make sense for customers for others it would be unfair if they are not taking advantage of a service they are in-directly paying for.

Market viability – even if all the the above challenges were addresses, there are still many market factors to consider, such as:

  • Would we need to create a new brand/sub-brand for this new filament?
  • What price are customers willing to pay for such a product?
  • If filament cannot be created whom can we sell/send waste to? 

Plastic bottles being collected by our partner, Tridea


Moving forward

Despite the challenges, recycling 3D printing waste has long been an aspiration of ours and we’re continuously researching the viability of a waste management service. Offering such a service one-day will truly help us move one step closer to achieving a circular economy and reduce – if not eliminate – plastic waste within 3D printing. Until such a solution is achieved, we will still continue to be the sustainable choice in 3D printing by committing to:

  • Using recycled material (post-consumer and post-industrial) where possible 
  • Avoid the use of new, virgin polymers to reduce energy and demand for raw materials. 
  • Utlise plant-based bioplastics when there is no recycled alternative
  • Forming strategic partnerships with recycling companies to use their waste streams to produce filament
  • Using 100% recyclable cardboard spools to further reduce waste and increase the recyclability of our products/packaging

Hopefully this has been an interesting and informative read – if you have any questions about recycled filament or indeed anything related to Filamentive, please email us.

Filamentive Release 100% Recycled 3D Printer Filament Made From PET Plastic Bottles

Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom – February 6th 2019 – UK 3D printing filament brand, Filamentive, is proud to announce the release of a 100% recycled plastic filament made from post-consumer PET plastic bottle waste, in partnership with Tridea.

With a focus on sustainability, Filamentive is committed to greatly reduce the environmental impact of plastic in 3D printing. With an existing product portfolio of recycled materials – declared in accordance with ISO 14021 – the release of ONE PET signifies a tangible effort to reduce post-consumer plastic waste. 

The release of ONE PET is the outcome of a partnership with like-minded Belgium recycling business, Tridea, whose mission is based on the premise that there is no such thing as waste. Their ambition is to create value from European plastic waste, by transforming it into filament. This is done by working together with local collectors, recyclers and manufacturers.  

“In a world where less than 10% of plastic is recycled and in an industry where plastic is the material feedstock, we feel it is our duty to prioritise the use of recycled materials, and by working with Tridea, we are now making progress towards reducing post-consumer waste which has a considerable lower recycling rate than post-industrial waste streams”.

Ravi Toor, Founder & Managing Director of Filamentive

“Tridea provides an innovative and wholly novel means of utilizing waste, allowing us to multiply the lifespan of consumables by considering its lifecycle pre-consumer-consumer-post-consumer.”

Philippe Merillet, CEO & co-founder of Tridea

In addition to the environmental benefit of being a 100% recycled material, ONE PET has been extensively tested for 3D printing applications – it is stiff and tough with excellent interlayer adhesion. Where regular PETg has a better impact resistance, ONE PET boasts superior technical properties such as tensile strength.

ONE PET – along with other Filamentive 3D printer filament products – can be found online via filamentive.com, via the UK distributor, 3DGBIRE, and also via a growing network of Global Resellers.The filament is also available in seven colours, in both 1.75mm and 2.85mm diameters.

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Filamentive (https://www.filamentive.com/ – ravi@filamentive.com) is a market leader in sustainable 3D printing filaments. The company has experienced rapid growth and continues to address the questions surrounding 3D printing recycled materials. Its customers include a global network of makers, businesses and education clients.

Tridea (www.tridea.coinfo@tridea.be) believe there is no such thing as waste! They have developed a 360° platform to transform your waste into useful objects. By working together they will be able to raise awareness around plastic waste, reduce your waste tonnage and transform your waste into cool and useful products that you can recycle and reuse.

Cosmic Challenge!

Filamentive is excited to launch the Cosmic Challenge, starting 07/11/2018.

This is your chance to win 1 of each colour of our popular PLA Cosmic (Red, Blue, Gold, Grey, Silver), more than £100 worth of filament!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Firstly, get yourself some PLA Cosmic – Use discount code Cosmic20 for 20% OFF on our online store (If you already have some, that’s cool too!)
  2. Next, it’s time to print! – Print something that’s out of this world!
  3. Finally, show it off – Post an image of your print using the hashtag #CosmicChallenge on either Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

The competition closes on the 28th November, and the winner will be announced shortly after on social media and our November newsletter.

The prints will be judged by us and our friend over at Filament Frenzy. (Twitter: @FilamentFrenzy)

Everyone is welcome to join in on the fun, no country is off limits! In terms of your print, it can be anything that your heart desires. Of course, it goes without saying that we won’t be accepting anything offensive or inappropriate as a valid entry.

Take a look at how some early Cosmic prints for inspiration – Lancashire3D Spaceman (Left) and 3D Maker Noob Stag (Right)

Prodpoint Print Farm – Filamentive Case Study

What is a 3D print farm?

3D printing has commonly been known as a prototyping tool – a means of bringing an idea into physical form before testing it. Conventionally, once the prototype became validated, a production method such as injection moulding could be deployed to duplicate the part into larger quantities. The setup costs of this method can however, be highly restricting, sometimes exceeding £20,000. This is where the 3D print farm emerges; a new method of manufacture, featuring dozens of printers, that assist in bridging the gap between prototype and mass-manufacture. These are quickly becoming the go to establishment for direct digital manufacturing (DDM)

Why use a 3D print farm?

3D print farms provide a useful tool for scaling up projects right from the prototyping stage to the point where they can be brought to mass-manufacture. This method can provide some serious benefits for production runs of up to 10,000 parts, here is a quick overview:

Save on costs – 3D printing has zero setup costs! Unlike injection moulding, the technology doesn’t require a mould tool to start producing parts. Projects can get going a lot faster and the cost is determined on a per-part basis. When looking to get a few hundred or thousand parts made, the cost of the mould can end up being prohibitive to the project. At this stage, 3D printing can bring a refreshing air of feasibility on those riskier projects, enabling more projects to flourish!

Change your design on-the-fly – If for any reason your design needs tweaking – no problem! You can easily update your CAD file and receive updated parts within days. No need to dish out £10,000’s on moulds. This design flexibility allows you to continue improving your design whilst continuing to sell units.  What’s more, you can also change material and colour anytime, whereas with injection moulding you will often require a new mould to compensate for the varying shrinkage ratio when the part is made.

Rocket to Market, Faster – Getting a mould made in China to produce 2,000 parts then waiting 6 weeks for your parts to arrive? Now you could save both money and time getting your parts 3D printed here in the UK.

A UK-based 3D Print Farm – ProdPoint

Prodpoint is a manufacturing company based in Clopton, Suffolk, who initially started up as a prototyping service (two printers). With the demand for batches growing continuously, the company expanded to what is now an array of 30 printers, with over 34 different processes that go into ensuring their custom printers are continuously delivering repeatable parts to meet their client’s expectations.

Prodpoint offers a range of materials (ABS, TPU, PC to name a few) that suit various applications in the Automotive, Medical, Transportation, Research, and various other design-related sectors.

Whether a 3D print farm is right for your project or not, the engineers at Prodpoint are here to offer you free advice on getting your project manufactured.

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability

Gartner suggests that there will be 6.7 million 3D printers sold by the year 2020. Whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, the use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic epidemic.

Filamentive

Filamentive is a producer of high quality 3D printing filament. With a focus on sustainability, Filamentive have developed a reputation for advocating the use of bioplastics and recycled materials, without compromising on quality or mechanical properties. Providing a range of materials to suit a number of applications, Filamentive are suppliers to more than 3000 makers, businesses and universities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prodpoint & Filamentive Partnership

When Filamentive approached Prodpoint to help them reduce their impact on the environment, it was clear the solution was beneficial for both parties. The partnership has enabled Prodpoint to deliver sustainable end-use parts that uphold incredible quality. The amazing end result is that waste plastic is now being brought back into the supply chain where it isn’t harmful, and where it ends up being converted into useful parts.

 

Contact ProdPoint – Email: info@prodpoint.com or phone +44 (0) 1394 822025

Contact Filamentive – Email info@filamentive.com or phone +44 (0) 333 366 0020  

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