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Why There isn’t a Mainstream 3D Printing Waste Recycling Service

As an environmentally-conscious 3D printing filament brand, we are continuously engaged in the discourse around the problem of 3D printing waste, and have previously been transparent on the internal challenges of receiving waste 3D prints (to recycle). To further explain the current situation – as of July 2020 – we thought we would explain, in greater detail, some of the barriers which prevent a mainstream, 3D printing recycling service being viable. 

Note: we are aware of the great work done by TerraCycle – specifically their 3D Printing Materials Zero Waste Box. Feedback from some of our customers suggests their pricing is quite high (approx. £8/kg for their Large box), plus given they are selling a product, we feel this is significantly different to a proposed service (waste management).

(Lack of) Material Standardisation

There are several material options for FDM / FFF 3D printing. This was exemplified in early 2019 when we sent-out a Material Sustainability Survey to customers and industry contacts. 

As you can see from the table below, many different materials are being used – including, but not limited to: PLA, PETg, ABS, TPU, Nylon, ASA and Polycarbonate. 

Whilst this material variety is certainly beneficial for the applications of 3D printing, it is unfortunately a barrier to the efficiency of recycling 3D printing waste. 

Transnational waste management specialists, Veolia, also highlighted the problem of (non)standardised polymers – calling for greater uniformity in the materials used to enable collection and recycling of materials “without worries about obscure elements contaminating the process”.

Contamination Risk

Linked to the above, the usage of several 3D printing materials poses a risk of contamination. Many 3D printed parts look similar, even if they are produced from different polymers – e.g. PLA and PETG. Without proper sorting at source, there is a high risk of the waste returned being made up of various polymers as opposed to the intended, singular waste stream. As reported by All3DP, “contaminating one type of recycled plastic with another can seriously reduce the strength and longevity of the final material”.

Whilst technology such as NIR optical sortation can identify & sort different polymers, the technology is still its infancy, and it has been reported that standards of quality and yield achieved by NIR optical sorting facilities vary enormously

PLA Problem

If we were to see material standardisation – whilst also reducing (if not eliminating) contamination risk – it is almost certain that PLA would be the material of choice, as more than 95% of 3D printing users use it. However, PLA could be viewed as a victim of its own success.

PLA is a bioplastic – which basically means it’s a plastic made from plant / biological material, instead of oil. Whilst recycling PLA is technically possible, it is not (currently) practical. Because PLA is of different origin to regular plastic, it must be kept separate when recycled, otherwise it can contaminate the recycling stream – thus making such streams unsaleable. Furthermore – as reported by the BBC – technology for plant-based compostables has come so far that it is hard to tell which is plastic and which is bio-plastic (PLA). In Wales, this has ultimately led to PLA products – such as food & drink containers – ending up in landfill. 

Whilst PLA is marketed as biodegradable, it’s important to note that academic research has proven PLA is only biodegradable under industrial / anaerobic composting conditions no evidence exists to prove biodegradability in soil, home compost or landfill.

The Guardian found that only a handful of anaerobic digesters exist (in the UK, at least), and even then without a centralised infrastructure, the average consumer is unable to access such facilities.

Quality Control

A more general problem with recycled (PLA) plastic is the impact on quality. An academic study found that there were “significant deteriorations in most mechanical properties after three recycling cycles” – which basically means that even if waste could be successfully separated, and reprocessed, the filament produced would be inferior. To counteract this, virgin polymer can be added (percentage compounding) however, this may ultimately negate the environmental benefit as eventually, the virgin material needed will be greater than recycled plastic (in ratio). 

Reverse Logistics

Even if contamination and quality barriers were overcome, we still have the headache of (reverse) logistics. 

Plastic has a high volume-to-weight ratio which can make collection less efficient than the collection of other recyclables that inherently weigh more – this is a major reason why plastic waste recycling rates are low in general. In a nutshell, plastic is expensive to transport. 

Furthermore, as of July 2020, we do not yet manufacture in-house, so any returned waste would need to be sent to one of our production partners – possibly via a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) – which presents further operational challenges. 

Economics

As the saying goes “Money makes the world go round”. In this context, any 3D printing waste recycling service needs to be financially viable

Example costs include, but not limited to: 

Shipping (inbound & outbound)

Manufacture of boxes / cartons / bins 

Storage

Inspection → Separation → Reprocessing

Manufacturing

Administration

Sales & Marketing

Furthermore, Willingness to Pay (WTP) will inherently vary across customer segments – i.e. a business may be more inclined (and capable) of paying for waste management, as opposed to an individual (hobbyist). 

The business model itself will also influence pricing – for example, if a market-viable, 100% recycled PLA could be produced from recycled 3D prints, it could be viable to absorb (some) recycling costs, to then be offset by product sales. However, should plastic waste streams need to be processed by external recycling partners, such costs would need to be passed onto the consumer – be it through product pricing and/or a separate cost for waste management – i.e. a service charge.

Conclusion

Filamentive Recycled PLA Filament

“Recycling only works when there’s someone on the other side of the equation”.

To enable an efficient 3D printing waste recycling service, we need to find solutions to each individual challenge, as opposed to tackling one giant problem. If we do so, those involved in the value chain – from PLA manufacturers, through 3D printing filament suppliers and retailers, and eventually 3D printer operators – can implement the required actions they are in control of, ensuring each piece of the puzzle is solved – in theory, at least! 

Despite the challenges, recycling 3D printing waste has long been an aspiration of Filamentive – and no doubt others involved in the industry – and we’re continuously engaged in research surrounding the possibility of closing the loop in FDM / FFF 3D printing.

If/when such a service becomes operationally and financially viable, we will be one step closer to achieving a Circular Economy and reduce – if not eliminate – plastic waste within 3D printing.

Important Notice: Filament Stock Update

1 July 2020

As many of you are most likely aware, we currently have very low stock levels of most products. This post serves as an update on the situation: advising when stock will be available and detailing the measures we are implementing to minimise the possibility of future stock-outs.


What are the main reasons for the stock shortages?

Ultimately, we are responsible for managing our inventory to avoid such issues, however, it must be noted the last three months have been unprecedented, due to:

Business uncertainty related to COVID-19, leading to conservative sales forecasts (initially)
Significant order volumes to satisfy demand for 3D-printed PPE to combat COVID-19
Surge in demand with less-than-usual supply due to fast growth of customer base (linked to above)
Extended production lead times due to industry-wide demand – from 3-4 weeks (usual timescale) to >12 weeks


When will stock be available?

We anticipate replenishment of key lines from 1 July – with the bulk of stock becoming available between 8th – 22nd July. This is not for definite so please account for ± 1 week.

Please Note: Only in-stock products visible on our website to maximise visibility of available products and easier navigation.


What actions are we taking to reduce lead times?

Minimised packaging at source (e.g. remove outer box) to expedite process and availability – without compromising quality
Priority production of key products (e.g. PLA, PETg) over more ‘exotic’ less-popular product lines
– Offer multiple product weight options (e.g. 750g, 1 kg and 2.3 kg)
Postponed product development until Q4 2020 to allocate resources effectively


What actions are we taking optimise stock management?

– Utilising updated AI-led inventory system with demand forecasting capability
– Implementing controlled stock release (i.e. not release all qty at once to manage order flow)
– Moving to larger premises by (Early) Q3 2020 to enable greater stockholding and improved operations
Streamlining inventory by discontinuing low-performance product lines – mainly 2.85mm, 1 kg – please note: we will still offer 750 g and / or 2.3 kg variants (dependent on product popularity).


We strongly advise:

Proactive ordering (i.e. if you typically order 1-month supply, consider to 2-3 month buffer).
Communicating with relevant stakeholders within your organisation to enable efficient ordering
– Ordering from our resellers / stockists – see list of Resellers here (enquire directly with the reseller/s)
– Considering alternative materials (e.g. PETg)


Whilst we are grateful for increased sales at this uncertain time, we are naturally frustrated to suffer regular stock-outs which inevitably affects your 3D printing workflow and for that, we sincerely apologise.

We’re working tirelessly to meet demand but it is certainly a challenge – not just for us but across the filament market.

The silver-lining is that such circumstances have presented us with an opportunity to improve our operations and whilst certainly painful in the short-term, it can only benefit both us and our valued clients going forward.


Should you wish to discuss this matter further, please don’t hesitate to contact us:

E:info@filamentive.com

T: +44 (0) 333 366 0020.

Thank you for your continued patience and support.

Chemical Resistance of 3D Printing Filament

Scientist conducting a chemical test of a particular 3D printer filament

We frequently receive questions regarding the chemical resistance of particular materials / filaments for 3D printing. In response, we’ve created a Chemical Resistance Information Guide.

We have also summarised chemical resistance per material below (H= High Resistance, VH = Very High Resistance).

Water – PLA (H) PETg (VH), CF-PETg (VH), ASA (VH), ABS (VH), ePLA (H), ONE PET (H)

Acids – PETg (VH), ASA (VH), ABS (H)

Bases– PETg (VH), CF-PETG (VH), ASA (VH)

Alcohols –PETg (H), CF-PETG (VH), ASA (VH), ABS (H)

Hydrocarbons – N/A

Ketones –N/A

Ethers –N/A

Fuels –PETg (H), CF-PETG (H)

Salts – PLA (H), ASA (VH), ABS (VH), ePLA (H)

UV –PLA (H), ASA (VH), ABS (H), ePLA (H)

Oils – PLA (H), PETg (VH), CF-PETg (VH), ASA (H), ePLA (H)

Download Chemical Resistance Guide Here

Important Notice: COVID-19

Business as Usual

In response to enquiries related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can confirm that we are currently fully operational.

Being Proactive 

The health, safety and wellbeing of our people, customers and suppliers is of paramount importance. As a business we are rigorously following official NHS guidance to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus – including Stay at home advice should any employees develop symptoms.

Management of the business centre in which we are located have also imposed proactive measures, including (but not limited to):

Hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser available throughout premises

Closing all meeting rooms 

No third-party visitors 

Impact on Customers

We are in constant communication with key partners. Production is unaffected however, we have experienced a notable increase in sales in recent days, which may impact stock levels of some products in the short-term. Naturally, we are being proactive and aim to increase buffer stock of best-sellers to meet high demand. Whilst we are certainly not recommending ‘stocking up’ it may be worth considering should you feel the need to do so to mitigate uncertainty.

Public Health England (PHE) has advised that people receiving parcels are not at risk of contracting the coronavirus. From experience with other coronaviruses, we know that these types of viruses don’t survive long on objects, such as letters or parcels.

MARCH 31: SAME-DAY DISPATCH SUSPENDED DUE TO HIGH VOLUMES & EARLIER COURIER COLLECTION TIMES.

UK & EU Orders – Both Royal Mail (orders <2 kg) and Parcelforce (orders ≥2 kg) have advised changes to delivery procedure and suspension of UK service guarantee, plus the delivery aim for express9, express10 or expressAM is by 12pm.Further guidance here.

International Orders – For international orders (typically non-EU), we procure courier services from online providers. Their guidance can be read here at the following links:

Parcel2Go

TransGlobalExpress

Further Guidance

We are actively monitoring UK government response and will implement further measures accordingly if/when instructed. As said, until then, it is business as usual.

Should you wish to discuss this matter further, please don’t hesitate to contact us:

E: info@filamentive.com

T: +44 (0) 333 366 0020.

We face challenging times – rest assured we are doing our utmost to guarantee the wellbeing of all involved with Filamentive, whilst also minimising disruption to our day-to-day operations. 

Our well-wishes extend to all customers, suppliers and partners – thank you for your continued patience at this uncertain time.

Filamentive Release Six PETg Colours Made From 99.5% Recycled Plastic

Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom – January 16th 2020 – UK 3D printing filament brand, Filamentive, is proud to announce the release of six brand new PETg colours, made from 99.5% recycled plastic.


The brand new rPETg colours are made from post-industrial recycled plastic – 99.5% recycled content (The 0.5% consists additives to improve 3D printing performance). 

Like the existing Filamentive PETg line, this filament is strong, does not warp, and is odour-neutral – a perfect all-rounder, ideal for those strong and durable parts.


Step 1: Discarded, single-source PETg plastic waste – that would otherwise go to landfill – is received from manufacturers.

Step 2: The plastic is sorted and cleaned, to remove any unwanted debris, before being shredded and melted down to further refine the polymer.

Step 3: The plastic present in a variety of colours and so therefore undergoes a compounding to create a grey-coloured, homogeneous material.

Step 4: Premium masterbatch is then added to this neutral shade pellets to create the desired colour – the material is extruded and wound onto 100% recyclable cardboard spools ready for use!


“By using single-source PETg plastic waste as a base for this filament, we are not only diverting plastic pollution away from our landfills / physical environments, but also achieving the premium quality our global network of makers, industry and education clients require.”

Ravi Toor, Founder & Managing Director, Filamentive

New PETg colours – along with other Filamentive 3D printer filament products – can be found online via filamentive.com and available in 1.75mm diameter only, with 2.85mm coming soon.

Please note: rPETg colours originate from a different source compared to our black, white and transparent colours. As such, we advise to print slightly hotter, with a lower fan speed. Given the variation in formula we have additional datasheets for these new PETg colours, available on our Downloads page.


Filamentive (https://www.filamentive.com/info@filamentive.com) is the market leader in sustainable materials for FFF 3D Printing. The company was founded to address the environmental need to use more recycled plastics in 3D printing, and also alleviate market concerns over quality and long-term sustainability. Filamentive has experienced rapid growth and continues to address the questions surrounding 3D printing recycled materials. Headquartered in Bradford, United Kingdom, its customers include a global network of makers, industry and education clients.