Can I return my empty filament spools?
What can I do with my empty filament spools?
Will you recycle my empty, plastic filament spools?
As a 3D printing filament brand, questions are received on an almost daily basis. Once finished with their 3D printing, users are often left with a mountain of plastic reels. In fact, a survey demonstrated that two-thirds of plastic filament spools are not being reused or recycled.
With empty spools potentially accounting for 20% of 3D printing waste generated, there is a growing demand from 3D printer operators to recycle / reuse empty filament spools from 3D printing.
This short article explains four solutions for recycling your empty filament spools.
Return your empty spools to the filament supplier
As a 3D printing provider ourselves, we know from experience that this is a customers’ first port of call. Whilst initially offered by us, this unfortunately, became infeasible due to warehouse constraints and sparse options with regard to reuse by our manufacturer or other recycling solutions. As 3DSolved concluded, most manufacturers stopped doing this since it’s not really financially viable.
That being said, we are firm believers in the saying “you don’t ask, you don’t get”. When researching this piece, we found that our friends over at 3DTomorrow, were offering a Cardboard Spool Return for Re-use Program. So it is worth asking your current filament supplier(s).
Resell your empty spools online
The secondhand market Is growing rapidly and with ever-increasing platforms online, thankfully it is becoming easier to access markets in which to sell your unwanted stuff – in this case, your empty spools from 3D printing! A quick search of eBay lists many sellers of empty plastic spools which demonstrates the viability of reselling your spools online. Not only does this option provide an environmental solution (reuse), but will also add a bit of spare change to your wallet!
Upcycle your empty spools
Upcycling represents a variety of processes by which “old” products get to be modified and get a second life as they’re turned into a “new” product. In a consumer society with an ever-increasing environmental awareness, upcycling has provided motivation to disrupt our existing take-make-waste culture, enabling the everyday person to simultaneously reduce their waste and create a new product from existing resources,
There are many examples of empty spools being upcycled into a useful product. In this interesting blog post, 3Dsourced present their 6 Top Ideas for empty spools:
- Drawer Organiser
- Christmas Lights holder
- Paint Organiser
- Coat Hook
- 3D-Print Your Own Clock
The true solution to recycling your empty spools?
To reduce virgin material use and prevent further plastic pollution, Filamentive ensures 100% recyclable cardboard spools for all ≤2.3 kg products.
In the UK specifically, cardboard can be widely recycled at home (recycling bins). Not only does this make recycling incredibly easy, but also free as you’re simply utilising the existing recycle service available to you.
On the subject of sustainable spooling, an honourable mention to MasterSpool – a standard for 3D printing filament supply without the need for any spool. For a comparison of cardboard spools versus Masterspool for 3D printing, see this blog post.
Hopefully, this blog post has provided tangible solutions on how to recycle your empty spools.
As 3D printing grows, the hope is that more 3D printer operators switch to more sustainable, cardboard-spooled filament options – further eliminating hard-to-recycle plastic empty spools!
These spools are definitely reusable. We from https://filagain.com sells filaments in Indonesia and run an experimental ‘waste bank’ where we collect 3D print waste, including spools, that can be processed into recycled and repurposed products; meanwhile participating users are given point that can be used for purchase on our store. The spools we’ve collected will go through QC for reusability and cleaned, and so that it can be used for winding new products like cables, wire, filaments, etc.
You can see our collection of repurposed spool here: https://filagain.com/shop/spool/ (note that most of our site are in indonesian so sorry if you can’t understand it)
We don’t see much corporate/factory purchase, but most of these repurposed spool sales are bought by retail buyer who use it to organize cables, led strips, etc. in their home or small shop; shown here: https://www.tokopedia.com/filagain/spool-bobbin-plastik-gulungan-bobin-roll-kabel-benang-klosan-su-a
In Indonesia there is also Kreafil (https://kreafil.co.id), a local filament manufacturer who recently started a program of accepting spools (from their own filament) so it can be reused again, and in return give participating users a store credits. We also have our own Kreafil spools that obtained through our waste bank and gave it to them.
So yes, these spools are useful even outside 3D printing, and there are demands on retail and theoretically on commercial too.
I think the major problem with plastic spools from what we seen, is that some brands incorporate emboss of their logo/branding on the spool; which makes it less desirable for other company to reuse it. Just imagine if Filamentive had to use repurposed spool with big ‘eSUN’ or ‘CCTREE’ logo (chinese filament brand) on it.
There’s also problem with adhesives used to stick labels on the spools. They stick too well and requires chemical like brake cleaner/anti rust to remove without ruining the plastic. This makes removing label from spools a pain in the ass, i wish manufacturer use one of those eco friendly adhesives that could be removed with ease instead.
As for the material itself, I would argue plastic spools (which usually made from ABS plastic) are more sustainable than cardboard spools, because the plastic ones can be reused multiple times without breaking, and if it finally breaks, it is viable to recycle since ABS is in demand by many recycler and can be processed with most existing infrastructure. I also have feeling that some of these brands use spool made from recycled ABS, can’t 100% sure, but you’ll recognize that cheap chinesium ABS plastic easily.
Meanwhile cardboard spool wouldn’t last long, it would dent/break down faster and I would imagine can get dirty fast and hard to clean (because you can’t just clean it with liquid like what we do with plastic spool); there’s also problem with usability; like in Bambu printer, that can’t use cardboard spool on their AMS because the cardboard particles will eventually clog the mechanism. Yes cardboard can be recycled, but so is plastic; so in the end it just a matter of which spools are more valuable to be recycled locally.