As champions of sustainability in 3D printing, we at Filamentive believe in transparency and arming our community with accurate information. The eco-friendly profile of PLA (Polylactic Acid) filament is undeniable, but there’s a crucial aspect of its biodegradability that demands attention. In this blog post, we shed light on the truth about PLA’s biodegradability, its limitations, and why it’s a concern for 3D printing waste management.
The Misleading Biodegradability of PLA
PLA, often heralded as the poster child of bioplastics, holds the promise of being biodegradable – but there’s more to this story than meets the eye. While it’s true that PLA can break down, this process requires very specific conditions; PLA is only biodegradable under industrial composting conditions and anaerobic digestion – there is no evidence of PLA being biodegradable in soil, home compost or landfill environment.
The Problem for 3D Printing Waste Management
Now, you might be wondering why this is a concern, especially for those of us passionate about reducing the environmental impact of 3D printing. Here’s the issue: PLA’s limited biodegradability means that your discarded prints and failed prototypes won’t naturally break down unless they find their way into an industrial composting facility or anaerobic digestion system. The stark reality is that most 3D printing enthusiasts don’t have access to these specialised setups, which ultimately means the majority of discarded 3D printing waste will end up in landfill.
Approximately 33% of all 3D prints end up as waste, as per a HSSMI report. The implications of this waste are far-reaching, with the potential to contribute to a significant environmental challenge. For instance, in the UK alone, this could translate to an alarming 379,000 kg of plastic waste generated annually, as highlighted in a 2023 Filamentive article.
Can we Recycle PLA instead?
In short, yes. With practicable biodegradability of PLA being a challenge, for most, recycling PLA 3D printing waste offers a more viable, landfill diversion route.
Upcycling offers a creative solution, and there are many online resources that demonstrate methods to turn PLA waste into valuable products, such as this one from instructables.com.
Others with available resources and expertise are taking a ‘closed loop’ approach. Through their ReMake scheme, Make, an architectural practice, exemplifies this by converting waste PLA into 100% recycled filament, championing sustainability within their workspace.
For a practical approach – especially those with relatively large waste volumes – PLA recycling services provide a solution. 3D Printing Waste in the UK offers viable recycling options, selling recycling boxes to 3D printing operators and before repurposing waste returned.
The Important of choosing a Recycled PLA Filament
At Filamentive, we believe in taking concrete steps to address this challenge. Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond marketing slogans – it’s ingrained in our products. Filamentive Recycled PLA Filament, a solution born from the understanding that true environmental responsibility requires action.
Our recycled PLA filament is viewed by thousands of makers, educators and engineers as a conscious choice to address the limitations of traditional PLA biodegradability. By sourcing our filament from post-industrial extrusion waste, we’re diverting materials from landfills and contributing to a circular economy. As per a recent production analysis, 87% of our PLA filament products are, on average, made with recycled materials, significantly reducing demand for virgin resources.
Reducing the Environmental Impact of 3D Printing
In the pursuit of sustainable 3D printing practices, it’s crucial to be well-informed about the intricacies of PLA’s biodegradability. The allure of this eco-friendly material comes with a reality check – PLA degrades slowly and selectively, primarily under controlled conditions like industrial composting and anaerobic digestion.
Recognizing the urgency of the issue, we’ve explored a solution – Filamentive Recycled PLA Filament stands as a step toward addressing PLA’s limitations. By utlising recycled material, we’re actively contributing to a circular economy and reducing the strain on virgin resources. This commitment also extends to using cardboard spools, a small change with significant positive environmental impact.
In this journey towards responsible 3D printing, the emphasis is on informed choices. While we offer Filamentive Recycled PLA Filament, the ultimate goal is to inspire collective action. Let’s unite as a community, choosing solutions that align with our dedication to sustainability.
By making eco-responsible decisions today, we lay the foundation for a greener and more responsible future for 3D printing.