Why we need to use Recycled Filament for 3D Printing Materials
3D printing is a double edged sword. Whilst fundamentally an additive technology with minimal wastage, the use of plastic as a feedstock could further worsen our existing waste management issues.
Assuming the average 3D printer uses 12 kg of filament per year, we can estimate the UK FFF 3D printing market uses 1.8m kg of plastic annually; and yet, 99% of the market is non-recycled filament. This is a growing problem.
The benefits of using recycled plastic for 3D printing filament include:
- Reduces plastic going to landfill
- Avoids further consumption of Earth’s depleting oil stocks
- Lowers carbon impact and energy consumption
What is Recycled Material?
As per ISO 14021:2016 – the internationally-recognised standard for environmental labels and declarations – recycled material is “material that has been reprocessed from recovered [reclaimed] material by means of a manufacturing process and made into a final product or into a component for incorporation into a product.”
ISO 14021:2016 defines two types of recycled content:
- Pre-consumer (post-industrial)
Pre-consumer Recycled Content
Material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process. It’s important to note that rework, regrind or scrap generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process that generated it is NOT included in this definition.
- Easy to collect (in-situ)
- Typically single source, free of contamination
- Performance on par with virgin material
Filamentive PETg is an example of recycled 3D printer filament made from pre-consumer recycled content because it is produced from discarded PETg plastic waste sourced from a manufacturer.
Post-consumer Recycled Content
Material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain.
A mainstream example of this is plastic (PET) bottles – if these bottles are collected after end-use, this is post-consumer waste and the recycling of these bottles into a new product can be regarded as post-consumer recycled material.
- Post-consumer waste streams more likely to go to landfill so recycle has large environmental benefit
- Recycling post-consumer plastics reduce greenhouse emissions
Whilst post-consumer recycled material provided greater sustainability, it is not as widely used as pre-consumer recycled material for many reasons, such as:
- Typically a mixed polymer stream
- High reprocessing costs
- High variability in performance and quality
UK business, Fishy Filaments is an example of a manufacturer using post-consumer waste material (Nylon), because they recycle used fishing nets into filament.
PLA and PETg are the two most popular 3D printer filaments, though it’s worth noting that – at the time of writing – there are no PLA or PETg recycled filaments made from post-consumer waste material, available in the UK.
Is Recycled 3D Printing Filament Made from 3D Printer Waste?
At Filamentive, we have written extensively on the problem of 3D printing waste.
Quality: The quality of recycled filament may not be as good as new filament, as it may have impurities or be less consistent in terms of diameter and other physical properties. This can affect the performance of the printer and the quality of the finished print.
Cost: It may be more expensive to produce recycled filament than to manufacture new filament, as the recycling process involves additional steps and may require specialised equipment. As a result, recycled filament may not be as readily available or as affordable as new filament.
Recycled Filament in the UK
Filamentive’s primary aim is to reduce the environmental impact of 3D printing, by providing a sustainable source of raw materials to 3D printing users.
Where possible, recycled materials are prioritised in the production of our 3D printer filament, in accordance with ISO 14021:2016. A careful selection criteria is in place in order to guarantee single-source waste streams. At the time of publication, post-industrial (pre-consumer) waste streams are utilised – material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process.
By using pre-consumer recycled material for its 3D printing filament, Filamentive are reducing waste plastic to landfill, without compromising performance; this production model also overcomes the potential logistical and quality pitfalls associated with the utilisation of the lesser available, post-consumer waste.
Sustainability is about improvement, not perfection. As the industry grows and investment into technology increases, hopefully there closer collaboration between manufacturers, recycling sector and 3D printing material brands to further reduce plastic pollution and increase recycled materials usage for 3D printing filament.