Can 3d printer plastic be recycled? (7 benefits of recycling) 

In this article, it shall be explored whether it is possible to recycle 3d printer plastic or not. Other covered aspects would be: 

  • What is 3d printer plastic?
  • What are the different plastics used for 3d printing?
  • What is the environmental impact of plastic?
  • What is recycling?
  • What are the benefits of recycling?
  • Can 3d printer plastic be recycled?
  • FAQs

Can 3d printer plastic be recycled?

Yes, 3d printer plastic can be recycled. There are various types of plastics that can be used for 3d printing. These may include ABS, PVA, PC, and PLA. 

PLA is the most common material used for recycling because it is made from cornstarch and is regarded as environmentally safe. ABS is most common in home printing applications. 

The recycling of printing plastics is important because it leads to decreased waste generation, energy conservation, and decreased pollution. 

What is 3d printer plastic?

3d printing is becoming the new norm and that is why 3d printing has become a multi-billion dollar industry. 

There are a number of raw materials that can be opted for in the process of 3d printing. These materials include resins, plastics, metals and even powders. 

However, it is seen that plastics have really taken the game. There are a number of applications that are anchored to the choice of plastics that make them a perfect fit for 3d printing. 

The qualities such as flexibility, strength, and smoothness make plastics an ideal candidate for 3d printing. Another reason why plastics are really preferred for 3d printing is the reason that they can be used for a variety of products. 

Other than just variety, plastics may also be used for printing in different colours and varied textures. All these features come at cost-competitive pricing and that is why plastics are opted for 3d printing processes. 

Below is a list of plastics that are commonly opted for 3d printing: 

  • Polylactic Acid (PLA) 
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) 
  • Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA) 
  • Polycarbonate (PC) 

These are some of the materials that are commonly used for the 3d printing process. All materials have their distinct pros and cons which can be harnessed on subjective needs. 

What are different plastics used for 3d printing?

As stated, there are a number of options that can be considered and pursued when dealing with the process of 3d printing. 

Among the options available, we have PLA which expands to Polylactic Acid. The greatest benefit of PLA is that it is made from natural, plant-based materials such as corn starch. Since natural materials are involved in the making of PLA, it is argued that PLA has minimal impact on the environment.

Most plastics like PET or HDPE are made from synthetic materials and owing to this they have a strong impact on the environment. Other than being non-biodegradable, they may pollute and toxicate the environment. 

However, this is not the case with PLA because of its natural materials. It is biodegradable and is considered to be environmentally safe as well. 

Owing to these plus points, it is argued that PLA is the most common plastic material for 3d printing. It is also anticipated that the use of PLA for 3d printing may increase manifold because there is a growing trend toward environmentally friendly and safe. 

Another common plastic material that may be opted for 3d printing is ABS expanded into Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It is most common for home-based 3d printing applications and uses. 

It is argued that ABS is a good candidate for 3d printing because of its durability and variety of options and colours. ABS may be used to 3d print a huge range of products.

Another reason why ABS is preferred is because of its strength and flexibility. However, ABS is not eco-friendly as compared to its counterpart discussed just now (PLA). 

PVA may also be used in 3d printing but its use is limited to materials that do not have to be durable, but rather ephemeral and of dissolvable quality. 

Among the options available for 3d printing, the PC is the least used option and adopted for moulding trays and plastic fasteners. 

What is the environmental impact of plastics?

There is a lot of known environmental impact of plastics. This is because most plastics are made from petroleum-based products. 

These plastics are non-biodegradable and will persist for hundreds of years. As per research, plastics may persist for as long as a thousand years. 

You may wonder if bioplastics will be biodegradable. The assumption is partly correct. Bioplastics are indeed biodegradable because they are made from natural, plant-based materials. 

However, bioplastics may still take more than 3 years to fully degrade which is comparatively a long time, given the general context of biodegradable materials. 

Further, it is also emphasised that bioplastics may cause toxicity and environmental degradation despite being biodegradable. 

Plastics may convert into microplastics. Microplastics are found in every corner of the world and cause all sorts of problems and issues. 

Below are some of the major issues caused by plastics on the environment and health: 

  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • GHG emissions
  • Rise in temperature
  • A rise in sea levels
  • Melting glaciers
  • More floods
  • Frequent droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Insects attacks
  • Land degradation
  • Food shortage
  • Food security concerns
  • Species endangerment 
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of aquatic life
  • Accumulation of plastics
  • Disruptions of ecosystems

The health complications raised by plastics also include: 

  • Abnormality
  • Reproductive complications
  • Hormonal issues
  • Damage to foetus
  • Necrosis
  • Skin damage
  • Eye allergies
  • Organ defects
  • Cancer
  • Mutation
  • Psychological complication
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Neuro-toxicity
  • Neurological complications 

What is recycling?

In simple words, recycling can be explained as a process in which old materials are altered in a way so that they may be used again as new materials. 

It is a very important process to ensure that there is less waste generation and accumulation. 

The applications and processes of recycling are also important because the current waste generation has already crossed the given threshold. 

The current waste generation is expected to be around 2 billion tons which may also rise up to more than 3 billion tons in just a few decades. 

If those figures are translated at an individual level, then it can be said that an average person is responsible for the generation of more than 5 kgs of waste per day.

These staggering figures reveal why there is an increased need for us to recycle because it is one of the best ways to ensure that waste generation is not passing the supposed threshold. 

You may also wonder whether all materials are recyclable. Whether all materials are recyclable or not? The answer is no. Not all materials are recyclable, however, most consumer products can be recycled. 

Recycling is also regarded as a great option for materials that are not biodegradable. A good example can be nylon. Nylon is a non-biodegradable material which has the capacity to remain in the environment for a very long time. 

While it persists, it may damage life and the environment in the worst possible ways. Therefore, authorities such as Econyl have started endeavours in which they recycle nylon. 

In this way, there is less waste generation while also ensuring that the negative effects of nylon do not cloud the environment and life. 

Some of the common materials which can be recycled include:

  • Paper
  • Plastic 
  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Batteries 
  • Electronics

As a general rule of thumb, most of the materials can be recycled including both biodegradable and non-biodegradable.

 However, since the impacts of non-biodegradable products are greater than biodegradable products, the recycling of non-biodegradable products is cherished more. 

What are the benefits of recycling? (7 benefits of recycling) 

The following are the benefits of recycling: 

  • Energy conservation
  • Conservation of natural resources
  • Better waste management 
  • Employment prospects
  • Reduction of waste
  • Reduction of pollution 

Recycling is an important process because it leads to a reduction in waste generation. Another advantage of recycling is that it delays the impact of non-biodegradable waste on the environment. 

For example, consider the example of nylon. Nylon is non-biodegradable and is known to cause environmental degradation. Nylon may pollute aquatic ecosystems while also impacting life therein. 

These impacts can be deterred and avoided by recycling nylon. Econyl is an example of one such endeavour. 

Since recycling leads to the reusing of waste, there is decreased energy consumption. This is important because the majority of the world depends upon non-renewable sources of energy which are produced at the cost of GHGs emissions. 

These emissions lead to pollution, global warming, environmental degradation, and many other environmental anomalies. By recycling, it is opted that these effects are curbed at varying intensities. 

When there is recycling, there will be better waste management. This is because the waste which would have ended up in landfills will now be reused by consumers without compromising on the quality. 

This is a great move because already waste generation is at grave threshold. If the waste generation is not reduced, it will impact the entire world and all the species that abide therein.

Can 3d printer plastic be recycled?

We have discussed that a number of plastic materials can be opted for 3d printing. These included PC, ABS, PLA, and PVA. 

All these plastics can be recycled and therefore, it can be assumed that 3d printer plastic can definitely be recycled. 

By doing so, the impact of 3d printer plastic on the environment and the people will be reduced or at least, delayed. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that 3d printing is a growing industry due to its usability and applications. A number of materials can be opted for 3d printing that may include metals, plastics and even powder. 

There are various types of plastics that can be used for 3d printing. These may include ABS, PVA, PC, and PLA. 

It is possible to recycle 3d printer plastic and by doing so, the impact of 3d printer plastic on the environment and the people will be reduced. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Can 3d printer plastic be recycled?

How long does plastic take to degrade?

Plastics may take from 3 years to 1000 years to degrade

What is the most popular 3d printing material? 

PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) is the most common material used for 3d printing. 

References

  • Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115-2126.
  • McKeown, P., & Jones, M. D. (2020). The chemical recycling of PLA: a review. Sustain. Chem, 1(1), 1-22.
  • Redwood, B., Schöffer, F., & Garret, B. (2017). The 3D printing handbook: technologies, design and applications. 3D Hubs.
  • Shahrubudin, N., Lee, T. C., & Ramlan, R. (2019). An overview on 3D printing technology: Technological, materials, and applications. Procedia Manufacturing, 35, 1286-1296.
  • Kale, S. K., Deshmukh, A. G., Dudhare, M. S., & Patil, V. B. (2015). Microbial degradation of plastic: a review. Journal of Biochemical Technology, 6(2), 952-961.

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