Not a single day goes by that I don't see or hear something about how 3D printing is the future of technology and the future of making. While almost any material can be 3D printed now—ceramics, glass, metal—plastic remains by far the most popular. Plastic filament is most commonly made of PLA (Polylactic acid)—a biodegradable thermoplastic made of natural material such as sugarcane, corn starch, or tapioca root. While it can be melted down and recycled into new filament, its ability to do so still flies under the radar. Globally, we consume over 260 million tons of plastic per year and, like most plastics, 3D printed PLA objects end up in landfills.
So, if 3D printing is the future, what kind of future are we building if we don't adopt sustainable plastic printing practices?
After spending time in Africa, and realizing the environmental, medical, and social effects of irresponsible waste management across the globe, Jasper Middendorp founded Reflow in an attempt to break the cycle. Reflow converts recyclable plastic into ethical, high-quality 3D printing filament. It's pretty amazing that the entire operation requires only three pieces of equipment: a plastic shredder, cleaner and extruder— all of which are available through open source license.
Matthew Rogge's 2nd Generation Extruder available via an open source license on Wevolver
The filament itself is made from 93% recycled plastic PET from Tanzania, a quality material that is compatible with most 3D printers. Having met their Kickstarter goal of €26,026 ($28,966.94 USD) earlier this month, filament rolls are currently available for pre-order and will ship early 2017.
If the environmental benefits aren't enough to get you excited about Reflow, the company is also committed to social sustainability. A portion of the proceeds from each filament roll goes to local waste collectors while 25% of the company's profits are invested in local manufacturing initiatives—showing the company's true commitment to shifting the local-global economy relationship within developing countries from import dependence to self-sufficient production.