“Filament prices are so high that places like Protoprint could sell their filament at half that price and still give pickers a living wage while doing good for the environment,” said Pearce.
It’s old news that open-source 3D printing is cheaper than conventional manufacturing, not to mention greener and incredibly useful for making everything from lab equipment to chess pieces. Now it’s time to add another star to the 3D printing constellation. It may help lift some of the world’s most destitute people from poverty while cleaning up a major blight on the earth and its oceans: plastic trash.
At the center of the movement is a new set of standards inspired by fair trade products ranging from diamonds to chocolate.
“We are creating a new class of material called ethical 3D printing filament, like fair trade coffee,” said Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University. “It’s a way to help the poorest of the poor up the economic ladder.”
Waste pickers in the developing world barely eke out a living scouring landfills for trash to sell. They usually don’t bother with plastic, however, because it has almost no value.
But thanks to an emerging market, waste plastic may soon be a more alluring target; it can serve as a feedstock for 3D printer filament. What makes it especially attractive is the cost of conventional filament made from virgin plastic: about $35 to $50 a kilogram.
Pearce’s group has already developed a recyclebot that turns milk jugs and other plastic trash into filament for pennies on the dollar. And next-generation commercial-grade recyclebots are creating opportunities for businesses. But for waste pickers to truly benefit, Pearce says, the recycled filament industry will need to adhere to certain fair labor and environmental practices.
Here’s how it would work.
The Latest on: Fair Trade Plastic
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The Latest on: Fair Trade Plastic
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