How Recycled Milk Jugs Can Make 3D Printing Cheaper and Greener


recyclebot
Joshua Pearce’s Recyclebot

By recycling milk jugs, Joshua Pearce, a DIYer and researcher from Michigan Technological University is working on a method to drastically cut down costs associated with 3D printing.

3D printing is the new way of bringing things into existence by laying down thin layers of plastic in a specific pattern, ordered by a computer. However, printing objects is not cheap and as long as it’s about petroleum-derived plastic, it’s not green.

If what he says is true, “3D printing is where computers were in the 1970s,” then we could face a revolution of the manufacturing industry, because 3D printers are open source and are relatively easy to build, at home, for $250 to $500 (the cost of parts). More advanced, high-end units can reach thousands of dollars.

“Three billion people live in rural areas that have lots of plastic junk,” says Pearce. “They could use it to make useful consumer goods for themselves. Or imagine people living by a landfill in Brazil, recycling plastic and making useful products or even just ‘fair trade filament’ to sell. Twenty milk jugs gets you about 1 kilogram of plastic filament, which currently costs $30 to $50 online.”

Milk jugs are, indeed, a nuisance that’s hard to get rid of. The plastic that they’re made from, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), decomposes in 350 years underground and is just wasted energy. Trying to recycle it wastes even more energy and so you find yourself realizing that buying a jug of milk is not so cheap for the environment.

So Pearce and his team built their own “RecycleBot.” They cut off the labels from the jugs, washed the plastic and shredded it. After that they melt it and extruded it into a long string of plastic, ready to be used by open-source 3D printers to make anything from phone cases, prototypes, toys or even 3D printer parts. They even made the creation process open-source at Thingiverse and also published a very detailed paper describing the energy costs and everything you need to know about the project.

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