Pearce’s tool of choice is an open-source 3D printer. He uses free software downloaded from Thingiverse, which currently holds 54,000 open-source designs. 3D printers are revolutionary because they have the ability to create a host of objects by laying down layers of plastic in a very specific pattern.
High-end printers can cost upwards of many thousands of dollars, but open-source units can cost under $500.
Unfortunately, the cost of the plastic filament that 3D printers use is still costly. While it is less expensive than most manufactured products, it does affect the overall price.
However, Peace, who is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering, believes that by turning milk jugs into plastic filament instead of burying them in landfills or recycling them, the cost of 3D printing could be lowered considerably.
Pearce and his team devised RecycleBot and cut labels off milk jugs, washed, and shredded the plastic. They then melted and extruded it to create strings of plastic.
By making their own filament using RecycleBot, they used one-tenth of the energy usually needed to acquire commercial filament. Pearce believes the process uses less energy than conventional recycling.