Vlog: Could 3D printing be environmentally friendly?

by / Friday, 22 May 2015 / Published in Vlog
3d printing

There’s a lot of buzz going around about 3D printing. People are saying that it’s going to be the next computer in everyone’s home. It’s a cool technology, but I’m not fully sold.

Why? One word: plastic. Plastic is the raw material used by (most) 3D printers. And plastics (as you know) last pretty much forever. The oceans are full of plastic waste. Though nobody is sure exactly how much plastic waste, it’s a lot, and it’s causing severe damage to ocean ecosystems.

Plastics don’t biodegrade, but they can be recycled. That’s why I think that we should get in front of this technology as soon as possible and get inventors thinking about how we can feed our own recycling into machines that can feed our 3D printers. If we do that, we’ll do more than just save some bottles from the ocean. We’ll also bring the concept of recycling home and make it something concrete that we understand and enact in our daily life, rather than something distant and abstract, a black (or blue) box.

Material use (or misuse) aside, 3D printing technology is being used for a lot of awesome things beyond tchotchkes and junk. Check out Appropedia for a community of innovators making sustainability and poverty-reduction solutions from 3D printers and similar technology. And similar technologies are being used to create stunning efficiencies – like the ability to 3D print tools in space rather than rocket them up, or the ability to print whole buildings (saving up to 60% construction waste).

Like any technology, 3D printing is likely to have both damaging and beneficial environmental impacts. I hope that we can mitigate the former while promoting the latter.