What to do with 3D printer plastic waste?

If you’ve ever used a 3D printer, you’ll know that the printing process can generate a lot of plastic waste. Rather than send this waste to landfill, there are many uses for 3D printer plastic waste. With the cost of 3D printer filament rising, it’s also important for the purse strings to make the most of your filament.

Here are a few things you could do with your 3D printer plastic waste.

1) Granulate it

At Shred Station, we can granulate 3D printer filament into small 2-5mm pieces. This process makes the fragments reusable for the 3D printing process.

This is a method we have tried and tested after being approached by the Frontline Face Shields project. The project, which focused on 3D printing face shields for front line workers during the PPE shortage of the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave, approached us after realising their cause was generating large volumes of PLA waste. We took this waste and granulated it using our industrial shredder. Once granulated, we gave it back to the project volunteers. They were then able to reuse the filament to make even more face shields. Not only did this help produce over 50,000 face shields, but it also diverted all of that waste from landfill.

When you have granulated your waste filament, it can be extruded again into more wire. Extruders are relatively straightforward and inexpensive to make at home but can be quite expensive to buy. Granulators too can be very expensive to buy. If you need a large volume of 3D printer waste granulated for reuse, let us know and we may be able to offer a service to suit you.

2) Donate the scraps

Lots of colleges and schools now have a 3D printer on their premises, but as you may know, government funding for schools is often stretched to the limits. If you have scrap materials that could be reused for practice projects, why not consider donating them to your local school?

Following on from the success of our involvement in the Frontline Face Shields project, we have also set up a new project to do just the above. If you want to mail us your 3D printer plastic to our head office, we’ll granulate it for free and redistribute it to schools, creative spaces or projects that need the materials.

3) Melt it down for crafting

PLA has a low melting point (around 170 – 18°C). This makes it suitable to melt at home.

You can put your 3D printer scraps into a lined oven-safe metal container (for instance, heavy-duty stainless steel) and soften these in your oven. The PLA will soften once it reaches around 60°C, so it shouldn’t take long to get to this temperature. Once soft, you can push objects into the plastic to create moulds for crafting– similar to how silicone works. Or, you can just use the softened material to sculpt into your own new creations. Here is a great video showing the full process of creating a guitar plectrum from waste PLA.

There are plenty more things you can do with 3D printer waste. If you can’t get use out of your waste materials, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

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