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Plastic Waste Gets New Life on the Other Side of a 3D Printer

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

It’s no secret that plastic, once the apparent saviour to the modern manufacturing world, has more recently become an environmental villain of epic proportions.


Plastic is filling up our oceans, littering our landscapes, and endangering our ecosystems. All told, there are eight trillion pounds of plastic on our planet, and, by 2025, it’s expected that there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in our oceans.


But set against the scene of this modern blight, another picture is taking shape: of a massively damaging disaster transformed into entrepreneurial opportunity.


Through its social enterprise parent organization The Plastic Bank, BC-based Plastics for Change is collecting tons of discarded plastic from Third-World countries and turning it into plastic filament suitable for the 3D printing of inexpensive products—including tools essential to life in this developing part of the planet. These critical implements can now be produced locally and even customized for specific local uses.


The University of British Columbia’s engineering department threw its support behind the initiative by developing a 3D printing technology that will play a significant role in the undertaking. With it, users can transform otherwise discard-only plastic bits into, first, plastic pellets and, eventually, items of extremely consequential value, including plastic wrenches and water pumps.


Through Plastics for Change, plastic waste is suddenly a precious commodity whose repurposed reinvention might actually save lives.


The Plastic Bank announced the world’s first 3D-printed item made from recycled ocean plastic in June 2014. In the spirit of being a true social enterprise, the university made the groundbreaking technology available globally through an open-source license in September 2014.

Since its inception, Plastics for Change has enjoyed overwhelming support from all corners of the world. To date, it has received partnership requests from organizations in 40 different countries. The founder’s dream is that this project will help eliminate global poverty and reduce plastic waste by the year 2035.

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