Despite the fact that 98% of solid waste generated per day can be recycled, only ten percent is actually recycled. The remaining 90% is disposed in dumpsites and informal urban areas, presenting a unique recycling opportunity.
At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. But the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that applies layers of materials (typically plastic) to develop an object that is made up of thinly sliced horizontal layers. The design of the object is made in a computer-aided design program using a 3D modeling, then is inputted into the 3D printer.
3D printers can be found in schools and other training institutions, digital fabrication and maker spaces, small research and development (R&D) labs…or even one’s home. Maker spaces or digital fabrication laboratories are surfacing – small-scale workshops that offer digital fabrication services to the tinkerers, creative problem solvers, entrepreneurs or anyone who wishes to apply and build on their technical skills.
Predictions suggest that 3D printing filament market will reach $1.052 million by 2019. Currently in Tanzania, the cost of one kilogram (kg) of filament can rise to as much as $60 or even $80, including fees for shipping from China. This creates a barrier for the burgeoning local communities interested in 3D printing to access the necessary supplies.
Instead, filament can be sourced directly from waste picker groups in developing countries. Initiatives popping up around the world are already taking advantage of this opportunity, such as one pilot study in India to develop ethical 3D printer filament made out of HDPE plastic. This filament can also be used for 3D printing prototypes or products themselves depending on their complexity and design.
ReFab Dar tests the opportunity to shift PET plastic waste to value through collaboration across the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, leveraging 3D printers and new, low-cost PET extruder technology. The initiative will assess the feasibility and the market opportunity to turn PET plastic waste into 3D printer filament that can be sold locally or globally, and to then print unique, locally appropriate and marketable products, which could be then traded and sold by young entrepreneurs back to their communities.
Through the practical application of 3D printing in the context of plastic waste, the initiative also aims contribute to the broader movement on turning waste to value, as well as to the development of local maker and digital fabrication communities.