In a forward-thinking move by a social enterprise in India, a waste picker cooperative is engaged to collect and recycle waste plastic, which then gets converted into an “ethically produced fair trade” 3D printing filament.
Protoprint, based in Pune, India, aims to empower urban waste pickers with its 3D printing operation, which essentially provides them with a sustainable income, and in essence, turns these pickers into microentrepreneurs.
While 3D printing is often hailed as the holy grail of prototyping and an enabler of maker culture, owning or running a 3D printer is still out of reach of most, if not all, of the people living in poverty. However, the growing 3D printing industry can still offer something to those living on the edge, financially speaking.
To operate a 3D printing platform, which has been seeing much wider adoption in the developing world with the advent of low-cost printing technology, makers need filament, which could come from recycled plastic instead of virgin materials.
By sourcing 3D printing filament from recycled materials, such as that produced by the Protoprint program, the technology has the ability to reduce the eco footprint of the industry, while also boosting the incomes of the pickers, who are said to make 15 times more with this system than selling to scrap dealers.
“The Protoprint process begins with waste pickers collecting HDPE waste (like shampoo bottles) to the filament lab. At the lab, the bottles are cleaned, dried to be prepared for flaking. They are then passed through our ‘FlakerBot’, where they are shredded and grinded. The ‘flakes’ are then passed through our ‘RefilBot’ that uses a rotating heating mechanism to extrude HDPE filament. After a few final processes, it is marketed as an ethical, fair trade filament product.” – Protoprint
The company began this initiative with a pilot project in 2013, partnering with a local waste pickers cooperative, SWaCH, and now supplies the filament to architectural and engineering institutions in India.
To find out more about Protoprint’s recycled 3D filament, see their website, or read more about ethical filament.