The University of California – Berkeley has been a leader in 3-D printing technology and now has more than 100 machines on campus, but that also has led to an increase in plastic waste, which has exceeded more than 600 pounds per year according to a report from the school.
Cal students are trying to recycle and reuse the campus' 3-D printing waste. (YouTube)
In order to combat the increase in waste that the campus produces, engineering student Nicole Panditi and environmental sciences student Scott Silva worked with doctoral candidate Mickey Clemon to head the 3D Printer Filament Reclamation Project and create a campus-wide system to reclaim and reuse 3-D printing waste.
“It’s my personal goal to reduce inefficiencies in 3-D printing so that the tech industry can reach its full beneficial potential without being haunted by mountains of ugly waste,” said Panditi on the Cal website.
Cal Zero Waste has spearheaded the effort to manage the 35 tons of solid waste that the campus produces on a daily basis and expanding recycling campus recycling programs. Cal Zero Waste runs recycling and refuse pickup and works with custodial services and grounds operations to ensure that the programs are run efficiently.
The article noted that it is not just engineers or experts that use 3-D printers at Cal. There are 3-D printers in labs in use by students across the campus and there is a printer for “novices” in the library’s makerspace. As Panditi explained, more than half of first-time projects fail, which only increases the waste that is produced.
She said, “In rapid prototyping, you’re making iteration after iteration until you get it perfect. What happens with all those iterations is you throw them away. And that’s where all the plastic trash comes in.”
The project currently uses a kitchen blender to break down the bio-based polylactic acid (PLA) plastic that is most common in the 3-D printing at Cal (it takes around 20 minutes per load). The PLA is blended, ground up, melted down and reformed (with new PLA beads for improve quality) into new spools of filament.
Since there is a lot of plastic waste to process, the 3D Printer Filament Reclamation Project has begun a crowdfunding effort to raise $5,000 for a grinder and machinery that will allow the project to expand. To support the cause, visit https://crowdfund.berkeley.edu/project/3715.
Some of the recent 3-D printing projects that UC Berkeley has worked on include building a prosthetic hand for an 8-year-old girl, creating a “smart cap” that senses spoiled food, and large-scale cement buildings.
To learn more about the efforts of the Cal students to reclaim plastic waste, watch the video below: