Earth Hour 2019 came and went, but the question remains – just how environmentally friendly is 3D printing? 3D printing typically prints plastic, and in today’s environmentally conscious world,
Traditional mass manufacturing methods usually require huge minimum order quantities (MOQ) that start from tens to hundreds of thousands. 3D printing services and its on-demand nature produces only the amount required, reducing excess parts and waste if that MOQ is not absolutely needed.
Additive vs Subtractive:
Subtractive manufacturing is a method widely used in traditional mass manufacturing, which involves cutting away material to form a part. Comparatively, additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing), adds material accordingly to form a part. Thus, 3D printing typically lowers the amount of waste produced. That said, 3D printing is not void of waste material – supports and failed prints create waste too, although this happens from time to time as opposed to the production of each part.
Short for ‘Polylactic Acid’, PLA is a corn-based thermoplastic that is arguably the most common 3D printing material in use. It is comparatively lower in toxicity and biodegradable in a composting system, as compared to other 3D printing materials. Additionally, it is one of the easiest material to 3D print with, reducing chances of failed prints and thus, waste.
There are many ongoing research in the 3D printing industry looking to make the entire 3D printing process more eco-friendly. Efforts such as recycling spare 3D printing material and even inventing innovative new eco-friendly 3D printing materials are happening. Creative alternatives such as hemp, coffee and even recycled potato chip bags are also being explored!
Just like most current processes, 3D printing is definitely not 100% environmentally friendly. There are several issues such as energy usage that need to be rectified, but additive manufacturing is definitely more than just “printing plastic”!