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ReFab Dar Launches Contest to 3D Print Medical Tools from Recycled Plastic in Tanzania

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ReFab Dar, a Tanzania based initiative to explore how plastic waste can power entrepreneurship using 3D printers, is partnering with JHPIEGO, Reflow, Cambridge University and 3D4MD to take the next steps in realizing the potential of 3D printing for improving the health ecosystem in Tanzania by using open source 3D printing to produce a wide range of medical tools.

The health supply chain in many developing countries is a critical barrier to receiving timely, quality health services. 3D printing holds the potential of distributed manufacturing, circumventing traditional supply chains. It has the potential to significantly lower distribution and storage costs, solve lead time issues and, if done right, can significantly lower the costs of medical equipment as well.

A 3D printed circumcision kit

3D printing in the medical space in Tanzania seems to be very feasible. High import prices, unstable supply chains and long lead times are problems health care providers in Tanzania encounter on a daily basis. 3D printing holds the potential to solve or significantly diminish these problems. There are however some specific challenges that have to be dealt with; the lack of approved and high quality designs, insecure regulatory framework and significant material development being the most prominent. This means lengthy clinical trials, field experiments and technological development are needed to take any business to the next step.

A Pilot for the Future of Africa

Every day in Dar Es Salaam, 400 tonnes of plastic waste are not collected or recycled, contributing to a wasteful and unhealthy environment. This also presents a wasted opportunity for local income generation through recycling in the context of unprecedented youth boom with many young people facing unemployment.

Increasingly affordable digital fabrication technologies are unlocking creative ways to address challenges like plastic waste. ReFab Dar tests the feasibility and scalability of turning plastic waste into filament that can be sold internationally and turned into products for local communities, offering new livelihoods for Tanzanian youth.

One of the open source 3D printed used at ReFab Dar.

During this pilot program, ReFab Dar will convene unconventional stakeholders to build practical skills on digital fabrication and entrepreneurship in order to better equip tomorrow’s young men and women with the resources to thrive in a healthier, greener Dar Es Salaam.

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.

Expanding Opportunities through 3D Printing

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.

Filament from Bottles

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.The ReFab Dar Mission

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.

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