3D Printing FilamentsMaterialsSustainability

Renew IT recycles discarded plastics into 3D printing filament

Thanks to a recently installed UNSW-invented Plastics Filament MICROfactorie module

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According to the University of New South Wales (UNSW), a collaboration between the university’s SMaRT Centre and Renew IT, an IT asset management company, has begun turning discarded hard plastics into 3D printer feedstock via SMaRT’s first commercially-run Plastics Filament MICROfactorie. A UNSW-invented Plastics Filament MICROfactorie Technology module has been installed at Renew IT’s warehouse in Lane Cove, Sydney, and is fully operational – turning plastics destined for landfill into filament.

“Commercialising our Plastics Filament MICROfactorie Technology has taken a lot of time and effort, but it is a sustainable waste, recycling, and manufacturing solution. We’re turning the hard plastics found in all modern electronic hardware but not subject to conventional recycling methods, into feedstock for a booming sector,” said Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Founder and Director of the UNSW SMaRT Centre. “Filament is almost entirely imported to Australia and made from petrochemicals, so being able to locally make it from used plastics also reduces the environmental impacts from global freight. 3D printing is a wonderful technology enjoying rapid uptake but the tragedy is, until now, 3D printing has been reliant on virgin plastics. These Plastics Filament MICROfactories have the potential to revolutionise 3D printer filament creation. I look forward to a time when 3D printing feedstock is sourced exclusively from recycled plastics.”

“The combination of Prof. Sahajwalla’s pioneering science and Renew IT’s commercial expertise and financial commitment can accelerate genuine change. This industry partnership is an exquisite example of UNSW’s commitment to societal impact,” said Professor Verity Firth, Vice-President of Societal Impact, Equity, and Engagement at UNSW.

UNSW Sydney is developing a Societal Impact Framework through which it seeks to maximize progress in environmental sustainability and resilience, social cohesion, health, and wellbeing, and economic prosperity for all.

“This venture addresses two wicked issues. Not only does it reduce virgin plastic production by creating 3D printing filament from waste items but it also stops hard plastic ending up in landfill. Electronic goods like televisions, computers, and printers are being produced in ever-increasing numbers and often with increasingly short life-cycles, when they do reach end of life, the waste industry’s solution has been to deliver them to landfill,” said James Lancaster, Founder and CEO of Renew IT. “Dispatching hard plastics to landfill is not a solution that sits easily with me. To re-purpose that plastic into a new product that’s increasingly in demand and which we can sell at a competitive price is a beautiful solution. If 3D printing feedstock can be competitively produced by recycling plastic, we shouldn’t be producing it with virgin materials. By recovering high-quality plastics from e-waste for re-manufacturing we can help organizations lower their Scope 3 emissions and boost local manufacturing.”

“It has been years in the making with many ups and downs, and now seeing the team at Renew IT and SMaRT operating the Filament Microfactorie and making it work really makes you step back and smile,” said Sahajwalla.

According to Anirban Ghose, Head of Microfactories at SMaRT, old office equipment was disassembled to find the ‘right plastic to go after, which was then fed into the microfactory. “That plastic gets thermally transformed through controlled heat and cooling, and it’s finally spooled and can get fed into a 3D printer at the end of the process,” he said. “In many cases, when people think about plastic, it’s just this kind of one single material, but there are so many different versions of plastic.”

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