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Converting Plastic Bottles into 3D Printing Filament


Converting Plastic Bottles into 3D Printing Filament

From building houses to producing food, 3D printing truly is a new frontier in the design world. It is proving that it can even enhance the lives of marginalized people in developing countries.

Reflow is an Amsterdam-based startup working to help waste collectors in Tanzania earn up to 20 times more in wages. Through a partnership with U.K.-based nonprofit, techfortrade, and on-the-ground collaboration directly with waste collectors, the social cause-company has figured out an ethical and sustainable model to produce filament for 3D printers.

“Everywhere you go, you can find huge groups of people collecting waste barely being able to feed their family, plastic being burned in open air, and plastic waste clogging drains, causing floods, and [spreading] disease,” writes the Reflow team in their Kickstarter campaign. “Seeing this broke our hearts, and we were determined to help break this cycle.”

Supporting Waste Pickers, Driving Creativity

Reflow’s goal is to empower waste pickers to convert their collections into print filament (120 plastic bottles reportedly produces a kilogram of filament) using techfortrade’s technology, without risking their health or dealing with unfair “middleman” pricing.

3D printers are able to produce physical, solid objects (including rubber shoe models and articles of clothing) from a digital design by layering print filament as thin as 0.1 millimeters over a platform that serves as a design template. Sometimes the process takes hours or even days. The beauty of 3D printing (aside from making two-dimensional designs literally come to life), is the lack of limits in production. The print filament, which functions like ink, can be rubber, paper, metal, polyurethane—or, as in Reflow’s case, plastic.

Tanzania & Beyond

Reflow’s first project will launch in Tanzania. But through Kickstarter, they were able to secure their funding goal of roughly $28,000, which will enable them to expand into other parts of the world. While they acknowledge that there are probably more strategic models for recycling plastic, the opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people through local 3D printing is more meaningful to them than a financially-driven business model.

“We think 3D printing, and related small-scale manufacturing methods, could solve some big problems around transport, product quality and product availability in these countries,” Reflow explains on its website.

Check out a few images below of cool things that artists have made using Reflow’s socially responsible 3D printing filament, and visit to learn more.

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