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DIY Filament Recycling: Sustainability in Additive Manufacturing for PLA

DIY Filament Recycling: Sustainability in Additive Manufacturing for PLA

By Emma Peleg

When you got your first printer, the first failed prints and trailing strands of melted filament seemed to just be part of the startup process. But as you kept printing, these little bits and pieces begin to pile on and eventually add up. With filament sometimes being on the pricey side and wasted prints headed to the landfill, the frugal, environmentalist 3D printer enthusiast may wonder what the other options are.

For polymers such as PLA (polylactic acid), which are typically made out of renewable sources including corn starch and sugarcane, the resulting waste from printing can be converted back into a new filament.

1) For the 3D printing expert with a high-capacity printer, the Lyman/Mulier FIlament Extruder (Version 5) is a DIY filament extruder which can be used to extrude filament compatible with 3D printing. The attached funnel allows shredded PLA (from old prints) or other pellets to be inserted, heated and extruded onto a new spool. When recycling a material like PLA, it is important to make sure that the material is all uniform, meaning that there aren’t any additives to the PLA or other thermoplastics such as ABS. While the general body of the model can be 3D-printed at home or in your workplace, this model requires some additional purchases for construction:

a) Stepper gear motors

b) Ramps 1.4

c) Mega 2560 R

d) Filament diameter sensor controlling puller motor speed (using digital calipers)

e) LCD display controlling all functions of the extruder

f) Custom level wind assembly

g) Explanation video


2) When it comes to getting old prints ready for reforming and extrusion, they need to be shredded down to an acceptable size. One filament shredder on the market is the Filamaker Mini Shredder, which is specifically manufactured to recycle old filament or thermoplastic prints into pellets.

 filament shredder

3) For a print lab with a high volume of excess filament or prints headed for the trash, there are some existing filament recycling services. These work by sending in individual packages of one type of material (never mixed), some companies also have the added benefit of material analysis for future personal filament recycling. Here are some participating organizations:

a) Filabot Recycling Service: this service is focused primarily on the recycling of 3D printing materials above all else. Failed prints and filament are sent in (PLA only) and the materials are created into a new filament and tested for extrudability. This can function as a first step before purchasing a full Filabot setup.

b) Filabot: Terracycle 3D Print Zero Waste Boxes. This monthly service allows users to send in boxes of old filament or failed prints which are then recycled. Different sizes of boxes can be selected based on the amount of material produced.

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