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Published on May 31, 2017

3D Printing: how eco-friendly is it?


3D Printing: how eco-friendly is it?

  • 3D Printing is becoming more and more eco-friendly
  • New eco-friendly materials are invented regularly
  • Consumers and companies can play a role in making 3D Printing more eco-friendly

This is not a simple question to answer. Many factors play a part in whether or not 3D Printing is or can be seen as eco-friendly. The process, filaments, transport and other elements all play a part in the answer.

Less transport

If there’s one thing that 3D Printing reduces, it’s the necessity to transport goods over long distances. Almost every physical product can be printed out with the click of a button, especially since designs are distributed over the web. This doesn’t just save costs for companies and consumers, it also reduces the transport of replacement parts, which helps reduce harmful emission gases. In addition to this, 3D Printed products are often much lighter than traditional fabricated products, which is also a positive factor concerning the aspect of transportation. All in all, it’s could be a very positive development for the environment, if it would be implemented on a large enough scale.

Eco-Friendly Materials

There are of course many materials that can be used when 3D Printing your design, even unconventional materials such as food and biological components. Most of the time, though, we stick to more conventional, plastic materials such as PLA (polylactic acid) and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). When you compare the two materials on their eco-friendliness, PLA is certainly the best option. This is because the material is a corn derived bioplastic that can be composted. Producing this material costs less energy than ABS and other plastic materials. PLA also produces fewer irritating fumes than other plastics when used in a 3D Printer. Unfortunately, however, choosing PLA isn’t always an option. ABS is another good option due to its recyclability. Another notable material is PVA (polyvinyl alcohol), which is water-soluble and biodegradable. Most of the widely used materials are unfortunately not eco-friendly and leave behind considerable amounts of plastic by-products.

At the moment, alternative, eco-friendly materials are being invented. This hype hopefully helps consumers and companies see that (more) eco-friendly materials are available and can replace the currently more popular less eco-friendly materials. Some examples of promising elements of eco-friendly filaments are:

– Algae
– Bioplastics
– Powders
– Acrylates
– Wax
– Resins
– Trash

While ‘trash’ might not seem like a logical option, making filament out of something that is otherwise completely useless is actually a promising development.

If you’d like more information about filaments tested with the Nectar One, read our materials page.

What can you do?

In addition to choosing an eco-friendly filament for your designs, the design itself can help out the planet as well. Printing objects with hollow parts, which reduces the needed material, will ensure a faster printing time and reduces emissions. Orienting parts for the fastest printing time will increase this even more. You also should think about the durability of your product; will it serve you for many years, or is it just a throwaway? And is the material you used recyclable or compostable? All these questions should lead you to a more eco-friendly way of 3D Printing. Although 3D Printing is not 100% eco-friendly yet, the branch is on its way to become greener every year.