Protoprint uses recycled plastic to construct filament for 3D printing. The best part? It provides a stream of income to the urban poor by sourcing the plastic direct from waste pickers at a fair price.
In numerous cities worldwide, a number of marginalised, low-income people rely on waste picking as an informal means of earning money. A large volume of trash can be sold for reuse however, the informal aspect of this work often means that collectors are underpaid for the items they sell. Recently, projects have been cropping up that look to combine recycling with fair income-earning opportunities: from the Plastic Bank in Peru to Brazil’s reverse logistics programme, waste picking is increasingly being looked upon as a viable tool to help sustainably manage waste and provide low-earners with access to a fair revenue stream.
The latest one that we’ve come across meshes this principle with 3D printing. Protoprint, developed by MIT alumnus Sidhant Pai and Pune-based waste collecting coop, SwaCH, works with urban waste pickers to help them select high-density polythylene (HDPE) scraps of plastic, a type of plastic commonly used to make items such as milk and beverage bottles, shampoo containers and cleaning product bottles. The collected waste is then ground, shredded and melted to create filament, the material used to build the moulds that 3D printing is becoming famous for.
The initiative, which is just finishing up its pilot phase, tackles a number of issues. With the growth in 3D printing (and it is expected to boom) comes a mounting concern of the amount of plastic that will be needed (and sometimes discarded) to make 3D printable objects. By using existing plastic, Protoprint not only addresses this issue but it also addresses the overriding issue of the large volumes of plastic waste the choke our planet. The organisation also has a key focus on paying the waste pickers fair prices, providing a stepping stone towards financial independence for many low-income earners.
According an article by New Scientist, Protoprint will look to sell its filament at half the average price of filament produced with raw materials. Check out the project via the video below or visit the website: