PET Bottles May Someday Fuel Large Scale 3D Printing

You might wonder whether selling us your scrap plastic really does any good above and beyond cleaning out your warehouse and putting some extra cash in the bank account. Trust us when we say it does. Every ounce of industrial plastic scrap we recycle gets put to use in some way. And as we speak, researchers are working on new ways to use recycled plastic. Even PET bottles are being heavily researched.

Enterprising companies are already turning recycled PET bottles into everything from jackets to sunglasses and carpet fibers. We recently learned of several other projects through which engineers are trying to figure out ways to turn recycled PET into filament for large scale 3D printing.

We can only imagine the possibilities if they figure it out. 3D printing is already pretty big in the manufacturing sector. It is only going to get bigger. If someone comes up with a viable way to print with filament made from recycled PET, manufacturers will have a virtually unlimited supply of cheap filament to work with.

Too Stringy As-Is

It would be nice if engineers could melt PET and load the liquid plastic into 3D printers straightaway. This doesn’t work though as in that state, PET is too stringy to work with. 3D printers need a filament that is easily controlled and nicely layers in place. So while PET is certainly a candidate, engineers prefer other plastics like PLA and PETG.

ZDNet contributor David Gewirtz recently published a piece in which he talked about an open-source invention that could solve the PET problem for 3D printing. The invention slices a recycled water bottle into very thin strips and forces it through an extruder. What comes out the other end? A nice filament ready to be fed into a 3D printer.

The filament concept works because you do not need as much heat to print. You don’t actually need to melt the plastic to a liquid state with filament. Rather, you just need to soften it up enough to lay it down. It is a tremendous idea with a lot of potential. But of course, it’s just a small machine built by a hobbyist. An industrial scale machine would require a lot more.

If It Work

Converting recycled PET bottles into 3D printer filament is an intriguing concept. Let us assume for a minute that it works. Recycled PET is pretty cheap stuff compared to some other types of plastics. We can envision entire companies whose business models revolve around collecting PET scrap and transforming it into filament. That’s all they would do. They would manufacture PET filament.

Hobbyists and professionals alike would purchase the filament off-the-shelf. It would be as common as standard printer ink. And with it, they could print just about anything they could put on paper. Of course, recycled PET doesn’t offer enough structural integrity for high demand loads, but we’re not talking about building bridges and buildings here.

Recycling Does Make a Difference

Recycling your industrial scrap plastic does make a difference. Imagine if no one were recycling PET bottles. Would the engineers dreaming of turning them into filament have had their ideas to begin with? It’s hard to say. But the fact that we have a recycling mindset provides fodder for such ideas.

If you have industrial plastic waste that you otherwise throw in a dumpster, give us a shout. We might be able to take it off your hands for you. And if so, note that we pay for scrap plastic. Maybe what you sell to us will become the foundation of the next great engineering project.