While the 3D printing craze has died down some, it doesn’t mean that it completely disappeared. It’s still a popular hobby for DIY enthusiasts, and businesses are beginning to incorporate it more into some manufacturing industries.
And it’s even found new uses in construction. In fact, you can actually 3D print an entire house now, and it can decrease the price of new homes significantly. However, regardless of its uses or popularity, one question remains:
Is 3D Printing good for the environment?
Let’s take a look at what 3D printing is and its environmental impact.
What Is 3D Printing?
A lot of people have heard of 3D printing, but not a lot of people actually know what it is.
In simple terms, it is the construction of a 3D model using a 3D modeling program. Essentially, you design a shape using a program, like CAD, load it into the 3D printer, and watch it work. All you need to do is buy one and pick out the filament.
For reference, the filament is what the 3D model is made out of. There are two materials that are widely used, ABS and PLA. Both of these are plastic but are quite different from each other (more on that later).
In the past, consumers were at the mercy of manufacturers to make figurines or props from their favorite shows or franchises. 3D printing allows the consumer to make their own. this is why it is so popular for hobbyists.
What is the Environmental Impact of 3D Printing?
First, let’s talk about the printing process itself. A 3D printer needs two things to operate, electricity and filament.
The electricity use itself is actually not much. While the exact values depend on the model, most typically only use 50-150 watts when printing. For reference, an incandescent lightbulb uses 60 watts.
The real issue is how long a print can take.
For simple models, it could take a few hours. But for more complex designs, it could take multiple days. Even if it doesn’t use much energy, it can add up fast when it is on for days at a time. While renewable energy will fix this problem, it’s only half of it.
The real issue is the material used to print these models.
I mentioned earlier that ABS and PLA are the main substances used. They are both plastics. ABS is not recyclable, while PLA is. However, you can’t actually just put it in your recycling bin.
PLA has a lower melting point than the plastic used in a milk or juice container. Thus, even if you recycle it, it will end up in a landfill.
Instead, you need to find a location that accepts PLA, which can be challenging.
Is It Eco-friendly?
In the end, 3D printing does not use much electricity, but the materials used are not easy to recycle. Thus, there is an environmental impact. However, this impact isn’t necessarily huge. Especially if it is used sparingly.
And if you are using renewable energy and have access to a recycling center that accepts PLA, it won’t really have any impact at all.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.