Swap Your Filament to Help the Planet
Like many people who are concerned about damage to our environment, I try to do all I can to limit my personal impact on our planet. A big part of this is doing my best to reduce the amount of plastic I use daily. So how do I square this with a hobby so intertwined with plastic as 3D printing?!
Fortunately, 3D printing isn’t as eco-unfriendly as it might appear. In this article, I’ll explain how the most commonly used plastic in 3D printing is natural and biodegradable, and I’ll investigate several other plastic filaments that make use of various natural products to reduce their impact on the planet significantly.
What is eco-friendly 3D printer filament?
The term eco-friendly is familiar to most of us, it basically means anything that has a negligible or significantly reduced impact on the Earth. An eco-friendly 3d printer filament is just that.
Eco-friendly filament is manufactured from renewable fibers of plant crops and other natural materials that decompose quickly and naturally, and are therefore safe for the environment.
There are two primary materials used in 3D printing filaments; PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene).
Although both are suited to most 3d printing applications, PLA is a natural material made from plant matter while ABS is a non-biodegradable petroleum-based material. ABS, therefore, poses a safety threat to our environment as it either does not decompose or it decomposes very slowly.
This environmental pollution directly threatens our oceans and other parts of the ecosystem, and as such, better alternatives have been invented in recent years. With this in mind, 3D printing is drastically changing course to more sustainable and safer methods by adopting biodegradable printing filaments.
Why normal PLA is eco-friendly
PLA is what’s known as a bioplastic as it’s a product of renewable organic material such as dextrose from sugarcane and cornstarch from maize.
With this composition, PLA is environmentally safer as it has a shorter decomposition cycle of under 3 months in an industrial composting facility or about 6 to 12 months in a domestic compost bin. Unlike petroleum-based plastics, when PLA does decompose, and it degrades to completely non-toxic products.
However, PLA will only decompose in the correct conditions. It needs a temperature of at least 60C (140F), oxygen, and moisture (source). These conditions are seen in industrial composting facilities, and in a well looked after home compost bin. But you won’t get these conditions in a normal landfill or a hole you dug in your garden!
Another benefit of PLA’s natural origin is its low emissions when it is heated during 3d printing. This means you can use it safely in a home or school environment, unlike ABS which gives off toxic fumes.
There is one environmental issue with PLA if it has been made using sugarcane. Because sugarcane requires a lot of water to grow compared to other crops. Sugarcane requires an average of 1500mm to 2500 mm of rainfall or water spread over its complete growing season. Water shortage is a growing concern, especially in arid countries.
If you want to do your best for the environment, you should try to source a PLA filament that uses plant matter other than sugarcane, such as maize, which requires much less water to grow.
PLA is sometimes not preferred in, for example, structural models as it has a lower impact strength, and is less resistant to high temperatures than other common plastics like ABS. However, in many cases, PLA is more than up to the job.
Why ABS is not eco-friendly
As much as ABS is preferred by manufacturers due to its lightweight and easily machined properties, it does pose a safety hazard to our environment. ABS is a petroleum-based plastic that widely used in 3D printing.
Like most petroleum-based plastics, ABS will never fully decompose. It merely photodegrades, breaking up into ever smaller and smaller pieces until eventually after hundreds of years it’s broken into individual molecules.
Even in normal use, during 3d printing, ABS produces ultrafine particles (UFPs) and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that can potentially cause adverse health issues if inhaled. So it is essential to use ventilation systems when 3d printing with ABS and important to realize that every time you print using ABS you are releasing these fine particles of plastic into the atmosphere.
Algae is familiar to most of us as that spreading green plant that we see on unkempt fish ponds. So who would have thought that nuisance algae could make such an impressive filament for 3D printing? As a new found use for algae, combining it with PLA produces the ALGA filament which is biodegradable, making it one of the more eco-friendly filaments out there.
Manufactured by 3D Printlife, ALGA filament features a nice unique texture that gives you a variety of nature-inspired colors.
Before printing, ensure your build plate is leveled and cleaned to reduce print errors. Extrusion temperatures should be between 1950 C- 2100C. You should also have a dimensional accuracy of +/- 0.03mm. Also due to its content, the filament does not require a heated build plate.
ALGA filament is strong and has a nice shiny surface finish. It’s best used for prototyping and offers an alternative to plastics and other non-biodegradable printing materials.
Using algae filament in 3D printing helps in creating a balance in our ecosystem.
When thinking about eco-friendly, you mostly want filaments that meet environmental standards without falling short of other necessary and essential features in filament. For this reason, 3D Printlife manufactures the Algix 3D OMNI filament which is a high strength and sustainable filament that’s ideal for printing a variety of items.
Durable and rigid like ABS filament but 100% biodegradable, the OMNI filament is the best alternative for high performance and eco-friendly filaments.
OMNI filament is made from renewable material, it’s perfect for high-resolution printing. It also has higher heat resistance capability and layer adhesion compared to PLA filaments. While printing, a heated bed isn’t required and the fumes released are non-toxic. You also get a better dimensional accuracy under an extrusion temperature of 1950C- 2150C. It adheres well to glass or plastic.
Print your designs in different bright colors with the premium OMNI filament.
DURA filament is not only eco-friendly but also durable. It is manufactured from renewable materials and features high strength and flexibility that is very suitable sort after in 3D printing. Its strength makes it tough while its flexibility makes it easy to stretch.
No toxic fumes are emitted during printing, it also boasts a high heat resistance and a better print resolution. DURA prints best with a nozzle temperature of between 175ºC -195ºC and you can be guaranteed a smooth surface finish for your print.
You simply get colorful 3D print outs with the durable, yet flexible DURA filament.
Enviro Filament is an eco-friendly equivalent of ABS filament. It offers high quality, and it’s fully biodegradable too.
While maintaining all ABS qualities and characteristics, Enviro Filament will provide you with consistent prints that are of high quality. The unique formulation of bio-additive technology incorporated in the manufacturing also facilitates its decomposition making it the best alternative for ABS users who are conscious of environmental conservation.
Its environmentally friendly decomposition is certified to the ASTM D5338 standard which means it can be safely composted by any composting facility that reached thermophilic temperatures (between 41ºC and 122ºC).
Premium Enviro filament maintains a +/- 0.03mm diameter accuracy so you can be sure of accurate prints.
A nice touch from 3DPrintLife is that the packaging and the spool the filament comes on is all also fully recyclable.
With 3DPrintLife Enviro filament you are able to obtain consistent results and can print almost all colors.
Organic Waste Filament
Buzzed Beer filament is specially made from beer waste by-products. It delivers a golden filament for all your 3D printing needs.
The Golden filament is well manufactured for a quality finish, prints between 180° – 210° C, does not need a heated bed. When it is manufactured, the diameter measurement is controlled with a multi-axis for more accuracy. The filament is a direct replacement for PLA in terms of material properties and printability. The packaging ensures it’s well-sealed to keep its quality intact.
Hemp has long been used as a construction material. Hemp twine and rope is world-renowned. Bringing hemp into the 21st century is the production of Entwined Hemp 3D printing filament.
The Entwined hemp filament is a bio-based product produced with quality in mind. It comes filled with hemp by-products, and it’s also pro-PLA. It is made naturally with no dyes added to it giving it a natural brown color.
The filaments are manufactured from organic hemp which gives it an excellent show of color and different shades. These hemp-based filaments have better heat resistance than pure PLA and can be printed on a variety of 3D printers.
Every spool production is done with consistent quality and keenness in measuring the filament diameter. Its quality is maintained thanks to a sealed package that locks out moisture.
It’s definitely a nice feeling knowing our waste can be recycled and further recycled to produce something meaningful.
Trash filament is manufactured from non-metallic garbage that goes through pyrolysis to produce char, a unique bio-based product that is used to create biodegradable, eco-friendly 3D printing filament. Char is black; thereby the produced filaments are black in color.
Trash filaments don’t require a heated bed, but their extrusion temperature is less than 180°-210°C. The filament is compatible with PLA printing machines and has been tested on a variety of 3D printer.
Landfillament can be used in any application where you’d typically use PLA.
The world has millions of regular coffee drinkers. With these high figures, there is bound to be masses of waste products created. Thanks to recycling, Wound Up Coffee filaments are manufactured from these coffee byproducts.
Boasting a rich brown color with a visible unique print finish, the Wound up Coffee filament is an excellent material for your 3D printer. The Wound Up Coffee filament spool is professionally printed to ensure quality and is usable with PLA printers. It has a controlled diameter measurement reducing diameter tolerance errors for the 3D printer.
The end product has a noticeable grain finish that makes your prints quite unique and beautiful. You can print in the same way as pure PLA which means you still need to ensure the prints are not in contact with high heat since it has PLA as its base polymer which can easily melt.
Recycling seems to be the champ in all environmental sustainability solutions. Biodegradable materials are recycled and reused in making fresh new and quality items for various industries.
Recycled filaments are made directly from recycled products. These could be a variety of plastic bottles to refrigerator interiors and food packaging containers. These filaments can be used in the creation of any part. They are usable on almost all 3D printing printers.
The recycled filaments from refrigerators are white in color. The filament is also strong and sturdy. You can use it in creating nice and clean unique figures. It’s also suitable for painting and gluing.
Recycled PLA filament from white food packaging is also a white 3D filament available in 1.75mm and 2.85mm diameters. It’s an easy print and compatible with most 3D printers.
There is also the recycled PET filament from blue bottles. It’s an ideal filament for original 3d print finishes. It features strength and flexibility and produces little to no odor during printing.
As you can see, there are quite a few options when it comes to eco-friendly filaments, so there really isn’t any excuse to do your bit in protecting the environment even when 3d printing.