Plastic makes it possible (Part 2) -Our ever growing dependance and a solution on the horizon
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

March 23, 2014

In 2012, I wrote about plastic and how it has found its way into our everyday life and the difficulty associated with avoiding the use of it.  Plastic continues to be a fundamental factor in regards to pollution and as we increase production in both volume and complexity, the resulting products mean an ever increase in plastic types and mixes. This makes it incredibly difficult to recycle and reuse. There has been an exponential growth in plastic production since the 50’s, stay a brief period following the economic crisis (Figure 2). This clearly shows the simple and scary fact that we are addicted to plastic.

Source: PlasticsEurope Market Research Group (PEMRG)

Source: PlasticsEurope Market Research Group (PEMRG)As one can see from figure 5 on the left, also sourced from an insightful report by the Plastics Europe Market Research Group or (PEMRG) published in 2012, most plastics in Europe are used for packaging (Red). This reflects an industry standard and global trend regarding the overall use of plastic.

As global production continues to rise and since most plastic is destined for single use packaging, the point from my previous post remains fundamental; consumer reduction in purchasing products associated with packaging is paramount and vital to a future where plastic is not commonplace on every beach, street, or in every body of water.

Curacao north coast. The sad truth for anyone currently living on a coast. Plastic lives in our seas

Curacao north coast. The sad truth for anyone currently living on a coast. One only needs to look.

But besides banning the plastic bag, not buying goods wrapped in plastic when we can locate alternatives, do we have other solutions to turn to besides opting out? What happens when we can’t opt out and need the vital products associated with plastics such as medical supplies? Is there another solution?

“Yes,” is the simple answer. The world of 3D printing is not only ushering in a time where product production can become localized to the village or home, it is potentially providing a platform that could generate a demand for plastic waste.

Working on Curacao now in partnership with StimulIT, a local technology and innovation institute, I am quickly learning many things about 3D printing as we investigate potential settlement surfaces for corals.

Although I believe 3D printing already has the potential to fundamentally change the way our world works as the internet did, it also has the potential to curb the waste stream of plastic into new product manufacturing. Already, groups from around the world are generating local solutions to grind up plastic waste and turn it back into filaments that can then be fed into a 3D printer. A good example is this short video on a bicycle converted into a human-powered recycling machine.

Although it may be a matter of time before industry can make plastic cheaply from recycled goods, consumer demand driven by proper governmental labeling programs may aid in this timely conversion. Instead of seeing bottles printed with “made in China,” keep your eyes out for “made from recycled plastic,” and buy accordingly.Or you could always just build your own recycling bike, and print your own needs whether for art, a new phone holder, or that hardware part you can’t seem to find anywhere. 3D printing may not be the sole solution to our plastic addiction, but it does provide us a new pathway to take when considering the plastic story.

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