Sustainable 3D Printing

What will you do?

The very fact that 3D printing brings manufacturing power to consumers also means that we’re responsible for making it more sustainable. Read on to find out how you can start doing just that. After discovering how you can make a difference, take the Sustainable 3D Printing Pledge and commit to making real changes in your 3D printing process.

The environmental impacts of personal/hobbyist 3D printing can be separated into 4 categories. In order of priority (that is, from most to least impactful), these categories where 3D printing sustainability can be improved are:

  1. Excess/Idle Energy Consumption
  2. Material Choice and Print Parameters (in terms of energy consumption)
  3. Material Choice (in terms of production costs/material impacts)
  4. Waste Byproduct Management

For more information about these categories and their actual relative impacts, see our resources page.

After a lot of thinking and research, we at PlasticPasta 3D have identified numerous specific steps within each of these 4 categories that anyone can take to make their 3D printing operation more sustainable. Many of these actions have blog posts describing them in more detail, so be sure to check out the ones that are most interesting and feasible for you.

Excess/Idle Energy

  • For anyone who isn’t printing 24/7, share your 3D printer or find a community printer to use.
  • Fill the print bed to minimize empty bed space (especially on SLA/DLP/SLS printers) and energy expenditure during the heating process.
  • Turn your printer off during extended periods of disuse.

Material Choice and Print Parameters

  • Optimize your designs for support- and waste-free printing.
  • Download/print only (or mostly) functional models that print without supports.
  • Find a balance between low-energy materials like PLA and the physical requirements of the print, which may require a more consumptive material. When strength and flexibility are not required, print in the lowest-energy filament possible (likely PLA).
  • Slice with print parameters (such as increased layer height, increased line width/nozzle size, reduced infill percentage, and decreased nozzle/bed temperatures) that minimize print time and therefore energy consumption.
  • Print only objects that have real meaning to you and that you’ll actually use, either practically or intellectually (e.g. admiring 3D printed art).

Material Choice (Sustainable Sourcing)

  • Commit to buying and using recycled filament for a certain percentage of your 3D printing, even when it’s expensive or inconvenient.
  • When possible, use second-hand or repaired printers rather than buying new ones.
  • Find local producers of filament and other 3D printing needs.
  • Reduce the quantity of materials/filaments and other accessories you use.
  • Maintain your printer and filament in good, dry condition to minimize print failures and improve print quality.

Waste Management

  • Reduce the amount of waste generated by tuning your printer and spending extra effort to make your prints succeed the first time.
  • Utilize 3D printing to repair objects or solve problems that would otherwise be thrown away or outsourced.
  • Design and post-process with longevity and durability in mind so that objects don’t have to be reprinted.
  • Find creative ways to repurpose empty spools, failed prints, and the waste byproduct of the 3D printing process (e.g. support material, rafts, etc.).

To be clear, actions in each of these categories are vitally important in improving the sustainability of your 3D printing process. A combination of commitments from all priority categories will have a much greater impact than struggling and failing to achieve each first priority action:

“When printers do reduce total environmental impacts, they do so by combining low waste with low-impact material choice and low-energy processing.”

Jeremy Faludi, 3D Printing and its Environmental Implications

If you think you’re ready to take the Sustainable 3D Printing Pledge, return to the top of the page. First, we’d suggest that you take a look at these blog posts for more specific practical ideas about making your 3D printing sustainable:

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