Sadly, the incentives have been weaker for recycling plastic. As of 2015, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. The rest pollutes landfills or the environment.
But now, several technologies have matured that allow people to recycle waste plastic directly by 3D-printing it into valuable products, at a fraction of their normal cost. People are using their own recycled plastic to make decorations and gifts, home and garden products, accessories and shoes, toys and games, sporting goods and gadgets from millions of free designs. This approach is called distributed recycling and additive manufacturing, or DRAM for short.
As a professor of materials engineering at the forefront of this technology, I can explain—and offer some ideas for what you can do to take advantage of this trend.
How DRAM works
The DRAM method starts with plastic waste—everything from used packaging to broken products.
The first step is to sort and wash the plastic with soap and water or even run it through the dishwasher. Next, the plastic needs to be ground into particles. For small amounts, a cross-cut paper/CD shredder works fine. For larger amounts, open-source plans for an industrial waste plastic granulator are available online.
Next you have a few choices. You can convert the particles into 3D printer filament using a recyclebot, a device that turns ground plastic into the spaghetti-like filaments used by most low-cost 3D printers.