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January 26, 2012 at 8:58 AMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Awesome Green Gadget: 3-D Printer that Runs on Your Recycling

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

For all the doom and gloom talk about global warming - and don't get me wrong, that's a huge problem that we need to hear about often - sometimes it's nice to read about environment-related stories that tell us why the future might just be awesome.

3-D printing is pretty awesome in and of itself. Like many people, when I first heard of 3-D printing, my first reaction was one of disbelief and confusion - especially when I heard of the kind of objects you could print: utensils. Building materials. Furniture. Artificial limbs. Robots. A replica of King Tut's mummy.

What on earth?!

It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it's very real. See for yourself.

Print your own flute:

Print your own wrench - in color:

[ osde8info @ flickr ]

[ Creative_Tools @ flickr ]

But what does this have to do with sustainability? Most 3-D printers out there require the use of special (no doubt expensive) material in order to make objects.

Until now.

Meet the Filabot:

As you can probably tell by the familiar 3-arrow logo, the Filabot recycles. Feed it small pieces of plastic from your water bottles, milk jugs, or DVDs, and it will spit out filament that can be used in 3-D printing, to make...well, practically whatever you want.

Developed by mechanical engineering student Tyler McNaney, this contraption is far from being ready for the average household; very few people even own 3-D printers to begin with. But can you imagine? This sounds like the kind of idea that could really change things. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some big company bought the rights to the Filabot and developed it further to work on a larger scale.

And as a further environmental benefit, as I've heard people point out, 3D printers have the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions by cutting down on our need for transportation. If we can print gadgets ourselves, we certainly don't need them shipped to us over long distances with gas-guzzling cars and airplanes.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling pretty excited about the future at the moment.

What do you think? Have you heard of 3-D printing? Do you think this gadget could make an impact?


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  • That is awesome. Now I'm kind of mad I didn't hear about it before the Kickstarter project ended, because I'd really like to have one of those.

  • Oh! Oh! I have heard of 3D printers. They had a story about it on NPR the other day. ( surprise, surprise, right? lol) Really cool and I agree - it's sounds like something meant for at least another hundred years in the future, not something we should have already figured out!

    It does seem like sort of a stretch of the work to call this machine a "printer" though. It seems that when it ceases to place ink on paper, it ceases to be a printer. Does it do that? I guess the same argument could be made of smartphones, but then... at least they do still make phone calls. In any event, I feel this device is unique enough from what we generally consider to be a printer that it deserves it's own category!

  • 3-D printers are very cool. I had an opportunity to see one work last semester. We were able to design a part in CAD and have a physical model of our design in our hands almost immediately to hold and look at. These prototyping processes used to take days if not weeks, now it takes less than an hour depending on the complexity and size of the part. You can spend 100k on a 3D printer, but if you're a design firm it can save you a ton of money in the prototyping process.

    I think it's great to try to make industry more environmentally friendly. In a plastics class I took we learned that for every bag of recycling a household sends to the curb it took 20 bags of recycling to make that 1 bag full of recyclable items. In other words, industry is where the real fight is in terms of recycling and where the more substantial gains can be made. Good to see someone trying to make 3D printing just a little more eco friendly.

  • Absolutely amazing invention! It makes recycling easy and you get something useful out of it right then and there. I'd love to get one that would make utensils...I always need more forks or knives (they always get eaten by the drawer :P).

    Great blog, Laura!

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