3D printers are this generation's wunderkind. 3D printed eggs are helping animal conservationists track turtle egg poachers in Central America, 3D printed running shoes are helping the clothing industry become more sustainable, and now a team at Deakin University has discovered yet another use for this versatile innovation. Dr. Mazher Mohammed and his team at Deakin University in Melbourne: because most printers can work with plastics, with a little bit of prepping they can be adapted to work perfectly to recycle plastic waste.
In particularly impoverished or remote areas, or those that have suffered destructive natural events, people usually live without proper waste disposal, and also with insufficient sanitation and sewage systems. The 3D WASH project, led by Dr. Mazher Mohammed, solves both those two issues in one go - their 3D printer presses plastic bottles, packaging waste and similar other plastics into tiny pellets and melts them down into plastic threads - the printer's filament. In a second stage, tubes, joints and taps can be printed, many of the basic elements needed to build a functioning canalisation system.
The Benefits of 3D WASH
In order for the printer to be used in places where there is no electricity supply, it's fitted with a photovoltaic element and in regions with enough sun can produce its own electricity and also save the energy produced in a battery. Another advantage to this project: solar energy and plastic waste are both available completely free and in the regions affected, both available in abundance.
After a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance the manufacture of the first printers, a primary trial run is planned this year on the Solomon Islands, at projects run by Plan Australia. "In the streets of Honiara, there is plastic literally everywhere. It clogs up the drains and flows out into the sea, killing marine life. Our aim is to turn this plastic into useful parts": explained Tom Rankin, Plan Australia's Manager for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
If the trial stage is successful, the project could be rolled out across a number of developing countries. According to Rankin:"If we can prove the concept and get the technology working well, it can be used across a raft of different fields, not just water and sanitation. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination about what you can print."
The video below - that was originally used to raise funds for the project - tells you a little bit more about how it works.