Think of her what you will (that she is moved by larger interest groups or that she is being used for notoriety) but there is no doubt that young Greta Thunberg is now in the global spotlight and has done more than anyone to raise awareness on the need for eco-sustainability. By bringing attention to the relative issue of global warming, she has also indirectly driven attention toward the real issue that is affecting life on this planet: pollution. Be it from CO2 emissions, radioactivity, poisonous chemicals or plastic. The issue of plastic pollution – and by extent ocean plastic pollution – is the one that concerns (or should concern) the AM industry more directly. Since 3D printing provided a new way to process plastic, it can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Plastic Bank, an entity created in 2013, has carried out some interesting activities to enable recycling of ocean-bound plastic in some of the world’s poorest communities, by attempting to transform used plastic into currency. In the organization’s initial idea, 3D printing was expected to play a part as a means to process used plastic. That may not have happened yet, however, it could, in the future, be used to process some of the 5 million kilograms of plastic that Plastic Bank has recovered over the past 6 years.
Making plastic social
Founded by David Katz and Shaun Frankson in 2013, the Plastic Bank is an economic development firm that empowers disenfranchised communities to exchange any type of plastic for currency. By making recycling accessible and worthwhile, Social Plastic Ecosystems aims to prevent ocean plastic at the source. The impact goes beyond ocean health: new economic opportunities are created for the world’s most disadvantaged communities. In fact, extremely poor regions – such as Haiti in Central America or Camerun in Africa among others, are the most likely to suffer from extreme plastic pollution.
Social Plastic® is Plastic Bank Verified plastic that provided a premium for the collector. The premiums are called Plastic Bank Rewards. These rewards are distributed and authenticated through the Plastic Bank app which uses Blockchain technology to provide the safest and most trusted means to deliver a globally safe currency. In doing so, Social Plastic is ethically recovered plastic that upholds the UN Sustainable Development Goals by transferring its value to emerging economies. Plastic Bank then offers Social Plastic Collection Credits® to both individuals and companies seeking to neutralize their plastic footprint.
Problem or solution?
Plastic Bank’s Partners include polymer materials giant Henkel and other smaller consumer product companies that use plastic pellets made from Plastic Bank’s Social Plastic and turn it into new products. Although all current production applications of social plastic leverage injection molding processes, this is where 3D printing may one day come in. Some examples of filament 3D printed products made from Social Plastic emerged in the very beginning however material extrusion technology has not proven viable for high productivity yet. Alternative, production-ready AM technologies using thermoplastics, such as powder bed fusion (SLS or MJF) processes, require more high-end materials and are currently unable to process recycled plastics.
In the meantime, Henkel’s partnership with the Plastic Bank, fits into the company’s 2025 goal of to including materials from sustainable sources, thus making 100 percent of its packaging to be recyclable, reusable, or compostable. Henkel aims to use 35 percent recycled plastic for all the plastic packing of consumer good products in Europe. Since Henkel also has a very direct interest in 3D printing, as a provider of powder and resin materials for Carbon EnvisionTEC and HP 3D printers, the company may eventually be able to provide a viable option to actually 3D print Plastic Bank’s Social Plastic into actual products. That would help to make 3D printing part of the solution to plastic pollution and not part of the problem.