Waste plastic bottles

+ The Perpetual Plastics Project shows people what’s possible by allowing them to recycle plastic drinks cups through 3D printing.

Plastic is a beautiful, recyclable material. So why do we dump so much of it into landfill after a single use or burn it for energy? It’s stupid, frankly. I think the world needs to radically rethink its attitude to plastic.

That’s why we at the Better Future Factory created the Perpetual Plastic Project – an interactive recycling and 3D printing event-installation for young and old. It lets people turn throwaway drinking cups into a 3D printing filament and then use that to make objects such as jewellery.

As anyone who’s been to one of our events knows, 3D printing is certainly exciting. But for the most part this new technology is using a lot of virgin material. If it used recycled plastic instead, it could play its part in creating a circular economy where products are made into new ones at the end of their lives.

This is the sort of world we want to see. So we’re working on 100% recycled filament for 3D printing. We’re experimenting to find which recycled plastics work well for 3D printing. And we’re looking at ways to overcome some of the challenges, such as sorting plastic waste and ensuring the waste isn’t too contaminated to produce successfully.

For the moment, we feel 3D printing with recycled filament is a solution for the developed world and that developing countries need a more low-tech solution. You don’t want people to rely on 3D printers for which there is no local supply of spare parts, for example. 

Our field research in Angola showed there was a need there for low-tech solutions for plastics recycling – something that can be operated by employees with little education or training and that’s easy to maintain. 

Angola has a growing economy that needs construction materials and has a developing agriculture industry. So we’re developing Polymore, an innovation-in-a-box that local entrepreneurs can use to turn PET bottles into products like roofing tiles and fishing nets.

We chose PET because it is easy to recognise and recycle. Indeed, one of the challenges with plastics recycling is that many people are unaware that there are different plastic materials and that these can be recycled. Another is finding an easy and low-cost way of sorting plastic waste.

For the moment, I think our work on projects such as the Perpetual Plastics Project shows people what’s possible. We’re a small company of just eight people. But I hope that by partnering with others, we can overcome the challenges that remain and do amazing things with recycled plastics.