Is PLA Recyclable? Recycle Your 3D Printer Filament

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: October 28, 2021

Yes! You can recycle PLA plastic filament. However, you won’t mix it with other types of everyday plastic because its melting point remains lower than that of other plastics.

Is PLA Recyclable?

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3D printing appears like a double-edged sword. It provides the best solutions to myriad challenges facing the world in its applications in the manufacturing industries, architecture, household goods production, decorations, and jewelry production.

However, 3D printing ignites a severe waste problem. Also, the widespread 3D printing technology characterized by accessible manufacturing and the desire and ability to experiment with new designs drives innovation to levels not witnessed previously.

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“Filamentive,” a company based in the UK, conducted a survey in 2019 that found out that the amount of plastic waste from 3D printing released in the world annually as landfills stand at 8 tonnes.

Plastic in 3D printing poses a real threat of escalating the already alarming global plastic challenge.

Fortunately, most of the 3D filaments are recyclable for use, which will help mitigate the plastic waste problem.

Can 3D Filament Be Recycled? Is PLA Recyclable?

Yes! 3D printer filament waste can be recycled and turned back to a usable form for new prints.

3D printing plastic waste comes in many ways, and they all contribute significantly to the world plastic waste problem. Plastics from the media, failed prints, rafts, and purge blocks cause filament waste.

As a 3D printing professional or hobbyist, you can convert your 3D print remains into usable plastic in two ways;

1. Convert 3D Plastic Waste Back to New Filament Material

If you want to turn back your 3D material leftovers into new and usable plastic filament to eliminate the problem of plastic waste material accumulation, you can create your plastic material from the 3D print waste.

The filament extruder, a machine project, can help you quickly manufacture new plastic filaments directly from 3D print waste. The extruder machine feeds on and crushes recyclable thermoplastic rendering it as plastic waste remains in 3D printing processes.

After the extruder machine melts down the 3D print waste, it extrudes it as a new filament through the nozzle.

2. Extruder Machines Used in Recycling Waste 3D Prints

You can get the Filastruder machine in its most basic version at $299. Additionally, this brand has improved significantly over the years, becoming quite a popular extruder in the fight against filaments landfill.

Also, the machine boasts an additional feature. If you want to coil your product, you can use it though it comes at an extra cost.

It’s a premium and an open-source kit, making it cost more than the Filastuder. More so, it enables professional makers to create their plastic filament from 3D printing debris.

Equally, it helps the professionals make their filament extruder adapt to the unique needs of their workshops.

This machine brand boasts a line of products that can create a filament coiling and manufacturing outlet.

Filabot FOEX2-110 Original EX2 Extruder

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Notably, professionals use them widely in their filament waste recycling effort. Equally, they don’t target 3D printing hobbyists.

3. Purchase Recycled Filament Material

You may want to contribute to recycling plastic waste material without getting involved in the manufacture of new filaments from the 3D print debris.

So, you can endeavor to buy new professionally manufactured plastic filaments that use recycled plastic. For example, 3RPLAfil and Sakata RE-850 remain perfect recycled filaments you may buy for your 3D printing.

4. Directly Extrude Filament Recycled

You can use special extruder tools attached to your 3D printer machine to print 3D models using pieces of recycled plastic directly. More importantly, you can achieve this without having to extrude any new filament.

In essence, the Spanish extruder comes on top as the most popular extruder machine used to recycle pellets and plastics.

Furthermore, as an extruder kit, it replaces the ordinary 3D printer hot end. It allows direct extrusion of almost all filament materials from pallets and plastic debris from failed prints that you obtain from recycled material.

5. Manufacturing Plastic Objects

You may actively eliminate landfills by making plastic objects from recycled 3D print material using mold injection technology. More so, this unique technology allows you to give a second life to 3D print leftovers.

The Precious Plastic Manufacturers create chairs, sockets, benches, and other everyday life objects using recycled plastics.

6. Advantages of 3D Printer Filament Recycling

7. Disadvantages of 3D Printer Filament Recycling

How Do You Dispose of PLA?

What Is PLA? Is PLA Biodegradable?

PLA, polylactic acid remains one of the most popular 3D printer thermoplastic materials in the market.

Also, manufacturers derive it from crops like cornstarch and sugarcane, making it a renewable and highly biodegradable filament.

PLA filament remains the default filament for most 3D printers based on extrusion technology. Furthermore, its lower melting temperature makes it popular with most 3D printing professionals and hobbyists.

PLA Waste Material

PLA filament produces waste material during 3D printing, and recycling PLA filament waste material helps reduce landfills.

Moreover, the best way of dealing with PLA filament debris is to grind it up and extrude it into fresh plastic or take it to a recycling plant to process into a new filament.

Disposing PLA

People discard PLA filament leftovers as landfills. It remains an unfortunate situation as it significantly degrades the environment.

Combustion of PLA filament generates heat. Also, combusting converts heat to electrical energy for better use.

PLA, made from renewable resources such as starch, corn, cellulose, and lactic acid, remains a compostable filament. Moreover, scientists consider it composted if:

Recycle

Another way of disposing of PLA remains to recycle it. To recycle 3D print waste implies processing it by using an extruder and later reusing the newly processed filaments for new 3D printing projects.

Can PLA Go in the Recycling Bin?

What Is Curbside Recycling?

It refers to the discarding of PLA waste material and other items in a waste recycling bin. Later, the waste collection company picks the waste material and sorts them out. The recycling plant can recycle some items while others cannot be recycled.

PLA plastic filament remains a recyclable filament. However, you cannot recycle PLA with the other plastic filaments because of its inherent mechanical properties.

PLA’s lower melting temperature remains a vital deterrent to recycling with other plastic. Any attempt to recycle it with other plastics will cause severe problems at the recycling center.

Is 3D Printer PLA Recyclable?

The PLA 3D printer filament remains a recyclable plastic. However, you may need to take note of its low melting temperatures and avoid bundling it up with other polymers for recycling purposes.

Advantages of Recycling PLA Filament

3D printing produces enough waste even if the process goes perfectly well. Therefore, reusing and recycling your PLA plastics from failed prints remains an environmentally-friendly undertaking.

You will save money when you shred and extrude PLA filament waste and reuse it.

However, you may only realize this benefit if you invest an excellent initial investment into a DIY 3D printer. Also, it takes time for you to start enjoying the monetary benefits of this investment.

Another sure way of saving money through PLA recycling is to join programs that give you credit for the PLA material.

Recycling scrap PLA 3D printing material can be fun. However, you need to collect and combine your 3D print debris over time until the amount is enough to recycle and start a new project.

Also, combining your waste enables you to see the volumes and decide the type of project to undertake.

Disadvantages of Recycling PLA Filament

PLA’s physical properties render its melting point low compared to other types of plastics. It won’t melt when you mix it with different plastics but it will stay solid as other plastics are processed.

So, it causes issues with the recycling facilities. Always contact your recycling facility and check with them whether your PLA material meets their recycling guidelines.

Investing in the DIY 3D printer or recycling equipment remains an expensive undertaking. Also, if your local recycling center can’t accept your PLA filament for recycling, you may need to involve a specialty service at a fee.

If the extrusion is not done correctly during recycling, it reduces the tensile strength of the PLA from 40 to 35MPa, enough to cause breakage and model warping.

Thus, it will reduce the performance of the PLA significantly.

How to Compost PLA 3D Filament?

a) Home Composting

Home composting refers to the small-scale or low-volume composting that can you can conduct at home. So, you will have to use home composters which usually reach a temperature of between 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because of the tiny home PLA volumes, you can maintain the temperatures only if you feed the composite constantly. Balancing the browns, greens, and moisture remains tricky, but it allows fast composite production.

b) Industrial Composting Facilities

Industrial composting plants remain the epicenter of major industrial composting projects. However, the composting process remains the same as in-home composting, with the only difference noticeable in composting temperatures and humidity.

Nonetheless, you can divert PLA filament waste to organic waste recycling or industrial composting. Additionally, the community recycling centers use complex industrial composting plants to conduct the composting process.

c) How Composting Works

The industrial composting plant uses moisture and heat in the composite to split the PLA print waste polymer chains apart. The polymer split produces smaller polymers that finally break to become lactic acid.

Then, the microorganism in the composite feeds on the lactic acid as nutrients, and they end up producing carbon dioxide, hummus, and water.

How Do You Recycle PLA at Home?

Precious Source Plastic, founded in Holland, created a straightforward machine that can shred down plastic, making it ready for recycling. It remains an open-source machine which means the machine plan is open for use by any person.

It allows for PLA recycling at home as you can find the machines at a low cost and material readily available.

Conclusion

3D printing technology came in handy to boost manufacturing processes across various industries. Furthermore, it enhanced quality and precision in manufacturing and engineering processes, increasing productivity across the board.

However, 3D printing leaves behind a trail of plastic waste material as by-products. Plastic leftovers contribute to the landfill problem in the world.

Nonetheless, 3D printer filaments such as PLA and PET plastic can be recycled using modern technologies. It contributes to the significant reduction of the percentage of landfills globally, improving environmental impact.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.