We’ve all gone through plenty of filament and failed 3D prints, so naturally it’s normal to ask whether we can recycle it. Many people wonder what to do with failed 3D prints, so I decided to write an article on it.
Recycling is defined as the action or process of converting waste into reusable material.
When it comes to 3D printing, we get a lot of waste material in the form of failed prints or support materials, so being able to repurpose this material somehow is significant.
Can You Recycle 3D Prints or Failed Prints?
You can recycle 3D prints by sending it to special facilities that can handle these specific types of 3D printer filament. PLA & ABS is categorized as a type 7 or “other plastic” which means it cannot be recycled normally with other household items. You can repurpose your 3D prints in different ways.
Most 3D printed plastics cannot be recycled in the same way as standard plastics like milk or water bottles because they don’t have the same recycling qualities.
Since PLA has a low melting point, it shouldn’t be recycled with normal recyclable plastics as it can cause issues with the recycling process.
You should contact your local recycling facility to check whether they accept PLA or search for a specialty service. I’d recommend saving up your failed PLA prints in a container until you are ready to dispose of it safely.
It’s a similar story with 3D printing plastics such as ABS and PETG as well.
You may be able to put your PLA waste in with your food waste bin, but usually if it’s going to an industrial composter. It really depends on the rules of your local area, so you want to get into contact with your recycling area.
Some people think that since PLA is biodegradable that you can simply bury it or recycle it as normal, but this isn’t the case. PLA is only biodegradable in very specific conditions of heat, environment, and pressure over time, so it won’t degrade very easily.
Here’s a great video by MakeAnything on YouTube that gives a great method of recycling your failed 3D prints.
What Can You Do With Old/Bad 3D Prints? PLA, ABS, PETG & More
What Should You Do With Failed PLA Prints or Scraps/Waste?
There are a few things you can do with failed PLA prints or scraps:
- Shred the filament and create new filament with a filament making machine
- Recycle the PLA filament by sending it to a special facility
- Repurpose it by crushing and melting the filament into a sheet, then creating new objects out of it
Shred the PLA Filament & Make New Filament
It is possible to recycle waste filament by repurposing it into new filament by shredding it and putting it into a filament maker.
You could possibly ship your scrap 3D printer filament to someone else with a filament extruder, but this may not be so environmentally friendly or cost-effective.
If you choose to shred your 3D printed waste, you’ll need to add a good amount of fresh pellets to make a usable filament to 3D print with.
It would be hard to recoup the cost of the extruder machine along with the energy and resources you need to get it working in the first place.
For a solo user, it would be hard to justify purchasing one, but if you have a group of 3D printer users or a 3D print farm, it could make sense for the long-run.
There are many machines that you can use to make new filament such as:
This is the Filabot FOEX2-110 from Amazon.
Recycle the PLA Waste
It can be difficult to recycle 3D printed waste due to the different additives, pigments and effects from the 3D printing process itself. There isn’t an industry standard that uses a similar mix of 3D printed plastic in large volumes.
3DTomorrow is a company that has a special program for recycling 3D printer waste. The main issue they have though is recycling third party filament because they don’t know what goes into it.
These manufacturers can sometimes use additives and cheap fillers to lower the cost of the final product, but this can make recycling a lot more difficult.
When you have pure PLA, recycling becomes a lot easier and more feasible.
Repurpose the PLA Scraps
There are different ways to repurpose your PLA scraps and 3D prints. In some cases, you can use them as pieces for art projects, coming up with creative ways to use failed prints, supports, rafts/brims, or filament “spaghetti”.
You may be able to donate some scraps to an educational institution that has an art/drama section. They could use it for a piece of work or even as scenery for a play.
A really interesting way one user came up with to recycle/repurpose filament is to crush your waste filament, melt it into a sheet using heat, then create a new usable object out of it.
The video below shows how you can make objects such as guitar picks, earrings, coasters and more.
You could possibly make a snazzy picture frame or a cool 3D printed art piece to hang on your wall.
One user mentioned how he did research on how to recycle plastic and figured out that some people use sandwich makers to melt down plastic, then use parchment paper on top and underneath so it doesn’t stick.
How to Recycle ABS 3D Prints
- Create ABS Juice, Slurry, or Glue to help other 3D prints stick
- Shred it and create new filament
Create ABS Juice, Slurry or Glue
ABS has similar methods of recycling, but one unique thing you can do is to dissolve the ABS with acetone to create a type of glue or slurry that can be used as an adhesive.
Many people use this substance as a way to either weld two separate ABS prints together, or to apply it on the print bed to help ABS prints stick since they are highly prone to warping.
Shred the ABS Filament for New Filament
Similar to PLA scraps, you can also shred ABS waste into small pellets and use that to create new filament.
How to Recycle PETG 3D Prints
PETG doesn’t recycle very well, similar to PLA and ABS, due to the manufacturing methods and low melting point as a plastic. It’s difficult for recycling plants to take 3D print scraps, waste and objects, then make it into something that can be used on a large scale.
It can be accepted at some recycling centers but it isn’t routinely accepted.
- Shred PETG and create new filament
The video below shows a user printing with recycled PETG by GreenGate3D and you can see just how well it works. Some users have even mentioned that this specific filament is some of the best PETG they have printed with.
Can You Reuse Failed Resin Prints?
You can’t reuse failed resin prints because the chemical process of turning the liquid to a plastic isn’t reversible. Some people suggest you can blend up failed resin prints and supports then use it for filling other 3D models that have large cavities or gaps.
Cured resin prints should just be thrown away or upcycled into another object. If you are into wargaming or a similar type of activity, you can make some terrain features out of supports, then spray it with a unique color like a rusty red or metallic color.
How Do You Shred a Failed 3D Print?
Shredding failed 3D prints is usually done by using a grinding machine that grinds down pieces of plastic into smaller shreds and pellets. You can get an electric shredder to shred 3D prints successfully.
TeachingTech shows you how to shred filament in the video below. He managed to use a modified paper shredder with a 3D printed attachment to hold everything in place.
There is even a shredder that you can 3D print that works very well. Check out the video below to see it in action.
Can You Make 3D Printer Filament From Plastic Bottles?
You can make 3D printer from plastic bottles that are made out of PET plastic, though you’ll need to have a special setup that allows you to extrude strips of plastic from the plastic bottle. A product called the PETBOT does this well.
Mr3DPrint successfully created 1.75mm filament out of a mountain dew bottle by expanding the bottle, then tearing it into a very long strip. He then extruded that strip through a nozzle connected to a gear that pulled the strip of plastic.