Updated: Jul 7, 2020
New opportunities for circular economy
We now know that the future of plastics lies in recyclability. The new concept of circular economy has become an integral part of the company's production choices, which today aim at a development no longer based on the linearity of consumption but on the principle through which materials are reused, becoming in turn raw material for another production process.
So there is also good news for the production of fibers reels for 3D printing.
But let's take a step back and get some clarity on what we mean.
First of all, we're talking about 3D printers based on two technologies:
Among the many existing technologies for 3D printing, FFF and FDM have taken on significant market volumes thanks to the success of the open source project RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper).
Since Makerbot's initial Cupcake kit in 2009, the technology has evolved and improved thanks to the contribution of the community and the most ingenious developers, but in fact it remains the standard for 1.75 or 3 mm filament reels, available today in various colors and chemical compositions.
As we all know, the world of thermoplastics is usually characterized by large production volumes, which initially did not encourage the emergence of local manufacturers interested in the production of a few thousand kilos of filament for 3D printers per year. As a result, until the end of 2012 only a few Chinese companies served the global market with their filament through local resellers, often based on the Internet, served with a relatively low quality product and a very limited variety of colors. With the speed of technology, however, the market has rapidly developed with several tens of thousands of 3D printers sold worldwide and today the demand for 3D printing filaments is also persuading local manufacturers to enter the market, trying to give consumers a quality alternative to the Chinese mass-produced product.
For a long time the offer was therefore based on a significant quantity of standard and widespread material such as PLA and ABS made in China and only more recently on European companies that have been active in the production of filament for third parties or for direct marketing. Today there are many companies producing 3D printing reels that are recognizable by the presence in the assortment of colors different from the initial ones for shade and number.
More technical and special filaments have also been put on the market, of which we give you the main plastic materials:
PLA biodegradable, less resistant and flexible than ABS
PA o NYLON strong, flexible and durable material
ABS/ABS+ particularly robust plastic and available in a wide range of colors
PP semi-rigid and light plastic material, very resistant to abrasion
ASA plastic with high chemical resistance and thermal stability as well as resistance to the weather conditions
PC considered the hardest and most resistant material on the market
PMMA (plexiglass) transparent shockproof material with good mechanical resistance (better than ABS) and remarkable resistance to UV rays and chemical agents but rather sensitive to humidity
PET/ PETG thermoplastic resin with high mechanical resistance for robust prints that last over time
TPU elastic and flexible material, with excellent resistance to abrasion and cutting
TPE material suitable for printing elastic and flexible objects, similar to vulcanized rubber
and others, each with different characteristics and performances.
Today we report the first positive results of the research project Enea (the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) to identify a sustainable and economical alternative to traditional materials for the production of filaments for 3D printing.
In fact, the study of a process for obtaining filaments from plastic fractions of waste electrical and electronic equipment (RAEE) leaves its laboratories, with a double environmental and economic benefit compared to conventional filaments produced in virgin material.
But how to recycle more plastics from RAEE?
First of all, it must be considered that waste from electrical and electronic equipment is not among the easiest to recover and especially with regard to the plastic fraction, of which RAEE is particularly rich, the main obstacles are linked to the wide variety of polymers used, which makes it difficult to obtain homogeneous and clean fractions, and the presence of brominated flame retardants, which requires a further separation process to avoid a high rate of waste.
Weights of RAEE in Italy
Of the more than 310 thousand tons collected throughout the country, about a third is represented by the so-called R2 segment, which groups together the "big whites": washing machines, dishwashers, hoods, ovens. The R1 segment - refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners - exceeds 84,000 tons and is the second most important sector. A lower weight in the general panorama of RAEE is represented by small household appliances (R4), which add up to about 63 thousand tons, TV and monitors (R3), with almost 60 thousand tons and the R5 segment, which represents the light sources and has recorded a collection of just under 2 thousand tons.
Who collects RAEE in Italy
Very heterogeneous is also the photography regarding the collection from the point of view of the so-called collective systems: the various consortiums operating in various parts of Italy. They range from large numbers such as Ecodom (with 105,000 tons, more than a third of the total) and Remedia (with more than 102,000 tons) which together represent 65% of the total, to smaller realities, among which only a couple exceed 20,000 tons per year (Ecolight and European Recycling platform). Between 10 and 20 thousand tons of collection and management are Cobat and Eco Ped, while all the other nine realities have numbers below.
It seems important to us to point out that in order to increase the percentage of waste recovery from RAEE, the Ecolight consortium, the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering of the University of Brescia and Stena Technoworld, an electronic waste treatment plant, have joined forces and expertise in a project that aims to develop new technologies to improve the recovery of plastic materials contained in small household appliances, mobile phones and consumer electronics.
The project entitled: "Separation and sorting of plastics contained in R4 RAEE (small household appliances): process innovations and improvement of recycling and recovery rates" had a duration of eighteen months from April 2018.
The electronic waste belonging to group R4 consists of more than 30% by weight of plastics - notes Ecolight, and the project aims to recover about 16,000 tons of plastic per year, which, once collected, can be treated and recovered.
This explains how companies producing filaments for 3D printing could also be involved as targets for RAEE plastic material that becomes again raw material for they production process. 3D printing technology in the manufacturing sector will inevitably become increasingly popular and will therefore need more and more eco-friendly raw materials.
Also Soluzioni Plastiche srl is involved in this process of recovery and reuse, putting itself at the service of those who have to dispose of the plastic fractions of RAEE and of those who produce the filament reels for 3D printers, providing them with the best recycled plastic material for the final use.
POLIMERICA aprile 2018
POLIMERICA maggio 2019
PLASTIX dicembre 2014
Il sole 24Ore maggio 2019