Alex Rose-Innes

How to get people to recycle? Anyone would be up for the challenge if it is possible to make money from it.

Money offered for glass, metal and bottles had turned recycling among the poorest into a huge success and a sustainable income. Plastic recycling had been slightly slower to catch on and is polluting the ocean, our beaches, killing ocean life and filling land sites.

However, several technologies now allow people to recycle waste plastic directly by 3D-printing it into valuable products at a fraction of the usual cost. Many entrepreneurs are using recycled plastic to turn into decorations, gifts, home and garden products, accessories and shoes, toys and games, sporting goods and gadgets from millions of free designs. This approach is called distributed recycling and additive manufacturing, or DRAM for short.

Professor Joshua M, Pearce, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering explains how DRAM works. He says that anything from used packaging to broken products could be used.

(Image: From trash to treasure – the DRAM flowchart by Prof Joshua M. Pearce

(Image: From trash to treasure – the DRAM flowchart by Prof Joshua M. Pearce)

The first step is to sort and wash the plastic with soap and water then ground into particles. For small amounts, a cross-cut paper/CD shredder works fine. For larger amounts, open-source plans for an industrial waste plastic granulator are available online and with African entrepreneurs being funded by the United Nations Development Organisation, this could produce huge benefits for communities and countries.

The next step presents a few choices. In many countries, particles are converted  into 3D printer filament using a recyclebot, a device that turns ground plastic into the spaghetti-like filaments used by most low-cost 3D printers at a fraction of the price. Filament made with a 3D-printable recyclebot is incredibly cheap compared to commercial filament. With the pandemic interrupting global supply chains, making products at home from waste is even more appealing. Granulated plastic waste can also be directly printed with a syringe printer, but this is less popular because print volume is limited by the need to reloading the syringe.


An Eco printing initiative in Australia had demonstrated DRAM can work in isolated communities with no recycling and no power by using solar-powered systems. This makes DRAM applicable anywhere humans live, waste plastic is abundant and the Sun shines – which is just about everywhere.

Research had proved that this approach to recycling and manufacturing is not only better for the environment, but also highly profitable for individual users making their own products, as well as for small- and medium-sized businesses. Making your own products from open source designs simply saves you money.