Make Your Own 3-D Printer Filament From Old Milk Jugs — Exponentially Cheaper Than Buying Filament, Research Shows

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Creating your own 3-D printer filament from old used milk jugs is exponentially cheaper, and uses considerably less energy, than buying new filament, according to new research from Michigan Technological University.

Not really a surprise of course, but the numbers are. The savings are really quite impressive — 99 cents on the dollar, in addition to the reduced use of energy. Interestingly (but again not surprisingly), the amount of energy used to ‘recycle’ the old milk jugs yourself is considerably less than that used in recycling such jugs conventionally.

Joshua Pearce holds a DremelFuge chuck made from shredded plastic milk jugs. Image Credit: Michigan Technological University
Joshua Pearce holds a DremelFuge chuck made from shredded plastic milk jugs. Image Credit: Michigan Technological University

Such user-end recycling of ‘waste’ materials appears (to this author) to be the wave of the future — whether in relatively high-tech embodiments such as this, or the very low-tech but interesting reuse of materials that you see in many very poor regions of the world.

The new research, led by Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University, began as a question of how energy efficient it would be to create your own 3-D printer filament from common waste items — as compared to conventional recycling. As part of the work, a full life-cycle analysis on a regular milk jug made from HDPE plastic was performed.

The jugs used in the research were first washed, and then cut into pieces — before being run through an office shredder and a RecycleBot (which turns waste plastic into 3D printer filament). Using this approach, roughly 3% less energy is used than is used in “an ideal urban recycling program”.

“Where it really shows substantial savings is in smaller towns like Houghton, where you have to transport the plastic to be collected, then again to be recycled, and a third time to be made into products,” stated Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering. “Then the energy savings skyrocket to 70-80%. And, recycling your own milk jugs uses 9o% less energy than making virgin plastic from petroleum.”

Speaking on the cost savings with regard to filament, he stated: “Filament is retailing for between $36 and $50 a kilogram, and you can produce your own filament for 10 cents a kilogram if you use recycled plastic. There’s a clear incentive, even if you factor in the cost of buying the RecycleBot.”

Commercial equivalents of the RecycleBot, such as Filastruder, typically cost less than $300.

Noting the (minor) downsides to HDPE plastic use, Pearce stated: “It shrinks slightly as it cools, so you have to take that into account. But if you are making something like a statue or a pencil holder, it doesn’t matter.”

“This new recycling technology has caught the eye of the Ethical Filament Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of waste pickers, who scour other people’s trash for items to sell or recycle.”

“In the developing world, it’s hard to get filament, and if these recyclers could make it and sell it for, say, $15 a kilogram, they’d make enough money to pull themselves out of poverty while doing the world a lot of good,” he stated.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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