Can we shift waste to value through 3D printing in Tanzania?

Can we shift waste to value through 3D printing in Tanzania? World Bank Blog, Sept 2015. Author: C. Paradi-Guilford.

Plastic waste, in particular PET, which is typically found in soda bottles, is becoming abundant in African cities. In Dar es Salaam, one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities in Africa, BORDA found that about 400 tons of plastic waste per day remains uncollected or unrecycled.  Although about 98 percent of the solid waste generated per day can be recycled or composted, 90 percent is disposed in dumpsites.

A waste collection site in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Cecilia Paradi-Guilford

At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. There are a few organizations that repurpose waste into arts and crafts, tools or apply it as a source of energy – such as WasteDar. However, the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.

Socially and environmentally, waste management is one of the biggest challenges for an increasingly urbanized world. Waste pickers can earn as little as US$1-2 a day in dangerous conditions with little opportunity for advancement. They make up some of the most disadvantaged communities living in deep poverty.

Through a new market for sorted waste materials, these communities may access higher income generation opportunities in a sustainable manner. This presents an opportunity to explore turning this waste into value more close to home.

At the same time, 3D Printing is expanding
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that applies layers of materials (typically plastic) to develop an object that is made up of thinly sliced horizontal layers. The design of the object is made in a Computer-Aided Design program using a 3D modeling, then is inputted into the 3D printer. Gaining popularity, 3D scanners are also used to make a digital copy of ab object. 3D printers take an input of filament consisting of varying types of plastic to create the object.

3D printers can be found in schools and other training institutions, digital fabrication and maker spaces, small research and development (R&D) labs…or even one’s home. Maker spaces or digital fabrication laboratories make these openly available. They are small-scale workshops that offer digital fabrication services to the tinkerers, creative problem solvers, entrepreneurs or anyone who wishes to apply and build on their technical skills. They were originally designed as prototyping platforms for local entrepreneurs, but they have now expanded to universities and higher education facilities.

Check out the Fab Foundation to learn more about the international network that supports digital fabrication spaces called “Fab labs.” These spaces are rarely built in isolation and often are integrated into existing innovation, startup, academic, and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Wait, how does plastic waste connect to 3D printing?
A nascent opportunity to rethink the way we use, or rather reuse, plastic is the growing market for 3D printer filament. Predictions suggest that 3D printing filament market will reach $1.052 million by 2019. Currently, the cost of one kilogram (kg) of filament anywhere between $25 and $40. However, in new markets, such as Tanzania, this cost can go up to as much as $60 or even $80, including fees for shipping from China. This creates a barrier for the burgeoning local communities interested in 3D printing to access the necessary supplies.

Filament can be sourced directly from waste picker groups in developing countries. Filament with the Ethical Filament (“EF”) mark is produced ethically on a ‘fair trade’ basis, enabling waste pickers to receive more income from the recyclable materials they collect.

Companies like Protoprint are already taking advantage of this opportunity by conducting a pilot study in cooperation with Waste Pickers in India to develop ethical 3D printer filament made out of HDPE plastic. This filament can also be used for 3D printing prototypes or products themselves depending on their complexity and design.

Existing initiatives
Below are three current initiatives that are working in the recycled plastic space in varying capacities.

  • Refil is a company based out of the Netherlands that is creating high quality affordable 3D printer filament out of recycled plastic. Through a specially developed process they are recycling car dashboards, into ABS plastic filament.
  • The Plastic Bank is working on developing an open source extruder that creates filament from industrial waste/ocean plastic. To look at the open source hardware schematics.
  • Appropedia is a wiki page for collaborative solutions to address sustainability and poverty reduction, including plastics for 3D printing.
  • Tech for Trade is a UK charity that works with local entrepreneurs to test innovative approaches for building sustainable technology businesses.  They founded the Ethical Filament Foundation, which aims to ensure income sustainability of waste pickers, reduce the environmental impact of 3D printing and onboarding recycled filament producers to use their Ethical Filament Standard.
  • FabLab Bohol: The plastic upcycling project in Bohol, Philippines is an initiative that recycles used plastic materials to generate income for the community. One of the main products is plastic piping for septic tank use to protect the local marine life.
  • Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP): It is a transnational youth-driven project in Ghana to promote maker ecosystems in Africa, starting at Agbogbloshie. The agenda is collective action to prototype tools and co-create a hybrid digital-physical platform for recycling of ewaste material, making, sharing and trading.

The Plastic Bank’s Open Sourced Extruder

https://youtu.be/oAdv-oRtS9Y
Caption: The Plastic Bank’s Open Sourced Extruder

Examples of 3D printed products

  • Infant Vein Finder Students from the University of Nairobi created an infant vein finder to address the infant mortality rate in Kenya. (Kenya)
  • Weather Stations USAID developed a 3D printed weather station that integrates with a raspberry pi to provide instant access to weather data. (Zambia)
  • Umbilical Cord Clip Field Ready developed the design and provided communities with access to printers to print the clips. (Haiti)
  • Prosthetics 3D printed prosthetics for amputees specifically in developing economies. (Kenya)
  • Solar Panel Bases Village Energy piloted using 3D printers to make their solar panel bases to decrease production time. (Uganda)

Green Digital Fabrication in Tanzania
Through the Green Digital Fabrication initiative in Tanzania, the World Bank will test the opportunity to shift PET plastic waste to value through collaboration across the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, leveraging 3D printers and new, low-cost PET extruder technology. The initiative will assess the feasibility and the market opportunity to turn PET plastic waste into 3D printer filament that can be sold locally or globally, and to then print unique, locally appropriate and marketable products, which could be then traded and sold by waste collectors back to their communities.

Through the practical application of 3D printing in the context of plastic waste, the initiative also aims contribute to the broader movement on turning waste to value as well as the development of local maker and digital fabrication communities.

The initiative is funded by the ICT4D Trust Fund at the World Bank, and is a partnership between the World Bank,COSTECHTena Recycling, Tech for Trade and the Ethical Filament Foundation, the Buni Hub, and STIClab.

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