Ethically sourced 3D printing filament made from recycled plastic trash could create jobs in developing countries, while also cleaning up a major environmental problem on the earth and its oceans.
Inspired by the fair trade movement, researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) are exploring a new class of material called ethical 3D printing filament. The idea is to produce 3D printing filament made from recycled plastic waste collected by waste pickers in developing countries.
“It’s a way to help the poorest of the poor up the economic ladder,” said Joshua Pearce of MTU in a news release.
But for the waste pickers to truly benefit, the recycled filament industry will need to adhere to certain fair labour and environmental practices. In an article published in the Journal of Sustainable Development, Pearce and his colleagues explain that the fair trade standards should include minimum pricing to ensure that workers receive fair wages, a 48-hour work with a ban on child labour and forced labour, workers’ health and safety safeguards, and other measures.
Pearce even suggests that businesses that make or use ethical filament could charge a premium for their product. The economic reasoning is compellingly simple: Fair trade filament would still cost less than conventional 3D filament made from virgin plastic, which currently costs around 35 to 50 dollars per kilogram.
“Filament prices are so high that places like Protoprint could sell their filament at half that price and still give pickers a living wage while doing good for the environment,” said Pearce.
Protoprint, a 3D printing firm in Pune, India, is collaborating with techfortrade, a London-based non-profit organisation that harnesses technology to eliminate poverty through economic development. After working with Pearce, techfortrade plans to fully implement his fair trade standards for filament in the Ethical Filament Foundation.