There has long been debate about whether 3D printing, as a technology, is actually a net (sorry) benefit for the environment, after all it has a complex and global supply chain, but also has the potential to localise and democratise the means of production. Its a global-local solution that was never designed with the environment in mind.
In a long, complicated and just slightly behind the times discussion released as part of the May 2017 e-book, The Next Production Revolution: Implications for Governments and Business, the industrialised nations uber-think-tank’s conclusions are attached below but, paraphrasing, it says this;
3D printing doesn’t automatically imbue enviromental advantages just by virtue of its technology, in fact in some cases it can have a higher environmental impact than conventional manufacturing and very few in the sector have addressed sustainability in their business models.
However if you address energy use in the supply chain and use materials that are relatively benign (chemically speaking) then it has great potential, even at an industrial scale. At a small scale it can already carry less environmental impact than conventional manufacturing technologies, when assessed using techniques such as Life Cycle Assessment. The OECD cites estimates that ~70% less environmental impact could be achieved by combining currently available technologies (within 3DP itself and supporting tech), when compared with injection moulding.
What can’t be known with certainty is the post-production impact of any new ideas, either in products and processes, that are spawned by widespread access to advanced fabrication technologies. And the so-called ‘in-use’ impact of a lightweight car part, or a door stop, or a prosthetic hand is almost impossible to evaluate at a systemic level.
Finally the freedom provided by low-cost 3DP technologies for localised design and production in non-industrialised and less developed parts of the world, especially in growing cities, is an area that again, has great potential.
These social and ‘in-use’ impacts are likely to be far higher than those of the technology itself while operating, which means that enabling access through training and lowering price barriers is key to the technology reaching its potential as an environmental benefit.
So, as far as Fishy Filaments is concerned it is gratifying to know that the OECD seems to agree with us that by using recycled nylon (a well understood and chemically safe material), 3D printing can have significant environmental benefits, and with policy support could have even more. Our longer term plan, for bioplastics made of seafood processing wastes, seems to fit extremely well with the OECD’s advice to policy-makers.