Can you recycle recycled nylon ?

Its an interesting question – Can you recycle recycled nylon ?

The answer is a simple ‘yes’, but that simplicity hides a whole world of change in how products must be made if they are to do less damage to the global environment.

That world of change is known as Closed Loop Production and is sometimes considered part of The Circular Economy.

Its a simple idea – planning for the end-of-life of the product itself, preferrably taking the materials from that product back into the production cycle once again. But also reusing any and all materials utilised in the production of an item, from offcuts to grey water, making either secondary products or regenerating the raw materials for reuse.

Consciously, explicitly describing the ‘how’ and implementing it, not just ‘aspiring to’ or ‘aiming for’ or giving a ‘why’.

So what does it mean for us in the professional segment of 3D printing ?

Filament Makers

For a filament maker it means regrinding filament that has failed QA/QC or that was produced in R&D before commercial release, and developing processes that enable the re-use of that material. But more fundamentally it means making filament that can be recycled and understanding what that means to customers.

QA/QC Failed filament and filament regrind
QA/QC Failed filament and filament regrind

Print Agencies and Manufacturers

For a 3D print agency or a professional product maker it means finding a home for all the rafts and supports and print fails and QC rejects, but it also means collecting all those up and taking responsibility for generating as little ‘non-product’ as possible.

3D printer's recycling bin
3D printer’s recycling bin (and yes, that is a whole shoe !)

Product Designers

Obviously designers need to design ‘things’ that are recyclable at end-of-life, a requirement that is increasingly becoming a regulatory obligation in many product classes.

But systems also need to be designed to gather end-of-life products together so that they are recycled. For mass market durable goods with a 5+year lifespan that is a real economic and logistical challenge. For 3D printed goods that are essentially one-offs, its near impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try or that new solutions can’t be developed.

What are Fishy Filaments doing ?

As raw material producers/developers, at Fishy Filaments our responsibility is to minimise in-house waste but also to make sure that those end-of-life products can be recycled at a technical level.

And, just as with our carbon impact study, we don’t just need to say that it is so, we need to prove it !

So we’re delighted to have teamed up with Dr Mazher Mohammed of the Digital Design and Fabrication Research Group within the Design School at UK Top 10 Research University, Loughborough, to do the background science and help us answer questions like;

  • how much does engineering performance degrade after each melting event, whether filament extrusion or 3D printing ?
  • how much ‘new’ recycled nylon do we need to add to the recycled recycled nylon to maintain a decent, workable specification ?
  • and just how big are the additional carbon savings implied by a closed loop using our Marine Nylon™ ?

Ultimately this is data that may allow others to quantify whether a carbon efficient closed-loop is possible for their specific product.

Once we have the underlying, independently derived, scientific data we can start to rigourously define and design our 2nd generation recycled materials – our recycled recycled nylons, or as we call it R² Marine Nylon™

In summary – Can you recycle recycled nylon ?

Yes, and we’re going to try to make sure that it makes real sense to do so.

With the help of Loughborough Uni we hope to be able to give product designers the independent 3rd party information they need to be confident when imagining new solutions using Fishy Filament’s products in a closed-loop production system.

Look out for more news on our R² Marine Nylon™ next year.

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