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The Ethical Filament Foundation

As 3D printing technology improves, becomes used more widely and moves further into the mainstream, the market for 3D printing filament will see a lot of growth. To meet the growing demand for 3D printing filament, one organisation is taking this great opportunity to help some of the world’s poorest groups.

The Ethical Filament Foundation aims to establish a set of ethical and technical standards for the production of environmentally friendly 3D printing filaments. These ethically produced filaments will meet standards of not only quality and price, but also provide some of the world’s poorest people with a stable income. In developing countries, it is not uncommon for the poor to earn a living by collecting waste such as plastic bottles and other containers from landfill. Sometimes these waste pickers earn less than $1 per day.

Recycled 3D printing filament

Based in India, Protoprint is a social enterprise that aims to give waste pickers the opportunity to earn a stable and ethical income sourcing plastics for the production of 3D printing filament. This ethical sourcing of plastics for the production of filament is akin to the fair trade effort in place for the harvesting of coffee beans used worldwide. Ethical sourcing of plastics also stimulates the recycling of waste materials that would otherwise be hazardous to the environment.

The Flakerbot is a machine designed by the team at Protoprint that is able to extrude usable plastics from waste collected by from landfill. This extrusion machine is low-cost and easily operated. Similarly the Refilbot is a low-cost machine designed by Protoprint that takes the extracted plastics, heating and melting them to create 3mm filament for use in a 3D printer. Protoprint is working with waste picking co-operatives in India to make this production process available to these low income workers, thereby enabling them to benefit from the ethical sourcing initiative.

Recently we have seen countless, exciting developments in the realm of 3D printing that could make a difference to the lives of people around the world. Initiatives like the ethical sourcing of filament push the utility of 3D printing even further by providing a financial safety net for the world’s disadvantaged workers. It is one more way that 3D printing is helping to change the world.