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3D Print Waste?
We’re going to talk about something today that I’m sure is going to stir up a bit of debate. I don’t know if I would necessarily call it controversy, but certainly debate, which is about 3D print waste. Is there really a lot? Is it bad? Is it not? We saw something out there online.
We saw on LinkedIn, the CEO of the What the Future Venture Capital wrote, “When I started, my vision was to bring this technology [referring to 3D printing] to the desktop, to be able to recycle what you make, to close the loop of production in recycling, and to eradicate the crap we keep on throwing in the oceans. Since the home printers are enabling everybody to be a maker, we are actually creating more crap and throwing even more stuff away than I imagined. The current trend is actually working in totally the opposite way.”
It’s his statement, not ours. Let’s make that clear. It’s Janne Kyttanen. He’s the CEO of What the Future Venture Capital. I’m intrigued by this because he’s the CEO of a venture capital firm and this is what he thought at the time when he wrote that. “We keep throwing crap in the ocean.”
First of all, I’m going to take issue with the whole oceans comment. Not that there isn’t a whole lot of crap thrown in the oceans, I’m sure there is. I don’t know where he gets that all the 3D printing waste we’re creating is going to be more crap thrown in the oceans. I don’t get that connection there. That’s a little hyperbolic. I think the point is we’re throwing away a lot of crap. I think the problem is that there’s just a lot of crap being made right now and that we’re not seeing the good stuff. I think that’s true universally, not having to do with 3D printing. There’s a hell of a lot of crap made in this world for no good reason.
I think you don’t have a comparison to the consumer product world that we do. When we look at this and we say, applying the 80-20 rule, Pareto’s principle, 80% of the volume comes from 20% of the skews, effort or whatever it might be. In this case if you’re looking at that, think about just all of the millions of products on Amazon. There’s inventory sitting there, not just at Amazon but back in other people’s warehouses and other places. We’re talking about only 20% of all of those millions of things that are actually generating 80% of the business. The rest of the stuff is sitting there, gathering dust to eventually be closed out or thrown into landfill. We see it all the time. Products that should never have gone to market that are going to be thrown away. They’re going to be maybe recycled or ground back up into a product. Sometimes that happens, but for a lot of times, it gets tossed. It’s just horrendous.
I think things have changed since maybe the 1950’s and maybe even early ‘60s. In that boom time of economy, there was very much a disposable culture in the United States. Something new was always better than something old. I think we have that right today too when you think about a dollar store model. We do, I’m just trying to acknowledge that, I think things have changed and improved over time. The notion of a recycle bin didn’t even exist. When I was a kid, I was at my grandparents’ house on a farm in upstate New York visiting them, paper wasn’t recycled. We actually had a wire frame trash basket that was outside on the property somewhere and all the paper products or anything that could be burned was put there and burned to dispose of it, instead of sent to a landfill. Maybe that was okay, although it didn’t do so much great stuff for the atmosphere, but certainly nothing was recycled. Today, across most of the United States, certainly where we live in California, there is a huge amount of post-consumer waste that is recycled. That’s a good thing. I just want to put that out there.
However, nothing that’s 3D printed I think is actually recycled in that way, because there’s no recycling code. When this stuff gets to a recycling center, they don’t know what resin is made of. They probably don’t even have a recycle code for PLA. It would probably get thrown in the other category. I don’t know if anything’s really going to be recycled out.
That’s why Buzz from 3D Printlife, they are making biodegradable materials because that’s probably the best option when it ends up in that landfill situation. It’s like, “Let’s let it degrade faster and let’s improve that process.” I love their product. I love their spool. It’s very ecofriendly. But still at the end of the day, if something somebody makes with PlayFab, or their Enviro, it’s their biodegradable 3D printable plastics. Even when something’s made out of it and it gets to a recycle center or gets to a landfill, I don’t know that anybody really knows that’s what it is. Fortunately, if it ends up in a landfill, it is going to degrade because they’ve done a good job of making a material that does that, but no one really knows about it.
I don’t think that 3D printing is actually worse off than other materials used in manufacturing today. In fact, I think that the process side of manufacturing is better because there is less post commercial production waste.I think that his idea that everybody’s a maker so they’re making more stuff is actually probably not true. I don’t think that we’re making more stuff than we make when we do our production designs. I think we make a lot less stuff. We go through it. Design is an iterative process and 3D printing is an iterative process. We’re going through, and yes we are, but we would’ve been doing that for the production models. There’d be tens of thousands of units that may or may not sell. Now I could just make a few, see if they sell and then not make more if I don’t need to.
Not only that. I would argue that the iterative process of design using 3D printing actually produces less waste than traditional prototyping and product development processes pre-3D printing. We have an interview coming up here in two weeks or so. We have an interview coming up with Mark Palmer and Andrew Askedall of MakerBot. They talk about the process that they use inside 3D printing, working on new 3D printers among other things. We start to 3D print something as a part of the process. Within 10% of that printing, we see something’s wrong, we stop it. We don’t print it all the way until it’s done. If we’re making a traditional prototype, outsourced or internally, you probably would make that whole physical thing and try it out before you knew it was a problem. Now, you can stop it and waste less. You’re still consuming product and you’re making things but it’s all a part of a process and an effort that has a purpose at the end of the day for the most part, if you’re using it in business. Now, if you’re just learning about 3D printing or as a student, that also has a purpose. It’s not a waste. It has a real purpose. You’re educating people on how to do it better for the future.
His company is called What The Future, right? He’s about the what, which is what we’re about here in WTFFF, right? If you get better at your “what”, then there isn’t waste. That’s really what we’re not focusing on enough of, is getting better at designing the what, getting better at making sure that that what is what people want to buy. That’s what 3D printing offers the ability to do in a great way that we are not doing in our consumer product world today. We’re not getting dialed in. We’re making too much product and we don’t know if it’s going to sell. There’s a lot more waste that way to me.
We’ve seen it happen with companies. They make a big bet and whether it’s a manufacturer trying to sell it or it’s a retailer who’s buying it, they make a big bet on something, they put in all their stores. What happens when it fails? It gets flushed out there, either on deep discount or if they can’t sell it, then it’s going to end up in a dollar store or worse, they’re going to trash it or make the vendor take it back. Somebody tries to close it out and make somebody buy it. When you have something that’s on deep close out and someone’s going to buy it for a tenth of what it really should’ve been, people don’t think of it as a very precious thing. They’re going to think of it as disposable. The minute it breaks or it doesn’t do well, or that’s why it doesn’t sell in the first place, it’s too ugly, it ends up in the landfill anyway. That’s why I say that the dollar store is as good as trashing it. It’s just a matter of stalling getting it into the trash.
I’m going to give another little shout out to Lucy Beard and what she’s been doing at Feetz, because they have developed their 3D printed footwear. The idea is that that shoe is not only 3D printed for custom fit for you, but it is actually created so that what little piece the inside liner that’s not 3D printed is easily separated from the shoe. They can grind it up and make more material and make another shoe out of it. That’s their goal. That’s what they’re doing. In that case, people aren’t just printing more crap. Even after you’ve used it, the soles are worn out and it’s all dirty, they can grind it up melt it down and make something else out of it. That is a very positive aspect. In this case, kudos to her for making a source by which you can send material back that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have a recycle code because their materials are made in a totally different way.
If you want to put your venture capital money in something, let’s put our money into something where recycling requires no effort on your part, where the machines, the robots scan the thing and already know what this plastic composition is. That would be cool and valuable. Now, none of us have to work to recycle anything. We don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to like, “I don’t know” so I toss it. That’s where we are today. If nobody throws it out, if its composition is immediately identified by some robotic scanning system and it’simmediately disassembled, done whatever has to be done to recycle it in the best way possible, that’s going to change the sustainability and the landfill and run off into the oceans in all fairness to actually what he’s saying there.
Often times, products that get thrown in a recycle bin are not the entire product. There are things that have broken off of it. If a part, even a significantly sized part breaks, and the little recycle symbol of what it is isn’t there, then it can’t be properly recycled. There’s a technology, business opportunity in recycling. As we grow in population on this earth, trash, materials and recycling only gets to be a bigger problem. It’s got to be a growth industry.
Maybe there just isn’t enough makers out there. There isn’t enough 3D print waste going into the waste system that they’ve recognized it as a problem yet, which indicates that maybe this isn’t a true statement either. I appreciate the statement. He certainly gave us material for an episode here because I read this and I’m like, “That’s crap. I want to talk about that. That’s junk.” Pardon the pun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m annoyed with the amount of junk that’s created out there. I’m annoyed with it. But it’s in a file repository. It’s not a physical product and no one’s going to print it. It’s junk. I get annoyed by that. You hear it all the time because we talk about it all the time. It transferring it into actual waste is really not true unless you understand the process. This guy is in venture capital, he’s not in product development. He doesn’t actually see the waste that is in the product development process.
Even just the very issue of infill as a concept makes you use a whole lot less material for every object you make than any other process that would’ve existed before 3D printing and additive manufacturing. To me, it’s either an ill-informed statement or maybe just an off the cuff statement that obviously we’re digging deep into. It is controversial. Everybody’s not going to agree with us. We don’t always agree on this subject either. Certainly it’s something to consider.
On a whole, additive manufacturing and especially even desktop 3D printing, which I think could be arguably the target of the people that feel this way, that we’re just creating junk, nothing of any real value. I disagree with that. I think as a whole, the 3D printing industry, especially desktop 3D printing, is producing a great value. A great value in education of people who’re going to be really good at this technology and using this in the future, going to get better at making “what”, and then prosumers or professionals that are actually using it in their business the way we are, to even people producing end use consumer products. Overall, the waste implication, the impact environmentally on our earth is improved by 3D printing, not harmed more because it is here and exists.
Let’s let 3D printing go through its growing pains just like any other industry, any other growth and industrial thing. Thinking about factories and textiles and how wasteful they were and how poisonous they were and how bad the environments were back in the early days when they started production facilities for looms and other things. Those have changed overtime and they’re extremely clean looms right now and absolutely wonderful sustainable facilities are being created where all the powers coming from solar, the facilities are running themselves. There’s not a lot of waste because they’ve refined down their system for not making off quality goods. All of those things take time to get to that place. I see a future 3D print world in which there is so much less waste. You have to look at it in a bigger picture waste. There are not as many pollutants.
If you’ve been in an injection mold facility, the water quality that comes out of that and the run off from those facilities is disgusting. You have a lot of that. You’ve got the transport. You’ve got a lot of fossil fuels going in and out of these facilities, transporting parts and transporting things. It’s not going to happen in an on demand, when you’re printing it out in your home or printing it out in a distribution center that’s within ten or a hundred miles of your home. You’re talking about a very different model and very different sustainable clean energy solution for the future. That’s really the future of it. We’ve got to let people learn how to 3D print in the process here, learn how to apply it.
So what if we get some more iterations and a little bit more junk in the process? It’s going to clean itself up eventually in a much better and more advanced way than we will ever get to from the technology we’ve got today. I think it’s inevitable. I think it’s going to be a natural selection of a process that takes place, I just think the very nature of the beast is that way. I certainly have no problem sleeping at night with all of the 3D printing that we’re doing, over the environmental impact. I think we’ve greatly improved the environmental impact of what we’ve produced in the world by shifting this way for a good portion of our business. I definitely don’t have a problem. I think it’s better. I think it’s on its way to being better.
We’d love to hear your thoughts, as debatable or controversial as they might be. You can do that through the website 3DStartpoint.com onto the blog post or onto one of our idea forms anywhere on the site. You can also go to social media @3DStartpoint. We specifically really highlight and use Facebook as our predominant social media platform right now. It just seems to be the most effective place where people are talking about it. We get a lot more conversation there. We do post on Twitter but we really don’t get into a lot of good conversations there, so we’d like that conversational platform. This year, we’ve really narrowed down and really worked on Facebook and Pinterest. In Pinterest, we put a lot of pictures for those that are interested in images. We’re sharing a lot of great designs and things that are going on out there through that. We’re sharing it of course on Facebook as well. Those are the two platforms we’ve chosen to narrow into this year.
Before we sign off today, just a quick mention. Because we had a lot of new listeners to the podcast, people going back through some older ones. Some of the oldest episodes had not been showing up in iTunes because of how many they can display in iTunes because we’ve got so many episodes now. We had been running some replay episodes on Mondays and Fridays for quite a while. We’ve really run through the most popular episodes and done that. We decided to stop doing that. Some of you were really not too thrilled that you were getting two episodes a week that you have heard before. We’ve moved on from that, but we’re only creating three new episodes a week right now, at the moment. At some point we may even need to take a break and do only one a week.
For those of you who don’t know, our daughter’s getting married in July, so that means that we will take a break, actually it will be August that we will take off. We will actually have a no podcast month for the first time ever. We had a no podcast a week, but we’re going to have a zero podcast month for the month of August. That’s a lot of advanced warning. We’re not going to go away obviously, but we have some things that are rather important we need to attend to, like our eldest daughter. Summer is probably a pretty good time to take a little break. Anyway, three podcasts a week for the moment. We’ll let you know if that’s going to change, but everything is new content at this point so not to worry.
That’s it for today. We have another episode tomorrow, another interview episode. Check that out. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
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