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Hayley is a Technology Journalist for 3DPI and has a background in B2B publications spanning manufacturing, tools and cycling. Writing news and features, she holds a keen interest in emerging technologies which are impacting the world we live in.
The circular economy is a concept that seeks to make optimum use of resources in order to avoid waste.
A recent flurry of sustainability announcements from 3D printing firms have revealed new eco-friendly materials, innovative methods of repurposing waste, and the launch of new projects seeking to reduce additive manufacturing’s environmental footprint.
3D Printing Industry spoke to Emma Fromberg, Course Director at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and Marta Redrado Notivoli, Project Coordinator of EU-funded research initiative BARBARA and chemical engineer at the Aitiip Technology Center, to garner insights into the state-of-play of circularity within the 3D printing industry, and where opportunities lie for circular economy processes to be applied within the sector going forwards.
Renewed efforts to combat climate change have lately been echoed on a much broader scale too, with US President Joe Biden committing the US to slash emissions by half by the end of the decade, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging world leaders to “get serious” ahead of United Nations (UN) climate talks later this year.
While such calls for environmental action appear to be getting louder, the failure of both government and industry leaders to match their words with action when it comes to sustainability is unfortunately nothing new. In a similar vein, while additive manufacturing is often considered a more sustainable manufacturing technology than others, according to 85 percent of respondents to a survey by 3D printing software provider Materialise, there is an industry consensus that more must be done to avoid greenwashing the technology.
“There is no doubt that heaps of these initiatives are not genuinely solving any real issues in terms of sustainability and are merely offering more efficient material use,” says Fromberg. “However, it is often done with the best intentions.”
Circularity refers to an economic system with the goal of eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. The need for further research into how this concept can be fully applied within the 3D printing sector has been highlighted by researchers from the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (UNIDEMI), who believe greater open-source collaboration between industry partners could eventually provide new methods of addressing the UN’s sustainability goals with the technology.