3D Printer Material Recycling Program

Executive Summary:

The ubiquity of 3D printers on campus has created a large source of plastic waste that the City of Seattle has decided won’t be recycled at their facilities (
https://twitter.com/SeattleSPU/status/775753287232475136), meaning all 3D printing waste generated at the University of Washington goes straight to a landfill. The project proposed here is designed to create a 3D printer material recycling program that all offices, laboratories, and communal spaces at the University of Washington can benefit from to redirect a large amount of this waste back into usable material. 

This project will be located primarily at the makerspace, Area 01, in Maple Hall. This location is the site of our collaborators, Precious Plastic, who already own Filabot extruder and custom made plastics shredder. Precious Plastic (https://www.preciousplastic-usa.com/) works to collect, recycle, and redistribute bulk plastic that would normally end up in a landfill. Because of the highly precise requirements of filament used for 3D printing, our project will focus on carefully screening the input material and carefully controlling the fabrication of recycled filament. This niche recycling is why our proposed project will complement the work Precious Plastic is doing by offering an alternate output for recycled plastic. The creation of usable filament will also incentivize groups to contribute recyclable material as they will be eligible to receive a percentage of usable material in return.

This collaboration will help reduce our operating cost by reducing the amount of expensive equipment this project will need to order. There will be recycling consumables, outreach materials, and salaries totaling about $9000 for the initialization phase and day-to-day workflow for the academic year afterward. Once this project is funded and out of the initialization phase, it will be able to smoothly run for as long as there is a small amount of support funding and student interested in participating in this project.

Student Involvement:

Although this project is being initiated by Lydia Smith who is the lab manager for the Amy Orsborn lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, all subsequent members and collaborators of this project will be either graduate or undergraduate students at the University of Washington. Lydia’s role will be limited to the initialization of the project, an approximately 6 month, or 2 quarter period. Starting in the fall of 2020, Augusto Millevolte will be a first-year graduate student in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department and will be assisting in getting the project off the ground, helping with outreach, training of new students, and fabrication of recycled materials. Given the demands of graduate students, his role will also be limited to the initial 6 months of the project.

Starting in the summer of 2020, we will be heavily recruiting undergraduate students to participate in this project. As this project will be collaborating with Precious Plastics, who are housed in the Maple Hall Makerspace, Area 01, we will have access to the population of undergraduate students who either work or utilize the resources there. In addition, we will be posting to the University’s Undergraduate Research Program Database (https://www.washington.edu/undergradresearch/students/find/) to solicit interest in students who wish to work on this project. Initial undergraduate students brought on during the summer of 2020 will be a part of the initialization of the project and will spend a large amount of their early time in Fall 2020 with the project learning how to run the machinery from the members of Precious Plastic, keep detailed and informative records of materials and training documentation, as well as collecting and processing the primary material. Once the project is out of the initialization stage, these undergraduate students will be responsible for running day to day operations as well as training more junior students to supplement their workload and eventually replace them.

Students involved with this project will be tasked with any of the following duties including designing/posting posters/flyers about services this project provides, answering emails sent to a project-specific email, bringing collection materials (bags, labels etc) to requesting groups, bringing donated materials to the project office, sorting/cleaning donated materials, maintaining donation records, processing & recycling materials, and handling returns of purchased materials.


Education & Outreach:

One of the ways we will looking to help support this project is by applying for work study to financially support the undergraduate researcher. Use of work study funds presumes that students will "learn work skills that are transferable to future career paths". As part of this project, students will primarily learn about project management, recycling pipelines, and 3D printing.

In order to give back to the community, the members of this project will not only be involved in all of the tasks mentioned in "Student Involvement"  but may also volunteer to speak about the project at events such as orientations or ‘trash talks’ given by Waste Management and sustainability groups on campus. Collaborating with Waste Management on UW campus will be the most important part of networking the project can do as they already have a large number of collaborations for recycling in the community and can reach an even larger audience. This collaboration will give us access to email lists and newsletters where we can electronically distribute information about our project.

In order to get as much participation as possible for this project, it will also be important to circulate posters and emails about our services to a broad audience on campus. Despite living in the digital age, posters advertising talks, research opportunities, and services on campus are still widely circulated on corkboards in all buildings (dorms, offices, laboratories, hospitals) on campus and are therefore be an important audience to reach.

One key feature of this project is it will generate a large amount of useable material from all the recycled filament created. Material created will be distributed through 3 sources: 1) Distributed back to labs, officies, groups that donate maters, 2) sold to anyone on campus for a discounted price, and 3) donated to local makerspaces and libraries to improve education about 3D printing to a wider audience. Donating this material will support underrepresented and underprivileged groups' ability to become involved in 3D printing.

Environmental Impact:
  • Waste
Project Longevity:

Ideally, this project should be able to run indefinitely so long as there is a small flow of funding available. As the project is ramping up, there will need to be a lot of oversight of the project to get it fully functional. There will need to be a large amount of community outreach to establish relationships with maker spaces and labs on campus to set up sources of recyclable materials. There will also be a lot of work to set up the workspace and create safety guidelines and operating procedures as well. Once these relationships and documents are developed most will only need to be updated infrequently. After this, the current employees would only have to spend the majority of their time on the day-to-day operations of the project, focusing on record-keeping, collecting recyclable materials, processing the materials into usable filaments, and redistributing the newly created materials. The more streamlined functionality of the project will allow more senior members to train new junior members. This will keep the project running even after the initial students' employees graduate. With only a small amount of funding to sustain employee salaries and operating costs, after establishment, the project will be able to carry on for many years to come even with student workers graduating. This would only cost about ~$1600/quarter (assuming $16/hour, 5hours/week, and 9weeks/quarter. This is expected to increase as Washington state minimum wage laws increase with the cost of living) to have two undergraduate students managing the equipment and outreach of the program after the initial 6-month initialization phase of the project. We will also submit this undergraduate position as a work-study position, applying for federal funding to help supplement the salary costs of the undergraduates working for this project. Assuming continued funding and generated income from the sale of the recycled materials, we will be able to continue this project so long as we can find willing participants for this project.

Environmental Problem:

Given the ubiquity of 3D printers on campus and the high amount of waste generated, this project seeks to create a small space where any office, classroom, or lab on campus can bring their excess/waste filament to be ground down, melted, and spooled into usable filament for future projects. Recycling the material on campus would reduce the amount of material that ended up in landfills and would also reduce the amount of new product that needed to be ordered. As the 3D filament is not commonly found in brick-and-mortar stores, all of it is purchased online (usually from Amazon) involving the manufacturing and shipping of all materials to campus. As this project will generate usable filament, we plan on giving back a portion of recycled material to donors to incentivize participation. All of the remaining filament generated will be donated or sold at a steep discount to groups on campus or in the community that may not be able to easily afford their own material. This would allow underrepresented and underprivileged groups to have the ability to become involved in 3D printing in cases where material cost may have been prohibitive.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Due to the nature of this project it will be easy to quantify the impact this project has on the environment. As previously mentioned, there are numerous sources of waste associated with 3D printing and because current, widely-available recycling focuses on commonly used plastic and 3D printed materials are commonly excluded. In fact Seattle Public Utilities publicly stated all 3D printed material should be thrown into the garbage and they would not be accepting them as compostables or recyclables. This project would be directly siphoning material out of the landfill and back into the production process. We will be able to quantify the amount of material saved from landfills by weighing the shredded material before it is recycled into usable filament. As more makerspaces and labs

Total amount requested from the CSF: $8,910
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


Project Budget
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Outreach Materials per quarter1004400
Recycling Materials per pound1050500
Project Manager Salary per quarter (assuming $25/hour, 5 hours/week, 9 weeks/quarter)112522250
Student Salary per quarter (assuming $16/hour, 5 hours/week, and 9 weeks/quarter)72085760

Non-CSF Sources:

non -CSF funding
SourceAward ($)/quarterQuantity
Work Study Funds5406
Project Completion Total: $8,910


Project Timeline
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Posting position, interviewing, hiring undergraduate student.1 quarter.August 21, 2020
Designing, ordering, posting outreach materials1 quarterAugust 21, 2020
Purchasing recycling materials2 weeksJuly 3, 2020
Establishment of project space and development of training/safety materials1 quarterAugust 21, 2020
Collecting and processing materials from Fall Quarter1 quarterDecember 11, 2020
Collecting and processing materials from Winter Quarter1 quarterMarch 12, 2021
Collecting and processing materials from Spring Quarter1 quarterJune 4, 2021