3D Printer Material Recycling Program

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $7,500

Letter of Intent:



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. 

Advancements in manufacturing technologies have allowed 3D printers to literally become household items, making them relatively inexpensive rapid prototyping devices for engineering, research, and teaching purposes. This has made them incredibly common on UW’s campus, as they can be found in many classrooms, engineering spaces, and laboratories across disciplines. This invaluable resource has come with a significant environmental drawback as a large amount of the material (known as filament) used to create 3D prints is wasted in the process of creating a final print. Three sources of waste in the 3D printing process are the high rates of print failure, extra filament left on spools, and the extraneous material needed to support prints (known as scaffolding). Although in theory all used-material can be reheated and used again, this excess or wasted material is almost always in practice thrown away as recycling is not ubiquitously available, requires high upfront costs/long wait on returns, or can not be refurbished at an appropriate quality.

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 respooled 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 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 incentivise 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.

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.

In order to give back to the community the members of this project will not only be involved in all of the aforementioned tasks 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. 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. Not only will we be able to educate people about the recycling opportunities associated with 3D printing, but our donations of filaments to makerspaces and libraries will improve education about 3D printing to a wider audience.

As founder of this project, Lydia Smith Ph.D. (lab manager in Amy Orsborn’s Lab), will be the project manager and in charge of purchasing materials, selling/donating recycled material, and organizing/managing students involved in this project. She has extensive experience with 3D printing as well as mentoring undergraduate students. There are also several makerspaces on campus with staff that are proficient and well versed in 3D printing who can be called upon for expertise. Initially we will include a line item  paying for at most 5 hours/week for Lydia to be the project manager, but as more students join the project, the amount of time required will lessen. Given that this project has the ability to generate a small amount of revenue, we would be able to help support student workers throughout the year.


Purchase initial equipment for recycling materials: Weeks 1-2.

Begin recycling material (we have a stockpile to start): Week 3.

Get approval for posting: Week 3.

Post outreach materials: Week 4.

Begin collecting donations: Week 5.

Distributing recycled material. Week 9.


Budget ($7500):

Initial Equipment for Recycling materials: $2000

Outreach materials: $1000

Project manager salary: ($25/hour, 5 hours/week, 10 weeks) $1300

Student help salaries: ($16/hour, 5 hours/week, 10 weeks/quarter, 4 quarters) $3200

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Lydia Smith