While we like to think additive manufacturing is more sustainable than its traditional counterpart, plastic prints are not exactly earth-friendly. One Canadian company, Printearth, hopes to change that. Started by Phil Chiasson in Ottawa, Printearth intends to offer an improved compostable PLA material called Earthplastic which will degrade more readily than the bioplastic PLA filaments currently on the market. And in an effort to expand its product line, the company is also working to develop a starch-based alternative that degrades in both water and soil. Printearth plans to begin local manufacturing and distribution soon.
Personally, I would love to see a grass-based plastic filament since starch-based products often compete with food sources. Every time, I see newly cut grass, I think it is such a waste. Apparently, I'm not alone...
Metabolix presented a paper last year that described its progress in "genetically engineering switchgrass to produce a biodegradable polymer that can be extracted directly from the plant... Metabolix already sells such a polymer, but it’s produced by bacteria that feed on plant sugars in expensive fermenters. A plant-based process, which could use crops grown on marginal lands, would require less equipment."
This achievement should reduce current prices considerably and encourage wider adoption. Hopefully any breakthroughs would be quickly adapted for use in 3D printing.