Impact of 3D Printing on the Environment

When it comes to production, the human impact on nature and the environment is on sharp focus. As a result, we have seen the rise of vegetarianism, electric cars, green energy and other initiatives.

Global warming, pollution of the world’s oceans, garbage dumps, and the extinction of some animal species or even entire ecosystems are critical subjects to be tackled. If nothing is done today, then in a few decades, it is unlikely that the environment would not have its natural greatness.

3D printing can be used to solve global problems and conserve the ecosystems of our still green planet.

Let’s look at the impact of 3D printing on the environment.

3D Printing Environmental Impact

Eco-friendly production

3D printers make manufacturing more environmentally friendly. Using 3D printing instead of traditional manufacturing methods helps to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing air emissions

Smoke, debris, carbon gases, and toxic fumes are common companions of traditional production methods. These emissions can be significantly reduced or eliminated by using 3D printers in production.

Mass Production vs 3D Printing

At first glance, it seems that small batch production is less harmful to nature than single 3D printing part productior. However, this is not entirely true. Academic engineer, Joshua Pearce, and his colleagues traced the life cycle of three household items – an orange juicer, parts from a children’s designer and a downpipe segment.

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Joshua Pearce – Scientist at Michigan Technological University USA

From his research, the production of such ordinary household items consumes a huge amount of resources. There is energy consumption in the extraction of raw materials, their processing, production, storage and delivery to the end consumer.

Stamping or casting is usually used in mass production. After that, plastic scraps are left behind..

3D printing can significantly reduce the production chain and energy costs by about 40-60%. After all, the printing does not require delivery (provided that the client has his own printer). You simply need to send a digital 3D model to the printer.

The resulting print models can be more accurate and have less plastic waste. A 3D printer can even make hollow or lattice parts that are technically impossible to mass-produce through casting or molding.

Reduced Fuel Consumption

More vehicle manufacturers are beginning to develop electric motors. New and affordable electric vehicles are emerging, and the infrastructure for servicing electrical equipment is developing. Many countries aim to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the near future.

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Strati 3D printed electric car

Phasing out fossil fuels in the next few decades is difficult. However, 3D printing is helping to reduce the amount of fuel consumed. This is achieved thanks to the reduction in weight of both the machine and the mechanical components of the internal combustion engine (internal combustion engine).

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Engine hood hinge, on the left, 3D printed and on the right, in sheet metal

Eco-Friendly Production

3D printing helps to reduce industrial emissions and implement new ideas. When you own a 3D printer, you can print an object with eco-friendly materials. This helps to mitigate climate change.

Eco-friendly glasses

Disposable plastic cups are a headache for environmentalists around the world. According to statistics, the average person uses a plastic cup for 15 minutes. For the cup to decompose in a garbage dump, it will take 400 to 450 years.

The properties of plastics make them difficult to replace, especially in the food industry. However, some enthusiasts are trying to do it. For example. Jun Aizaki thinks he can solve this problem with a pumpkin.

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HyO-Cups or Natural Cups

Early man adapted and started using bottle gourd as water reservoirs. Today, you can shape your growing pumpkin into almost any shape thanks to 3D printed shapes,

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Jug-shaped gourd

Animal Health

3D printers are also used in animal health. In addition to medical uses, such as making prostheses, 3D printing helps to preserve and restore entire ecosystems.

Animal Dentures

The biggest challenge in creating animal prosthetics is coming up with miniature but lightweight and precise prosthesis. This is sometimes impossible to do manually or with other methods. And this is where 3D printing comes in.

Let’s look at some examples.

Curano the Cat

Curano lived a full life for 9 years, delighting his owners, until he got cancer. His owners did their best to save him and although the cancer receded, Curano’s hind left leg was badly damaged. Amputating the leg could create new problems. The best option was to replace the kneecap with an implant.

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The miniature implant was 3D printed from a cobalt-chromium alloy using DMLS (Direct Laser Sintering) technology. Manufacturing by any other means was impossible because the implant had to be miniature, durable, and repeat the complex relief for high-quality integration into the bone.

Holly Horse

Holly is a 10-year-old mare with laminitis.

Laminitis is a cloven-hoofed disease caused by poor circulation in the hoof plates. Due to laminitis, Holly experienced severe pain in her legs when walking or standing.

Veterinarian Luke Wells-Smith had heard of successful attempts to make custom titanium horseshoes for racing horses.

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Horseshoes made of titanium on a 3D printer

The guys from the Australian National Science Center were imbued with Holly’s misfortune and decided to help. In collaboration with an equine podiatrist, special horseshoes were created for Holly. The horseshoes made it possible to lighten the hoof and more evenly distribute the load on the legs.

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Holly’s hoof scan

The new shoes helped Holly to start not only walking pain-free, but also running.

Sea turtle Akut

A collision with a boat’s propeller was unfortunate for Akut-3 sea turtle. Most of the upper and lower jaws of the turtle were missing. This meant an almost guaranteed slow death for the turtle. However, she was lucky.

The turtle was found by the “Research Center for Turtle Research and Rehabilitation”. The company contacted the Turkish company Btech, which specializes in medical 3D printing, for help. Btech was able to scan and manufacture the missing titanium Akut jaw.

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3D-model of the prosthesis for the Akut on the left and the finished prosthesis on the right

The surgeons managed to implant a titanium jaw in the turtle and after successful rehabilitation, it was released into nature.

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Turtle with an installed prosthesis

Land turtle Cleopatra

Nikola Novelli picked up a small land turtle whose shell had thinned and deformed due to improper nutrition. Nicola named the turte “Cleopatra” as the shell had the shape of a pyramid. If the shell cracked, then Cleopatra could die from infection.

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The deformed, pyramid-shaped carapace of Cleopatra

Nicola approached Colorado Tech with a request to make a prosthesis for Cleopatra. Researchers from a university and a 3D printing company in Denver scanned and fabricated a shell plate made from polylactide, a biodegradable, biocompatible polymer. Due to the complex working of the carapace, the model had to be printed in parts.

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Cleopatra with carapace

Since Cleopatra is still a teenager and will grow with age, she will have to periodically change her “prosthesis”.

Houses for hermit crabs

In the wild, it’s dangerous to be small and weak. However, hermit crabs have adapted to use empty shells of gastropods as a reliable shelter.

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Hermit crabs

Due to pollution of beaches, many hermit crabs are in search of new “houses”. However, during the search, some fall into death traps from plastic bags, bottles, canisters and die. On the flipside, natural shelters are becoming less and less. Hermit crabs have to use plastic trash as house, which is not suitable for this.

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Hermit crabs use trash as a home

Some environmental enthusiasts are trying to help the crustaceans by making a worthy replacement house for them. For example, employees of MakerBot created Project Shellter, where they invited anyone who wants to design a 3D model of a hermit crab shelter. The best works are 3D printed and cancer tested.

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From concept to implementation of 3D printed crayfish houses

Moving on, inspired by the idea of a peaceful exchange of land between countries, Japanese artist Aki Yamomata implemented a project of printed transparent houses for hermit crabs in the form of small towns.

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Cancer in a new home made on a photopolymer printer

To make the new inhabitants like the houses, the tomographic images of the shells, modified in a 3D editor, were considered. Finished models are made from transparent resin on a resin printer.

Conservation and Maintenance of Ecosystems

In addition to prosthetics, 3D printing helps to slow-down or prevent some environmental disasters. This can give scientists more time to understand the reasons and reach out to people.

Let’s look at some examples.

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the largest and oldest coral reef in the world. The reef is so huge that it can be seen from space. It’s surface area is about 344,400 square kilometers. Corals are home to many species of fish and other marine life.

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Great Barrier Reef from space

However, despite its gigantic size, the Great Barrier Reef is threatened with extinction. The endosymbiotic algae, which give the coral a bright color, are slowly becoming extinct due to rising water temperatures, pollution of the world’s oceans and climate change.

Scientists at the University of Sydney are using 3D scanning technologies and 3D printing to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. A detailed map of the reef was built using 3D scanning. With it, you can track and predict the most vulnerable spots.

Scientists use a3D printers to make various structures that can support the Great Barrier Reef. For example, the scientists have printed sections that are home to algae-eating fish that kill corals. Previously, special blocks or prepared, sunken ships were used for this purpose. 3D printing makes it possible to simulate the natural structure of the reef more accurately.

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Artificial reef from a mixture of sand concrete

Reconstruction of Dead Ecosystems

Scientists plan to use 3D printing technologies not only to maintain existing ecosystems, but also restore those that have disappeared. According to the latest data, about a third of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed.

Thanks to 3D printing, there is a chance to rectify the situation. Using Modular Artificial Reef Structures (MARS) technology, scientists are trying to implement 3D printed structures that could be home to reefs.

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Artificial “reef” on the left – recently installed, on the right – after some time

Such block designs are easy to install. No cranes or other equipment is required for them to blocks to be immersed and installed. Several divers can deliver the structures to the bottom in separate blocks. Each block has hollow sections filled with reinforcement and special concrete for durability.

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Installed modular system

One of the largest 3D printed “coral reefs” has already been placed in the Maldives.

Waste Reduction

In addition to restoring ecosystems, it is necessary to reduce household waste emissions. Here, 3D printing becomes invaluable.

Let’s look at some examples.

Cora Ball

Cora Ball is the development of the Rozalia Project. The Cora Ball is a small plastic ball that collects microfibers that come from our clothes during washing. In the ocean, these microparticles can be eaten by fish and other animals.

When Cora ball is in the ocean, dirt and fibers that may have entered the water bodies are trapped in the bin.

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Cora Ball prototype

Mass production of Cora Ball was planned to be done by molding. However, the first batches and prototypes of the Cora Ball were made on a 3D printer.

Second life of broken things

Any machine will wear out and fail over time. In some cases, you can make a small plastic part to restore the machine to work. Therefore, thanks to 3D printing, many items can be restored to keep working. This means they do not end up in a landfill to further pollute the planet.

RC machine

Radio-controlled cars are not only children’s toys. Many adults love playing and tinkering with them as a hobby

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RC machine

RC machines have one main weak point; the plastic suspension. You can almost always find spare parts for expensive replica models. However, spares are not easy to find for rare or Chinese models.

Instead of throwing away an almost working toy, you can make a broken part piece on a 3D printer. When modeling, you can even increase the strength of the part by adding stiffeners in the weak points.

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Rear hub RC car in 1/18 scale

Some enthusiasts print the chassis entirely on a 3D printer. This allows you to easily replace broken elements and quickly modify and correct design flaws.

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3D printed RC car chassis

The second life of the grinder

Even such seemingly sturdy things like metal grinders can break, especially the parts that do not bear a strong load.

Clamping nut for a meat grinder made on a 3D printer
3D-printed clamping nut for a meat grinder

You can 3D print a replacement for almost any plastic part (e.g., a blender gear, a plastic washing machine handle, etc.) using a wide range of materials.

Sometimes, you may have an old or rare device whose original spare parts may no longer be manufactured by the manufacturer. Such parts can be 3D printed, and this will give the device more years of life instead of ending up in a landfill.

Car Seal

Sometimes a small, penny piece may break in an important node. However, the manufacturer may be selling the necessary spare part only as an assembly. This means you will have to not only overpay for the necessary part, but also throw away the unnecessary, almost working mechanism.

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Washer nozzle for Toyota Avensis – 3D printed on the left, original on the right

In such a case, a 3D printer can help you. The device can make a spare part that is difficult or impossible to get (e.g., when a part is no longer produced, cannot be found, or the delivery will cost more than the part itself).

Green Energy

The transition to green energy is an important step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Wind Energy

Wind power is a renewable and clean source of energy. Despite some drawbacks (inconstancy of wind strength and therefore uneven generation of electricity), it is promising for some countries. For example, in 2019, Denmark used wind turbines to generate 48% of the electricity consumed.

There are several options for wind turbines. These include those with a vertical axis of rotation and those with a horizontal one.

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The main types of wind turbines

Vertical-axial wind generators have a lower efficiency than horizontal-axial ones. However, they can only be used when the wind speed is more than 6 m/s.

Home wind generator

In many parts of the world, the use of green energy sources is not very popular due to their high vost. 3D printing helps enthusiasts to design and create low-cost models of wind turbines.

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Homemade wind turbine made using 3D printing

It may not be practical to use a wind generator in an apartment building. However, in a country house, the generators come handy in case of a power outtage.

Optimizing the production of wind turbines

Industrial wind turbines are large, complex machines.

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Industrial wind turbine blade

It can be difficult to correctly calculate all parameters using only 3D modeling techniques. However, you can 3D print a miniature copy of a wind turbine and test it in a wind tunnel. This way, you can optimize and refine the design to make the wind generators more efficient.

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A prototype turbine wind turbine is being tested in a wind tunnel

Some companies also 3D print wind turbine towers. For example, GE Renewable Energy, COBOD (3D printing specialists) and LafargeHolcim (manufacturer of cement and other building materials) have teamed up to develop the world’s tallest wind turbine towers. This will reduce the cost of installing wind turbines and make them higher (200 meters instead of 100) than other materials.

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3D printed wind turbine tower

Generally, the higher the wind generator, the more electricity it can generate per year. For example, a 5 MW turbine at an altitude of 80 meters will generate approximately 15.1 GWh per year. The same turbine at an altitude of 160 meters generates about 20.2 GWh per year, which is 30% more.

Solar energy

Solar energy is obtained using special panels consisting of photovoltaic cells. Various physical and chemical processes take place on the photovoltaic cells under the influence of sunlight.

There are several types of solar cells. These include monocrystalline, polycrystalline, amorphous (flexible, film), among others.

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In some countries, solar panels are not very common due to the unprofitable use in high latitudes.

Development is currently underway to produce 3D printed panels. However, solar 3D printing is mainly used to print prototypes and panel accessories.

Solar Panel Accessories

FORTY2 is a portable solar panel with enough power for laptop power, lighting, etc. The solar panel was created by Peppermint Energy, which is based in South Dakota.

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An industrial Stratasys printer was used to 3D print the prototype accessories . Thanks to 3D printing, it was possible to quickly produce several functional prototypes of the case and remove all the flaws.

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For example, the first version of FORTY was too bulky and inconvenient to transport. The original design has been greatly simplified. The use of a 3D printer has reduced production costs by about $250,000.


Most renewable energy sources (solar, wind, etc.) are volatile. Electricity obtained in this way needs to be “stabilized”, i.e., stored in batteries.

With renewable energy sources, water is more predictable. However, industrial hydroelectric power plants have several disadvantages, e.g., flood risk, desertification, human migration, etc. On the other hand, small hydro generators do not have the shortcomings of their industrial counterparts nor a large devastating effect on the environment.

Vortex turbine

Turbulent, a Belgian startup, is trying to create a compact hydro generator that can provide electricity for 1-2 private houses. Once completed, the generator will help residents in remote areas that are not in the power grid to have electricity from streams or small rivers.

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Turbulent hydro generator prototype

To make the turbine more accessible and cheaper, 3D printing was chosen as a manufacturing method. According to statistics, 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity grids. Moreover, many people have constant power outages and are forced to use other energy sources (for example, gasoline / diesel generators) that are not environmentally friendly.

River Turbine

Ted Christopher has spent several years developing a prototype for a river turbine capable of generating electricity without affecting the environment. The result of his development was the Volturn system, named after the god of the river in Greek mythology.

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The Volturn has a horizontal design that generates energy and deflects river debris such as rocks, plants or logs.

The prototype was 3D printed and tested in local rivers. 5 turbines united into a single system will be able to provide electricity to about 40 houses.

Recycling Plastics

The properties of plastic make it both a savior and a curse for the environment in the modern world. Plastic products are lightweight and durable. You do not need to spend a lot of time to manufacture them. However, not all types of plastics can be recycled. On average, a plastic product can take from 400 to 700 years to decompose. Unfortunately, plastics rot in landfills and also pollute nature and the world’s oceans.

Filament reuse

During 3D printing, plastic debris is left behind. These could be model supports or broken items that went wrong during printing.

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Unsuccessful 3D printing

However, used plastic can be shredded, mixed with fresh pellets and reused (if the plastic is not biodegradable). In this case, 3D printing becomes virtually waste-free.

On the Internet, there are tutorials on how to make your own filament from wasted filament. You can use a a self-assembly machine, partially printed on a 3D printer, to recycle filament from an unsuccessful print.

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Home Self-Assembling Filament Making Machine

Alternatively, you can buy a ready-made filament making machine. Plastic granules are also available online.

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Home Filament Making Machine

Filament from plastic bottles

In addition to recycling used filament, you can even print from plastic bottles.

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Homemade machine for making filament from plastic bottles

About 100 million plastic bottles are used and discarded everyday around the world. Only 20% of the bottles are recycled or reused. A plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose!

Using plastic bottles as a material for a 3D printer will give them new life in the form of useful things for the home.

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Bottle printed coil
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Gear, printed on a 3D printer from a “bottle”

One bottle makes from 15 to 30 grams of plastic filament.


3D printers still have a long way to go to become truly eco-friendly. However, even now, despite their imperfect technology, they can help to reduce environmental pollution.

Today, many good deeds are being done thanks to 3D printing. For instance, the technology help to improve production technologies, reduce the amount of emissions into the atmosphere, and try to restore the fragile natural balance.

However, keep in mind that a 3D printer is just a tool. It is up to use to determine whether we’ll continue filling landfills with unnecessary plastic waste.

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