Can You Recycle PLA Filament? Is PLA Biodegradable Too?

PLA filament is made from plant-based materials, which means it can be recycled. However, there are a few things you need to know about recycling PLA filament before you get started. In this blog post, we will discuss the basics of recycling & composting of PLA filament and provide tips on how to make the process as easy as possible. Let’s get started!

3D printing is an incredible technology that has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. However, one of the drawbacks of 3D printing is that it generates a lot of waste. Much of this waste ends up in landfills, where it can take thousands of years to decompose.

However, can you recycle PLA filament? Is PLA biodegradable? Let’s see the details of it

Can You Recycle PLA filament / Is PLA recyclable?

Although PLA is regarded as a recyclable material, recycling PLA can be more difficult than recycling other types of plastic. This is because PLA has a lower melting point than other plastics. As a result, recycling centers may have difficulty processing PLA.

There are 2 different ways of recycling PLA filament: one is to send the residual PLA waste to recycling plant, or make a new filament by grinding it up.

Neither of these methods is perfect, but they both offer a way to recycle PLA instead of sending it to landfill. With increasing awareness of the need to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, it is likely that more innovative methods of recycling PLA will be developed in the future. In the meantime, we can all do our part by ensuring that our PLA products are properly recycled.

Polylactic Acid Plastic, or PLA, is a type of plastic that is derived from plant starch. Because it is derived from plants, many people assume that PLA is biodegradable and recyclable.

You may be half right. However, in order to recycle PLA, it must be sent to a specialized facility that is equipped to handle PLA plastic. PLA cannot be recycled through traditional means by throwing into some pit and wait for it get recycled.

Let’s go through the process of how PLA recycling will happen and what should you do with your failed PLA ugly prints.

PLA Recycling: How To Do it?

PLA, or polylactic acid, is a type of thermoplastic that can be recycled. Thermoplastics are plastics that melt once they reach a certain temperature and become pliable. This means that virtually any thermoplastic can be recycled.

Once a product made from PLA reaches the end of its useful life, it can be recycled just like any other thermoplastic. The recycling process begins with sorting, in which the PLA is separated from other types of plastic. The issue arises during this stage, because PLA cannot be distinguished from PET plastic.

In case of recycling PLA and PET together, the overall strength and resale value may get affected for the recycled plastic.

As a result, extensive research is being conducted to develop new ways to sort PLA from other types of plastic. Some of the methods are in the evolution phase such as infrared spectroscopy, which can quickly and accurately identify PLA by its distinctive chemical signature. With further development, this and other methods could help to ensure that PLA is properly recycled and doesn’t end up as pollution.

While the above methods are in the evolution phase, what should one do with his/her failed PLA plastics?

Make Use Of Material Recovery Facility (MRF):

Your best bet is to send failed PLA plastics to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). MRFs are designed to intermediate the process of sorting and selling recyclable materials to manufacturers for future productions. This helps to ensure that PLA doesn’t end up in landfills where it can take centuries to break down.

To find a local MRF that can take your PLA, simply do a quick Google search. You may also be able to find a facility by contacting your city or county’s recycling department. Once you’ve found a facility, just give them a call and inquire about recycling PLA.

You may also be able to recycle PLA yourself if you’re feeling crafty. There are a few different ways to do this, but one popular method is recycle PLA using filament extruder as below:

Using Filament Extruder to Recycle PLA:

As we already discussed, thermoplastics can be melted down and reformed, while thermosets remain in a permanent solid state. This makes thermoplastics ideal for 3D printing, as failed prints can simply be melted down and reused. As a result, failed parts made from thermoplastics can be recycled and reused, rather than being thrown away.

However, this process does require the purchase or construction of a filament extruder like Filastruder. While an initial investment, an extruder pays for itself over time by dramatically reducing the cost of filament that you buy.

In addition, it offers users the flexibility to experiment with different colors and materials, as well as the ability to create custom-sized filaments. Overall, investing in a filament extruder is a wise choice for any serious 3D printer.

Recycling PLA: Advantages

Recycling PLA has a number of advantages, both for the environment and for your wallet.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of recycling PLA is that it reduces the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills. Since PLA is made from renewable resources, it can be broken down and used again without causing any harm to the environment.

Save Money:

Recycling PLA can save you money in the long run. Buying a filament extruder may require an initial investment, but over time you will make back that money and then some by not having to buy new PLA filament all the time.

Ensure to keep the different filament types as separate and don’t ever mix them together. Ex: You can melt all PLA filaments together and all ABS plastics together separately.

Just make sure to keep all the PLA filaments that you will be recycling together, and group them by filament type to avoid accidentally mixing them when making new filament.

Flexible Color Options:

One of the benefits of recycling PLA filament is that it opens up a wide range of color options for your prints. By melting down and extruding a combination of differently colored PLA filaments, you can create some interesting color combinations. This can be especially useful if you want to achieve a specific color for your print.

Recycling PLA: Disadvantages

PLA plastic Recycling can come with some disadvantages as below:

Higher Initial Setup Cost:

The initial cost of setting up a recycling process can be higher than simply buying new PLA filament. In order to recycle PLA, you need to invest in a filament extruder and learn how to operate it. This can be a costly investment upfront, especially if you don’t print often.

Compromised Material Strength:

The process of recycling PLA can lower the material’s strength. Unless the process is done perfectly, the recycled PLA might not be as strong as virgin PLA. This is something to consider if you plan on using recycled PLA for functional prints.

This means that warping and print failure are more likely, especially if you are trying to print with recycled PLA that has already been used. In addition, PLA is not as heat-resistant as other plastics, so it can be difficult to recycle PLA without losing some of its properties.

That’s why I recommend to send your failed PLA’s to a professional recycler who knows the stuff or get yourself a good filament extruder machine.

So, is PLA biodegradable? The answer is a little complicated. Because it’s made from plants, people often assume that PLA is biodegradable. Let’s see

Is PLA Biodegradable?

Is PLA biodegradable? The answer is technically yes, but with a few caveats. Unlike traditional plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, PLA is considered to be a more environmentally friendly option.

However, PLA is not naturally biodegradable. This means that it cannot be broken down by bacteria or other organisms in the environment.

In order to decompose, PLA requires specific conditions, such as high temperatures and specific chemical ratios. These conditions can only be found in industrial composting facilities.

As a result, while PLA may be technically compostable, it is not naturally biodegradable. This means that it should not be placed in traditional home compost bins. Instead, PLA should be disposed of in special industrial composting facilities in order to ensure that it breaks down properly.

Can You Compost PLA at Your Home?

Home composting of PLA is not possible because the process of decomposition occurs only under conditions of high temperature and pressure. The microorganisms that break down PLA require these conditions in order to function properly.

Additionally, home compost bins do not generate enough heat to reach the temperatures required for PLA decomposition. As a result, PLA will not break down in a home compost bin and will eventually end up in landfill.

The truth is that PLA can be biodegraded only by an industrial composting plant. Some commercial composters might not even accept PLA due to the fact that the right conditions are very hard to come by and not all companies want to risk contaminating their other compostable materials. 

Therefore, it is important to dispose PLA responsibly in order to avoid contributing to pollution.

PLA Composting:

PLA plastic is a type of biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. While PLA plastic can be composted in industrial composting facilities, it can also be composted at home with the right conditions.

To compost PLA plastic at home, you will need to create a bin or pile that is at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. The bin should be filled with garden waste like leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps. To help the PLA plastic break down, you will need to add a source of nitrogen like manure or food scraps. The bin should be turned every few days to aerate the compost and help speed up the breakdown process. With proper care, your PLA plastic should fully compost within 6-8 weeks.

Why is it preferable to send PLA plastic to a dedicated composting site?

There are a few reasons why you might want to consider sending your PLA plastic to a dedicated composting site.

First, professional composting facilities have the right conditions to break down PLA quickly and efficiently. The right temperature and ratio of plastic to organic matter can lead to PLA breaking down in just one month.

Second, dedicated composting sites have the capacity to handle large volumes of PLA plastic. This is important because even small amounts of impurities can contaminate traditional recyclables like paper and cardboard. By sending PLA to a dedicated facility, you can be sure that it will be properly processed without contaminating other materials.

Finally, many dedicated composting sites offer drop-off services, which can be more convenient than hauling your PLA to the curb on garbage day. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to send your PLA plastic to a dedicated composting site depends on your local options and preferences. However, for many people, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

PLA Recycling & Composting: Which is better?

PLA does not break down as quickly as other biodegradable plastics, such as compostable plastics. For this reason, many people believe that recycling PLA is a better option than composting it.

When PLA is recycled, it can be turned into new filament for 3D printers. This process uses less energy than manufacturing new PLA filament from scratch. In addition, recycling PLA helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Composting PLA, on the other hand, does not recycle the material back into new filament. Instead, the PLA will eventually break down into carbon dioxide and water vapor. While this is not harmful to the environment, it is not as beneficial as recycling PLA.

Overall, recycling PLA is a more environmentally friendly option than composting PLA. Recycling PLA helps to reduce energy consumption and landfill waste, while also providing a new source of filament for 3D printers.

Some studies have also indicated that recycling PLA has less environmental impact by 50 times as compared to composting PLA.

Also, PLA can only be recycled a few times before it begins to degrade, so it is not always the most sustainable choice. But what if there was a way to recycle PLA infinitely?

The way is to use the filament extruder. A filament extruder is a machine that melts down plastic pellets and extrudes them into filament, which can then be used in a 3D printer. This means that you can recycle your own PLA waste into new filament, essentially recycling it infinitely.

Not only is this more sustainable than simply throwing away PLA waste, but it is also much cheaper in the long run. So if you care about the environment and your wallet, be sure to consider investing in a filament extruder.

How to Reduce the 3D Printing Wastage?

3D printing is a versatile technology that has numerous applications, from prototyping to manufacturing.  However, the process is not without its waste products. In fact, a typical 3D print job can generate a significant amount of plastic waste. However, there are still some ways to further reduce waste when 3D printing.

Re-Check the Printing Settings:

Any 3D printing enthusiast would be all too familiar with the frustration of a failed print job. Not only is it disheartening to see hours of work go down the drain, but it can also be expensive if you’re using premium filaments.

In many cases, these failures can be traced back to poor printing settings. By taking the time to double-check your settings before starting a print, you can avoid the plastic wastage.

Some of the most common problems that can arise from poor printing settings include stringing, over- or under-extrusion, poor bed adhesion, warping, and many others. In some cases, it might be necessary to experiment with different settings to find what works best for your printer and filament.

However, there are also a few general tips that can help to prevent these issues. For example, make sure that your extruder is properly calibrated and that your build plate is level. You should also ensure that your filament is being fed smoothly and at the correct rate.

Use fewer supports

Another way to reduce waste is to use fewer supports. Supports are typically only needed for overhangs or bridges, so reducing the number of these features in a design can help to reduce the amount of material used.

Use Brims Than Rafts:

Consider using a brim instead of a raft. Rafts are great for ensuring adherence to the build plate, but they can add a lot of unnecessary material. Some 3D printers have the ability to print with brim instead of a raft. This can help to improve adhesion and prevent warping, while also using less material.

Conclusion

So don’t get fascinated by words such as PLA is “environmentally friendly” or “PLA is biodegradable”; they are not as easy as they thought. PLA “composting” and “recycling” doesn’t happen automatically.

It’s our responsibility to recycle PLA to make the new filament again or hand it over to the recycling plant. Similarly, composting to be done under the jurisdiction of dedicated composting plants rather than your backyard.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Enable registration in settings - general