Plastics and 3D Printing Companies Leading Shift to Sustainability

Posted On June 11, 2021 By Nicole Hopper

Sustainable manufacturing has become an increasingly trending topic in the industry over the past few years. A recent study even found that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable product, a number that has increased over the past few years. With customers and legislation driving this trend, producers and sellers of consumer products are passing the sustainability requirement on to manufacturers.

One example of this shift is Ford, vowing to be carbon neutral by the year 2050, with sustainable practices such as re-using recycled 3D printing material for injection molded fuel-line clips in its Super Duty F-250 trucks and the introduction of its new F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup truck due next year.

As more and more companies embrace sustainability in production, manufacturers that offer sustainable practices set themselves ahead of competitors. Below we round up some innovative examples of companies in the plastics and 3D printing spaces leading this trend.

Garçon Wines’ flat bottle design
Garçon Wines’ flat bottle design took the top prize in the Plastics Industry Association sustainable design category. Photo courtesy:

Plastics Companies Driving Sustainability

In a sector not typically known for being particularly environmentally-friendly, the Plastics Industry Association recently recognized plastics companies modeling sustainable practices.

The Leadership Award, honoring the company with the best overall score, went to Chevron Phillips Chemical for its newly-developed Marlex Anew circular polyethylene. Produced through an advanced recycling process, Chevron Phillips was able to convert previously difficult-to-recycle plastic waste into a top-quality raw material. The company aims to produce one billion pounds of the material per year by 2030, diverting billions of pounds of material from the landfill.

Another notable company in the End-of-Life category is Digimarc Corp., recognized for its digital recycling passport, a digital watermark that helps increase the accuracy and efficiency of the recycling process. Digimarc is working with packaging company Paccor to apply the barcode to various products’ outer packaging through thermoforming, injection molding, and compression molding. Once added to the packaging, the barcode can be detected by a variety of devices to track its evolution and life cycle throughout recycling.

A couple consumer facing companies recognized include Ford Motor Co. for developing composite material from a byproduct of coffee roasting that would otherwise be discarded and Garçon Wines for its flat bottles made of recycled PET. Ford’s composite is 17% lighter and requires 25% less energy to produce compared to traditional materials, and Garçon’s bottles take up 40% less space compared to traditional bottles and are 100% recycled and recyclable.

Ford Super Duty F-250 fuel-line clips
Ford is recycling 3D printing plastic scraps into injection molded fuel-line clips. Photo courtesy: Ford

3D Printing Industry Poised for Sustainability Revolution

The 3D printing industry as a whole has been moving toward sustainable practices in recent years. According to a 2020 survey of global digital manufacturing and 3D printing companies by HP, nine out of 10 were investigating new and more sustainable supply chain models.

The nature of 3D printing as a manufacturing technique enables it to quickly adapt to fluctuating market demand and meet customer needs for sustainability as well as customization. One example of this is in the auto industry, where 3D printing supports shorter runs and adapting supply chains. Car manufacturers that embrace digital manufacturing are able to produce less material waste and energy consumption while allowing for more customization and design options.

3D printing also enables on-demand part replacement, rather than the need for warehouses with stockpiles of spare parts and can be used for part repair, extending the life of older models. As mentioned above, companies are also finding ways to recycle and reuse 3D printing scrap material, such as Ford’s F-250 fuel-line clips. In fact, the company is looking to expand this practice, identifying 10 other fuel-line clips on other vehicles suitable for the recycled material molding process and is working on mold designs for those parts next.

Sustainable Materials Replace Traditional Petrochemicals

Another up-and-comer in the manufacturing sustainability space is Origin.Bio, a synthetic biology company working to free manufacturers from dependency on petrochemicals. Most products people use today come from petrochemicals, which consume a lot of energy, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and generate excess waste during manufacturing. Reducing our dependency on these materials would mean changing the way products are made from the beginning of the production cycle.

This is where Origin.Bio is stepping in. The company is working to create raw materials inspired by nature that can be dropped into the manufacturing process across various industries. The synthetic microorganisms it is creating require less energy, produce less waste, and will be able to directly replace traditional petrochemical ingredients without requiring any changes to the manufacturing process.

"We are providing an alternative way of producing today's materials. We can create sustainable products with a lower carbon dioxide footprint. And this will give consumers around the globe the opportunity to make our planet better," said Jens Klein, founder and CEO of Origin.Bio. "We can change the world for the better by delivering sustainable ingredients for final products."

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