Gartner Analyst Nick Jones postulates banning consumer 3D printers in the future due to environmental concerns. He suspects we'll accumulate vast piles of non-biodegradable plastic bits, much like we accumulate paper today that comes from our 2D paper printers. Jones:
But as one of my clients pointed out yesterday, do we really want an affordable domestic fabber? Fabbers will likely “print” objects using some form of plastic. So the inevitable consequence of mass market fabbing will be a huge increase in the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste clogging up the planet for hundreds of years into the future. Should we maybe ban fabbers before the problem arises? Like most problems there are solutions, like biodegradable plastic. But if we wait until all the problems with a technology are solved before we permit it, then we will waste a decade or two of potential value; and in any case there’s no way we can predict all the social and environmental issues associated with a new technology before it arrives.
We agree that there is no way to predict the future, but that's how innovation occurs: let people find the new paths through new technology. As for plastic, many 3D printers do print in various forms of plastic, but as Fabbaloo readers may recall, there are experiments or even commercially released processes using non-plastic materials, such as metal, glass or ceramics. Other 3D printing also involve biodegradable material such as paper, wax, rubber, sugar, pasta, nutella or even living cells! A prime example of environmentally friendly (and inexpensive) 3D printing is MCOR's paper-based 3D printer.
While the big commercial 3D printing manufacturers focus on exotic print materials, smaller projects try pretty much anything in their devices. And they are the ones who will identify the environmentally friendly solutions.