Polymaker’s latest innovation isn’t in thermoplastic chemistry, but is instead in packaging.
In a brief announcement this week, the company stated:
“After releasing PolyTerra PLA on cardboard packaging earlier this year, we received many compliments from our customers praising our efforts to be eco-friendlier. Many customers loved our new cardboard spool both for its usability and disposability.
To further our efforts and establish a consistent brand image that contributes more on environmental protection, we decided to upgrade the whole Polymaker range from plastic spools onto cardboard spools!”
This is a significant move, but perhaps not in the way you might think. After all, there have been plenty of attempts to use cardboard spools in the past by other companies.
I’ve used cardboard spools and while I’ve appreciated the environmental thinking behind the move, cardboard spools’ performances were often lacking.
Typically standard box cardboard would be used for the walls of the spool, and they are almost always not strong enough to withstand the handling a spool must undergo.
Sure, standard box cardboard can hold a coil of filament from falling off, but can it withstand being tossed into the spool storage bin without bending or breaking? What if the spool is mostly used? Is the cardboard strong enough? In my experience, the answer was almost always, “No”.
Polymaker seems to have taken a very different approach. Rather than slapping together cheap cardboard, they’ve designed a highly sophisticated “cardboard” spool that hits all the functionality marks.
First, there’s the strength. This is not made from the cardboard you’d expect. Instead it’s a 4mm thick “pressed and die-cut” sheet. This is fantastically stronger than common cardboard and should be able to easily withstand the bumps and crashes spools must endure.
Beyond the strength, Polymaker has included a number of other useful functions into the spool design.
One is a weight gauge. The spool face has a slot where you can see the remaining filament and measure it against a weight-estimating scale.
Another feature is the on-spool labeling. A QR code takes you to a page with all the specifications for the specific material, and there’s an easily-read consistent label for the product type.
A label might sound not particularly innovative, but in fact many filament providers paste information about the product only on the container box, and not on the spool itself. I can tell you from experience that the box tends to go missing or get mixed up, and then you have no idea what’s actually on the spool. Labeling should ALWAYS be on the spool.
This change, along with the use of cardboard container boxes, makes the Polymaker product nearly 100% recyclable: (some) filaments, box and spool are in theory recyclable.
In practical terms, the new spool design can be tossed into normal paper & cardboard recycling processes, making it a no-brainer to use.
The switch will not happen instantaneously. Polymaker explains:
“We are phasing in the new packaging while using up our plastic spools to save resources and avoid waste. This notification aims to avoid any confusion for our customers and we cannot guarantee which packaging you will receive during our transition stage. What we can guarantee is that you will receive the same high-quality filament that you expect from Polymaker.”
Polymaker has long been innovative in their filament products, and now they’re also leading the way in packaging. I’m hoping other filament producers take note and begin switching their spools to more recyclable alternatives.