How 3D Printing Is Being Used to Help Nature

December 21, 2016

9:15 am

Every year, poachers slaughter thousands of animals. Many of these creatures are on the endangered list. To make things even worse, often times they’re killed for nothing more than a few body parts, like shark fins, teeth, gall bladders, and a variety of other parts that are used for dubious medical purposes.

Of course, the most known form of senseless mutilation revolves around animals such as elephants and rhinos, whose horns and tusks are extremely valuable. If you’ve ever seen video footage of the aftermath of these ‘harvesting’ efforts, you know how gruesome and depressing this whole process is. What you may not know is the role that 3D printing is playing in stopping it.

3D Printing Is Saving The Rhinos

The rhino is especially hit hard. Their horns fetch more money on the black market than cocaine or gold.  Sadly, socio political efforts have done little to fix this situation.

Fortunately, it looks like technology might just provide the solution that nothing else could. A company out of Seattle that specializes in bio-tech is using 3D printing to recreate rhino horns out of keratin. The founders of Pembient believe that by producing a genetic equivalent to a rhino horn, they will effectively put poachers out of business. Instead of taking on the risk and expense of dealing with criminals, artists will be able to legally purchase fabricated horns.

The company’s premise is based on the belief that it’s impossible to reduce demand for these horns. This is because creating carvings from them represents tribal traditions going back centuries. Selling these carvings is also an important source of income.

The Environmental Impact of 3D Printing Itself

Before exploring other startups that are doing awesome things with 3D printing, let’s consider the process involved in creating objects with this technology. The 3D printing process often uses plastics and it takes energy to successfully 3D print items.

However, FDM printing compared to SLA printing has a lower environmental impact than other technologies and a few companies have already shown how this technology could be used for recycling and up-cycling home junk. Now, let’s have a look on the other environmentally-friendly applications of this technology.

3D Printed Six Pack Rings

Saltwater Brewery, a Florida-based microbrewery, is doing something unique to combat the problem of traditional six pack rings harming marine life. The problem with the plastic rings is that they nearly always wind up in the ocean. There, they can suffocate, constrict, choke, or otherwise harm animals that ingest or become entangled in them.

To solve this problem, Saltwater Brewery 3D prints edible six pack rings out of byproducts created by the brewing process. The result is that what doesn’t break down can be consumed by ocean animals. This is more effective than current efforts, which involve adding chemicals in an attempt to make the rings photo-degradable, which is a good start but not very effective in the depths of the ocean.

Environmentally Friendly And Fair Trade Printer Filament

Protoprint is a startup that is trying to solve two important social issues. The first is that they are trying to improve living and working conditions for India’s waste pickers. The second is that they are trying to find an environmentally sustainable use for the plastic waste that litters India and other developing nations.

By forming a partnership with Swatch, Protoprint is using plastic waste collected by laborers to create 3D printer filament. Even better, they are paying workers sustainable, fair trade wages for their efforts. Consumers will also benefit as these filaments will be noticeably less expensive.


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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien