Compared to the traditional methods of producing with plastic, such as injection molding, 3D printing is a much more efficient method in terms of the plastic waste created, making it perhaps the most environmentally friendly way of utilizing plastic for production.
On the other hand, even with 3D printing being one of the manufacturing methods that contribute less to the plastic waste, showing some extra effort to ensure that the waste we produce in our 3D printing journey is always the smallest possible amount is the least we can do to protect the environment, especially considering that it doesn’t take much.
In today’s article, we will be talking about ABS plastic in specific, which is a material that is commonly used to produce 3D printing filament, and find out whether it’s a recyclable and biodegradable plastic that does not contribute to the plastic waste of the world.
So, is ABS a recyclable and biodegradable type of plastic?
ABS, like any other thermoplastic, is indeed a recyclable type of plastic, meaning that it’s entirely possible to melt it to its liquid form, cool it down, and reheat it for a new use case without changing its chemical composition.
On the other hand, recyclable doesn’t always mean biodegradable, and in the case of ABS, this statement holds true, meaning that natural microorganisms are not capable of decomposing ABS over time.
Moving forward, we will examine whether ABS is recyclable and biodegradable in more detail, discuss the methods for recycling ABS filament, and finally, go through some of the biodegradable ABS filament alternatives for the purposes of 3D printing.
Is ABS a Recyclable Type of Plastic?
The recyclability of the plastic you’re using for 3D printing is a point to keep in mind for both the purposes of re-using the failed prints and environmental reasons, especially considering that plastic waste is becoming more and more of a problem.
The primary quality of a thermoplastic is its capability to be melted into a liquid form and cooled back down to be a solid again without any change in its chemical composition, unlike thermosetting plastics that form permanent chemical bonds once heated, which prevents them from being melted.
As we can essentially explain the recycling process as melting the plastic and re-molding it to suit its new purpose, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that all thermoplastics are recyclable by nature, whereas thermosetting plastics are not.
Since all 3D printing filaments, including ABS, are thermoplastics, we can indeed draw the conclusion that ABS is a recyclable type of plastic, meaning that it’s fully possible to recycle the 3D printed models you have printed with ABS filament.
While the quality of the plastic technically decreases with each recycling, it’s possible to recycle ABS a few times before it becomes entirely unusable due to the quality deteriorating to the level where it won’t be able to fulfill its purpose anymore.
Is ABS a Biodegradable Type of Plastic?
While often confused to be the same thing as recyclability, biodegradability refers to whether the plastic can decompose in nature over time, and while it won’t have any benefits for you, it’s specifically a vital point to consider for the good of the environment.
Unfortunately, ABS is not a biodegradable type of plastic due to it being petroleum-based, meaning that regardless of how long it gets exposed to decomposing microorganisms, it will not degrade and stay fully intact.
As a result, the only way to reduce the plastic waste that ABS brings to the table is to recycle the plastic as much as possible to minimize further production and usage of new ABS plastic.
How to Recycle the ABS Filament from Failed Prints?
There are a few different routes you can take for recycling the ABS that you have gathered over time in the form of failed prints, with some even allowing you to gain some personal benefits as a result of the process, aside from the environmental impact.
Below, you can find the different methods you can utilize to recycle the ABS filament that you have gathered from failed 3D prints:
- Turn the failed prints into recycled filament with a 3D printer filament recycler.
- Use a 3D printer filament recycling service.
- Sell the plastic to companies that buy scrap plastic.
- Throw your failed prints into the recycling bin.
What Are Biodegradable Alternatives to ABS in 3D Printing?
While ABS filament isn’t the best option for the environment’s health as it’s not biodegradable, it is entirely possible to find biodegradable filaments that you can use in your 3D printing journey.
Among the materials that are commonly used to produce filaments in 3D printing, the only biodegradable alternatives to ABS (or any other 3D printing filament) are PLA, which is practically the most popular filament type in 3D printing and PVA, which is primarily known for its water solubility.
On the other hand, as none of these filament types are direct replacements for ABS or any other non-biodegradable filaments commonly used in 3D printing due to the different strengths and weaknesses they bring to the table, using a biodegradable filament for 3D printing is, unfortunately, not always possible.
Even though it doesn’t mean much for the 3D printing process itself, considering the recyclability and the biodegradability of the filament that you will be using is a fantastic way to reduce the negative environmental impact that some plastic types bring.
To quickly recap, while ABS is recyclable, which is a trait that comes from the fact that it’s a thermoplastic that allows it to be melted to its liquid form and cooled down, it’s not biodegradable, meaning that it will not decompose in nature over time.
As a result, to ensure that the plastic waste we create is as little as possible, the best thing to do is always to recycle the ABS that is not usable anymore as a result of cases such as failed prints, and prefer recycled ABS filament whenever possible.
Mike started his 3D printing journey with the Anet A8 when it first came out back in 2017, and has been obsessed with 3D printers ever since. Nowadays, he primarily uses his Ender 3 to print functional parts that make his life more convenient whenever possible.