Recycle Coffee Pods in 3D Printer Filaments

Researchers have found a way to recycle coffee pods to make filament for 3D printers.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Researchers have found a way to recycle coffee pods to make filament for 3D printers. Image: Pixabay

Reading Time: 2 minutes

There are many ways to drink coffee: instant, drip, French press and now pods. They are convenient, but how can we effectively recycle coffee pods? The coffee pod market started with Nespresso in 1986 and has since grown, with other companies following the trend by developing pods. People like coffee pods because they are efficient and consistent. Instead of grinding beans and using the right amount of water, your coffee is ready with a pod and a press of a button. So what’s the problem?

You probably already know the answer if you use them; how to recycle coffee pods? These single-use coffee pods can be quite wasteful. Some pods are made of plastic, while others are made of aluminum. Nespresso has put forward a recycling program to reuse their aluminum pods. The coffee grounds and aluminum capsules can be returned to Nespresso, where they will compost the grounds, and the aluminum is repurposed into various objects. The plastic coffee pods are made from #5 plastic which can be recycled, but it depends on where you live.

Recycle Coffee Pods in 3D Printers

Research groups in Brazil at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, the State University of Campinas, and the United Kingdom at Manchester Metropolitan University have found a way to recycle coffee pods. They use the plastic from these pods to make filament for 3D printers. 3D printer filament and coffee pods are both made out of Polylactic Acid Plastic (PLA), but because PLA can take almost 80 years to decompose, the pods are bad for the environment while items printed from it have a long useful lifespan.

To develop the most uses and recycle coffee pods, the researchers have produced non-conductive filaments of the plastic for standard 3D printing and electricity conducting filaments by adding carbon black to the plastic. This allows it to be used for electrochemical sensors and other types of products requiring electrical conductivity.

With a bit of irony, the research study scientists recycled coffee pods and 3D printed a sensor to detect caffeine in coffee. The sensor worked as planned and proved that 3D printing sophisticated electrochemical devices such as sensors is not only possible, but it might be a way to create useful products that could be produced at scale.

To recycle coffee pods and create the fillament material, they wash and dry the plastic crind it into particles, heat it to a liquid, and follow that with hot extrusion into a standard filament diameter. The material is then cooled and spooled, ready for use in 3D printers.

The question of how to recycle plastic coffee pods to make filament is another prime example of the circular economy and is a good way to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up the landfill. Their research also shows how science is evolving and how manufacturing can be done more sustainably. It also raises awareness about recycling plastic waste to produce new materials and products and highlights how we can actually use plastic waste to produce electrodes, thus reducing the environmental impact of creating new products.

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