Will 3D Printing Transform The World — Or Just Fill It With Non-Biodegradable Personalized Junk?
from the what-a-load-of-rubbish dept
It’s clear that 3D printing has moved well beyond the breathless novelty stage, and is entering the breathless hype phase, with everyone declaring that it’s the next big thing, and that it will transform the world etc. etc. etc. There’s no denying it’s a powerful technology with great possibilities. But against a background of uncritical boosterism, it’s good to come across an article in the Architectural Review that points out some of the problems we will need to address to realize its full potential. Here’s one:
We could start by properly critiquing the impacts of this technology beginning with a much deeper analysis of the materials used, the energy and resource requirements, and the supply chains that result in printed objects. Fully characterising the current production systems may help us to understand how they could be developed into ecosystems of exchange where the coveted objects can be meaningfully recycled by our biosphere.
It’s all very well being able to print objects on demand, but unless the ecological implications — both in terms of the raw materials used and the energy required — are considered, it may well be that 3D printing is actually a step backwards when it comes to environmental impact. The ability to re-cycle 3D-printed objects needs to be built in from the start.
Another problem is more subtle:
If 3-D printing does not fully take on this responsibility then the sustainability of our current highly ‘customised’ objects is likely to be under scrutiny, as the unit cost of printers falls and hobbyists make legions of white elephants out of toxic plastics and when our landfills are chock-a-block with yesterday’s badly made fashionable shapes. And while some — such as ultrasound embryo portraits — may have enduring sentimental value, it is likely that most will simply clutter up our rubbish dumps and precipitate our plastic marine continents as indestructible rubbish icebergs.
As this points out, if we are not careful, the personal manufacturing revolution may become the 3D equivalent of Geocities: a huge flood of badly-designed, useless pieces of junk that are soon abandoned by their embarrassed creators.