How combining 3D printing and upcycling helps to reduce plastic waste

Deko Eko

January 19, 2022

How can 3D printers limit plastic waste? Or first things first - can they limit plastic waste at all? And what’s the connection between this innovative technology and upcycling? In this article, we’ll look into the ways in which 3d printing can diminish the amount of plastic waste we generate.

Over the last couple of years, plastic has been deemed the biggest enemy of the environment. For decades, people used plastic as packaging material, or a cheaper alternative to just so many products - from interior design to car parts and so on. 

It’s pretty much everywhere.

Much of the discussion around plastic waste revolves around marine waste, and the pollution caused by the non-biodegradable character of polymers. Truth be told, this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Almost every part in the chain of production of plastics damages the environment. Production of plastics requires fracking and excavation of fossil fuels - actions that lead to increased air pollution, and water contaminations. This is particularly dangerous to residents living near fracking sites, where air contamination - mostly methane-based - increases chances of respiratory diseases

Take a look at the video below to see the full picture.

The Story of Plastic (Animated Short)

Despite what we wrote above, the discussion isn’t so simple though. Plastic could be used more sustainably, but it’s often the problem of how consumers dispose of it. It’s the mindset of how plastic is used, and how it is brought back into the production cycle. Moreover, there are uses of plastics that are hardly replaceable with any other material. Some products require plastic packaging for it is more durable than cardboard or some other fiber-based alternatives.

So, while it’s not so easy to just magically stop the production of plastics in a matter of a day - and it wouldn’t be that beneficial after all - there are methods that can come to aid on a smaller scale. One of them is upcycling of plastic, which we’ll scrutinize below.

Plastic upcycling - what is it exactly?

Plastic upcycling means, generally speaking, reinventing the use for plastic products that served their initial “goal”.

In other words, it means redesigning plastic waste into entirely new products of higher value than the initial material. In our blog we’ve covered many of such ideas - you can read about ways to upcycle ad banners and old product catalogues, or what are the benefits of upcycling waste in general. 

Thanks to Deko Eko’s years of experience, we have successfully helped many brands find their ways to upcycle waste and inspire their employees to support other upcycling initiatives.

The bottomline is that upcycling has been continuously proving to be an efficient way of dealing with plastic waste. While recycling of plastic requires production of new plastics - we deep-dive into this issue here - upcycling generates no pollution in the process, requires no additional plastics to work, and is fully implementable on even a small-scale level.


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Adding further innovation to upcycling with the implications of 3D printing

Recently, we’ve seen the benefits of bringing the exciting technology of 3D printing to the world of upcycling. While some people still view 3D printing as a tech-savvy novelty for geeks, 3D printing has opened doors to easier production of semi-composites, as well as means of automatization of various production processes. 

The whole process of 3D printing allows the incorporation of plastic waste in a seamless manner. 

After the material is collected, categorized and washed, the waste is then turned into a liquid component. This base is then used as printing material - think of it as ink and sheets of paper in one when speaking of a regular printer. 


Deko Eko collaborations & other 3d print-based projects

Let’s take a look at various realizations that combined 3D printing methods with upcycling.

A curious example comes from a Rotterdam-based design agency that uses plastic waste to print outdoor benches. The goal of the project is to utilize plastic in a closed loop, where the material finds its way to become a part of the outdoor surroundings. Designed with healthy backs in mind, these ergonomic benches are all printed with 3D printers. 

The project was part of the Print Your City initiative, and allowed citizens of a Greek city of Thessaloniki to donate their own waste and choose an object - such as bike racks, or outdoor benches - to be printed and placed in a specific place. It’s a fantastic example of the social dimension of upcycling implementation. 


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One of the top projects realised by Deko Eko at the intersection of waste upcycling and 3D printing was a collaboration with Coca Cola. 

The project consisted of three steps - the first one was to analyze the gathered materials that could be used in the process. After creating prototypes, we used 3D print technique to make a plastic-based composite that we then turned into eye-catching wall clocks and baskets. Each product was one of a kind, thanks to the unique way of production. 

While working closely with L’Oreal, Deko Eko pitched the idea to collect the Garnier line packaging and transform the waste into public utilities. Conceptual designs included insect cities and waste-made hives that could be then used in an educational campaign promoted by the brand. 

Other collaborations of Deko Eko included projects made for many more household names that wanted to make a step towards sustainability. You can read more about them below:



Exploring the world of upcycling and 3D printing yields many more examples, outside of our own completed projects and pitches. We’ve found fantastic applications of these methods such as waste-made fish nets for Greek fishermen (initiative by The New Raw Studio), or how Belgium-based Yuma Labs collaborated with Tomorrowland to collect plastics and create stylish glasses out of it. 


How to introduce upcycling in your waste management strategy

If you’re looking for ways to change the way your company deals with plastic waste, you’ve come to the right place! Deko Eko specializes in pairing up companies with designers who analyze waste and then suggest the possible products that can be created. Head to our shop to see some of the products we create or get in touch with us directly here.

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