3-D Printing Negatively Impacts The Environment

Previous posts have looked into several ways that 3-D printing can benefit our society. While 3-D printing continues to develop ways to help treat patients and improve our health, we must also consider the negative impacts of 3-D printing, especially on the environment.

People who are skeptical of 3-D printing’s impact believe that 3-D printing is a less eco-friendly process to manufacture objects.

Environmental advocates argue that 3-D printing consumes more resources than regular manufacturing would. Although 3-D printing may seem to be a greener process, scientists have found that it consumes a large amount of electricity. An article explains that, “Research at Loughborough University … learned that 3-D printers that use heat or a laser to melt plastic consumed an estimated 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an object of the same weight.” We can see clearly from this project that 3-D printing can potentially be much, even 50 to 100 times, more wasteful of energy than traditional manufacturing methods.

Environmentalists also argue that 3-D printing relies too heavily on plastics. The article also explains that, “industrial-grade-plastic 3-D printers that use powdered or molten polymers leave behind a substantial amount of unused raw material in the print bed.” Not only are many 3-D printed objects made out of plastics, which is already harmful to the environment, but 3-D printing actually uses these plastics less efficiently than older manufacturing processes.

The advocates also refute that although companies have been creating eco-friendly materials that are biodegradable, they will still be harmful to the environment. The biodegradable materials would take several years before they are returned to the earth, and recyclable materials do not solve the problem of society’s reliance on plastics.

Another concern about 3-D printing are the fumes that the printer releases during its process. 3-D printing may seem to release less pollution than factories would, but 3-D fumes may actually be more harmful to us. The article explains that research, “suggests that secondhand printing fumes contain toxic byproducts given off when plastic is heated to high temperatures.” According to the Health Effects Institute, these fumes have been observed to cause, “lung function changes, airway inflammation, enhanced allergic responses, … altered heart rate …” 3-D printed medical treatments may be able to help save lives, but what if 3-D printers are what puts them in danger in the first place? Not to mention, as opposed to factories, these printers are often used in places such as our own homes or workplaces.

Overall, there seems to be many valid concerns on why 3-D printing may be even more wasteful than traditional manufacturing processes. While we think about whether or no 3-D printing will be beneficial for society, we should also consider the effects it has on our environment and how it will affect our health as individuals, and either control or improve the way that 3-D printing is being used.

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