3D Printing

Its Effect on the Environment

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is an additive process used for rapid prototyping. An additive process adds material to make a component or object, instead of a subtractive process that takes away material to make said part. The additive process used in 3D printing uses an inkjet-like printer device to spray layers of a material down in specific shape, building up the object being printed. The material normally used is polymer, though research is being done to allow the use of other materials like metal, stone, and even cells to print an object. 3D printing is becoming more and more popular because of its relatively low cost and time spent when compared to existing rapid prototyping methods such as factory production. There are many types of 3D printers. Three examples are listed below.

Three Types of 3D Printers

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What about its effect on the environment?

It is very disputable whether 3D printers are better or more harmful than our traditional processes of mass production. For example, UC Berkeley mechanical engineering department workers found that an inkjet 3D printer wastes 40 to 45 percent (more including support material) that cannot be recycled, making the rumor of the 3D printer being "better" than factory production questionable to say the least. However, articles such as the ECOS Magazine article "How green is 3D printing?" focus on the upsides of the creation such as the reuse of materials from failed printings and the saving of 90 percent of titanium in the production of fish-tracking tags due to the 3D printer. It appears that only way to tell is with time and with more use of these new machines that are breaking glass ceilings all over the world.

The video below elaborates on the pros and cons mentioned.

3D Printing: Its Impact on the Environment (Nia's Final FCGP Video)

Positive and Negative Effects on the Environment


  • NO transportation pollution

  • NO unnecessary manufacturing

  • FEWER raw materials WASTED

  • LONGER LIVES for products


  • LESS ENERGY across the product lifestyle


  • Heavy reliance on PLASTICS


  • Second-hand FUMES


All of the research reflects the one idea that for every pro, there is a nearly equal con. So, whether or not 3D printing is the best for our environment is still up in the air (pun intended).

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(2015).3D Printer Buyers Guide. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from http://3dprintingfromscratch.com/common/types-of-3d-printers-or-3d-printing-technologies-overview/#sls

(2015, December 19). 3D printing. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing

England, R. (2013, November 20). Is 3D printing good or bad for the environment?. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from https://www.ovoenergy.com/blog/technology-and-innovation/3d-printing-good-bad-environment.html

Faludi, J. (2013, November 22). Environmental Impacts of 3D Printing. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/blog/environmental-impacts-3d-printing

Kovac, K. (2013, December 2). How green is 3D printing?. Retrieved December 19, 2015, from http://www.ecosmagazine.com/?paper=EC13276