Waste collectors make their living sifting through garbage and sorting out the recyclable materials. It’s a job that’s dangerous but critical for dealing with waste in developing regions, where there is no formal waste collection system and waste is often burned. Despite this contribution, waste collectors earn less than $2 a day and live below the poverty line. Reflow is a social enterprise start-up headquartered in Amsterdam that’s turning plastic PET bottles collected in developing regions into high-quality 3D print filament. This filament can be used in 3D printers to build prosthetics, microscopes, farm equipment, and other necessities while waste collectors earn up to 20 times more than they currently make.
Waste collectors are often subject to work-related illnesses and injuries. They seldom protect themselves because they don’t have access to the right protective equipment. Reflow will give waste collectors the tools that they need to gather and carry the plastic without putting their health at risk.
Reflow is also looking into setting up secure locations, such as hotels and restaurants, where waste collectors can regularly collect plastic bottles. This is not only advantageous to waste collector health and safety, but separating recyclable materials as early as possible in the process results in less contamination. When recyclables are less contaminated, the work involved in sorting them is less hazardous, less cleaning is required and they have a much higher value.
The 2nd generation open-source extruder, developed in partnership with techfortrade, was set up at SticLab in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and has produced filament. Reflow acknowledges there are some improvements to be made to get consistent quality in the filament., but they are confident that these can be made in the next 9 months, when production is set to ramp up to fulfill their Kickstarter orders.
Reflow’s long term goal is to set up small production facilities in developing regions around the world that can produce for their local markets. With the aim of enabling local entrepreneurs to build their communities, they also invest 25 percent of their profits to set up local manufacturing capabilities. They believe that a fundamental shift in how economies in developing regions operate is needed; from depending on import to producing materials locally. For each roll of filament that Reflow produces, 120 plastic bottles don’t end up in landfills or burned.
To get the project off the ground, Reflow has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal to raise €25,000 to get the initiative off the ground. On top of offering rolls of filament, they’ve partnered with some top-notch 3D designers, such as Silvia Heikel, Joshua Harker, and Hussain Almossawi, who have created art pieces that will be printed with their filament.
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