Past printer

Rapid prototyping practices fill lab waste bins with discarded 3D prints made of polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic made of plant sugars, a byproduct of industrial agriculture. This PLA extruder adapted from an Instructables project takes ground up PLA prints and remelts them into filament. Instead of respooling and loading this back into a printer, this process becomes a means of patching mis-prints and broken prints. We are also exploring remelted PLA as a means of weaving and spinning nest-like habitats and remembering species threatened by agricultural habitat loss.

Materials: Discarded PLA prints, milling device or blender, sieve or other dimensional sorting device, mis-prints, extruder.

Harris-Babou, I. (2018). Reparation Hardware. Larry Gallery New York and online.

Sayers, J. (2015). Prototyping the Past. Visible Language49(3).

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press.

Step 1: Gathering

Collect 3D prints from wherever they’re discarded, such as near makerspace or lab printing stations.

3dtrash (1)

Step 2: Sorting

Sort the discards by material, ensuring to sort out any ABS as the fumes are harmful if heated too high. If you’re not sure a plastic is ABS or PLA, try heating it with a lighter or match in a well ventilated area wearing a mask. PLA will smell slightly sweet and melt very quickly; ABS is more heat resistant.


Step 3: Milling

Break any large pieces of PLA down to <1″ with wire cutters or sharp pliers. Using your milling device (e.g. a heavy duty household blender), blend them into small pellets of <1/8″.


Step 4: Sifting

To help keep the consistency of the filament, sift out any very small pieces with the sieve, colander, or other dimensional sorting tool.


Step 5: Remelting

Heat up the extruder and fill the its hopper about halfway. Turn on the motor to start the auger mechanism and be ready to catch the extruded filament with a wire as it comes out so it doesn’t stick to the end of the extruder nozzle.


Step 6: Patching

Guide the remelted filament onto the misprint or broken print to patch it. In this piece of a prototype, for example, the original print’s filament overlap was inadequate, leaving a gap around the edge of the hole.


Step 7: Patchy habitats

How might we patch together ways of living with other species whose habitats have been damaged by technology practice? How might we fabricate for more-than-human needs?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s