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ReFlow- The Journey

In the last year entrepreneur Jasper Middendorp, Enviu, Cordaid and techfortrade collaborated on the new startup ReFlow: a social enterprise that transforms used plastic bottles into high quality 3D print filament in developing countries. Our goal is to improve the lives of waste-pickers from these countries and build 3D printing eco-systems around the world.

3D Printing technology in a nutshell

3D printing is a technology that prints several layers on top of each other to form a 3D printed object. Where an ink printer prints one layer of ink on a paper, 3D printers print layer upon layer of plastic (or any other material) folded on top of each other, until the 3D product is completely printed. These products can range from prosthetics to small figurines or toys and jewellery or creatively designed iPhone casings.

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Just as mobile payments took Africa by storm, given the lack of financial infrastructure, 3D printing will find its next market in developing countries, because of broken distribution lines, high costs of transport, fluctuating oil prices, lack of capital for larger scale productions and the dependence on low-quality foreign manufacturing. Our long-term vision is to establish local 3D printing markets worldwide and sell affordable filament made entirely from plastic waste.

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Our journey up until now

The journey started with an idea inspired by William Hoyle’s (techfortrade) speech at the Open Development Camp in Amsterdam in 2013. It begged the question, what if we could leverage 3D print technology to reinvent waste into value? Our first step was quite simple; ship over a bag of plastic from Kisumu in Kenya and start test producing 3D print filament (the resource that goes into a 3D printer). Together with the awesome guys at Better Future Factory we created the first sample rolls of filament. And to be honest, it was a complete mess. The plastic was unclean, poorly sorted and barely printable.

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Bart Bleijerveld (Better Future Factory) building the extruder at Sticlab in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
 

Over the next months we continued working on the filament quality and we tested various concepts for our waste to value vision. At the end of 2014 we officially signed a partnership with techfortrade to further develop their extruder and create high quality PET filament.

Naamloos3d2First filament from the Oaxaca, Mexico testing site
 

The next steps

With support from the World Bank we have now started filament production in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and we will be testing the suitability of different product lines, ranging from iPhone cases to microscopes and headphones, for the local Tanzanian market.

Naamloos3d3Building the extruder at Sticlab in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Part of the ReFabDar Initiative.

Within the next few months we will continue quality improvements on the filament, as well as start market testing some of the product lines in Tanzania. If you want to stay updated just contact us through our website at www.reflowfilament.com

How can you help?

For the first phase of this adventure Enviu has closely collaborated with experts from our partners Cordaid and techfortrade. We are now starting the next phase of our journey towards an impactful multinational social enterprise. Here you could be also of help! We are currently looking for:

– A storyteller/brand marketing Frankenstein to join the core team and a communications intern. Check out the Job description here

– Communications intern

– 3D printing enthusiast that want to do some additional filament testing

If you are interested please contact us at jasper@reflowfilament.com. If you are a journalist/blogger interested in this social enterprise, feel free to give us a shout out at jasper@reflowfilament.com and we’ll get you a press kit asap.

Project Partners

 

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