Social Business News

ReFlow Filament Making 3D Printing Truly Social

Over the last few years entrepreneur Jasper Middendorp collaborated with Enviu, Cordaid, and techfortrade to set up a social business called ReFlow Filament. This year, he will start with the production of high quality 3D print filament out of plastic PET bottles. The organisation offers a solution to deteriorating living conditions of waste pickers around the world. By sourcing materials from waste pickers in developing countries, it can increase the income of waste pickers by up to 20 times.

In many developing countries, including Tanzania, there’s a lack of formal waste management. The majority of municipalities can’t manage the growing volume of waste in their cities. According to WasteAid UK, 40% of the world’s waste is not collected or treated.

The lack of formal waste collection systems means that rubbish just spills down the road. Open dumping and illegal incineration of waste cause many serious health problems and pollute the environment. This is where informal workers come into play. Worldwide, millions of people make a living from collecting and sorting garbage and selling them for recycling

WastepickerPhoto: Enviu

Tough life for waste pickers in Dar es Salaam

Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam counts 1,200+ waste pickers. Life as a waste picker is tough. Under the burning sun, they scavenge the streets and landfills looking for valuable materials. They’re doing a great job, recovering resources that would else wise be incinerated or end up in our environment. However, they still face a low social status.

People look down on waste pickers. When picking up plastics from the streets they’re often met with harsh comments and people telling them to leave the streets. They’re called thieves, who can not be trusted scavenging around your residence.

Incentives are low. Besides poor working conditions, waste pickers on the average make €1,50 a day. Their revenues are diminishing now that the prize of plastics is getting historically low (which are directly linked to the price of oil).

From issue to idea – turning waste into profit

October 2013 William Hoyle, Chief Executive at techfortrade coined the idea to leverage 3D print technology to reinvent waste into value. From that moment things went fast. Enviu, Cordaid, and techfortrade teamed up to turn William’s idea into reality. Together they tested the idea of turning plastic waste into 3D filament in Africa.

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After piloting the technology in Oaxaca (Mexico), Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), the team came to the stage where it has printable filament made out of PET bottles. Further improvements are currently under development.

By December this year, ReFlow Filament will startup a production line in Dar es Salaam. The plastic waste needed to produce the filament comes from local waste pickers. ReFlow Filament increases the value of recycled plastic for waste collectors by up to 20 times. In this way they’re able to give waste collectors a better income.

ReFlow Filament
Source: ReFlow Filament

ReFlow Filament will not only play an important role in the livelihood of waste pickers. One of its goals is to boost the African 3D printing industry. 25% of all the profits that will be made from the 3D filament, goes to local manufacturing initiatives.

Leapfrog into a new age of industrial production

The rise of 3D printing in Africa is not a new phenomenon. The manufacturing industry never really got off the ground. Just as mobile payments, 3D printing could be the killer application that enables Africa to leapfrog into a new age of innovation.

Preorder 3D filament on Kickstarter

This month, ReFlow Filament started a Kickstarter campaign to grow the local infrastructure for plastic collection and filament production. It’s goal is to raise €25.000 in one month. Will you take part in the African 3D printing revolution?