What potato chips and 3D printing have in common

A 3D printing company sells trinkets made from plastic bags, such as the ones that typically contain potato chips, that can't normally be recycled.

Eric Vidal/Reuters
3D printed objects are displayed as an artificial hand is being printed during a 3D printing show in Brussels, Belgium in October.

A Brooklyn company is trying inventive methods to take plastics that can’t typically be recycled, such as potato chip bags, and transform them into planters, bottle openers, keychains, and iPhone accessories.

The 3D printing company, called 3D Brooklyn, has been experimenting with using pellets made from potato chip bags to make the filament it feeds through its 3D printers to sculpt – or print – some of the objects it sells on its website. When fed through a 3D printer, the stiff plastic filament comes out as a soft ink. 

After all, asks Will Haude, the 25-year-old founder of the barely year-old company, why make new plastic when there's so much already out there that's headed for landfill?.

“We don't want these plastics to keep being made,” Mr. Haude tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview.

3D Brooklyn designs and prints its own products and also those of its clients. It gives aways its 3D designs for free for anyone to use or adapt, says Mr. Haude.

The idea to try to reuse plastics that are not usually recyclable came to Haude and his team as they watched the carry-out food containers pile up in their office. They decided to melt down their studio trash, says Haude, using a filabot, a machine that 3D printing shops use to melt leftover pieces of failed prints to make new filament.  

Since that experiment, the print company has tried to use a variety of plastics that otherwise would end up in landfill because they’re made of a blend of different types of plastics that are hard and expensive to separate, like some water and soda bottles, and milk jugs.

Recently they hooked up with a New Jersey company called TerraCycle, which collects hard-to-recycle plastics and makes new products out of them, like tote bags, benches, clocks, and accessories.

TerraCycle had mounds of potato chip bags – the large, family size kind – that had never been used. They were left over from a manufacturer and, because they’re made from a blend of un-recyclable polyethylene and polypropylene, destined for the trash.

“We just knew that [TerraCycle] had a lot of plastic,” Haude says. “We volunteered to throw it in our machines to experiment with it, and it worked.”

3D Brooklyn has used 150 pounds of pellets to make filament from these bags for now, says Haude, and it wants to use more.

He estimates that a 1-pound spool of potato-chip-bag derived filament makes about 75 to 100 bottle openers.

“The tricky part is that there’s no great way to dispose of it,” the plastic that makes up the trinkets the company prints.  “Maybe eventually you'll be able to compost it in your backyard.”

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