Last time we looked at 3D printing Lorrin Windahl found pros and cons. Just as cheap standard printers pretty much put paid to the paperless office, consumer-level 3D printers provide a means of turning out mountains of junk. Though to be fair, injection molding and blow molding are more efficient ways of turning out large amounts of disposable items, and 3D printers do have the potential to bring real benefits to some peoples’ lives. Producing prosthetic limbs for the victims of land mines in developing countries is just one example.

Time will tell if this move into the third dimension will be a net benefit, but promising to give it a nudge in the right direction is the ProtoCycler, a compact device that will recycle both 3D printed objects and some post-consumer plastic waste into new 3D printer filament. It caught the public’s imagination enough for the developers to bust through their crowd funding target on Indiegogo and see them on track to deliver product later this year.

ProtoCycler is one of those products that combine a clear environmental benefit with a compelling economic one. A spool of 3D printer filament can cost around $50. By using recycled printed items or household plastic waste, that price drops to the cost of the electricity required to melt and extrude the plastic. Perhaps the greenest bit is the built in grinder. This chews up waste plastic to make small fragments ready for extrusion, and it’s powered by hand.

In auto mode ProtoCycler handles just two types of polymer at this stage, but there is a manual mode that offers users that chance to experiment with pretty much any non-toxic thermoplastic.

The ProtoCycler also expands the range of colours available to 3D printers

ProtoCycler was developed by three engineering physics students at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and let’s hope their creativity has a multiplying effect. If cheaper, greener 3D printing stimulates more young minds to think about real problems and experiment with more innovative solutions, wouldn’t that be a good thing?