Laser Cut Your 3D Printed Trash

If you have a 3D printer, you’re surrounded by plastic trash. I’m speaking, of course, of failed prints, brims, and support material that builds up in the trash can near your printer. Although machines that turn that trash into filament exist, they’re not exactly common. But there’s another way to turn that waste into new building materials. [flowalistic], 3D designer extraordinaire, is using that trash to create panels of plastic and throwing that into a laser cutter. It’s a plastic smoothie, and if you can sort your scrap by color, the results look fantastic.

The first step in turning garbage plastic into a plastic sheet is throwing everything into a blender. Only PLA was used for this experiment because using ABS will release chlorine gas. These plastic fragments were placed in the oven, on a cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. After about a half an hour of baking at 200 °C, the sheet was pressed between sheets of wood and left to cool. From there, the PLA sheet was sent to the laser cutter where it can be fabricated into rings, models, coasters, spirographs, and toys.

While this is an interesting application of trash using parts and equipment [flowalistic] had sitting around — therefore, a hack — it must be noted this should never be replicated by anyone. That big bag of scrap plastic could contain ABS, and you should never put ABS in a laser cutter unless you want your workspace to smell awful. And/or be sure to crack a window.

21 thoughts on “Laser Cut Your 3D Printed Trash

    1. “ABS is stable to decomposition under normal use and polymer processing conditions with exposure to carcinogens well below workplace exposure limits.[20] However, at higher temperatures (400 °C) ABS can decompose into its constituents: butadiene (carcinogenic to humans), acrylonitrile (possibly carcinogenic to humans), and styrene.[20]

      Lower temperatures have also shown that ultrafine particles (UFPs) may be produced at much lower temperatures during the 3D printing process.[21] Concerns have been raised regarding airborne UFP concentrations generated while printing with ABS, as UFPs have been linked with adverse health effects.”

      .. but no chlorine… so that’s all right then }:¬)

    2. Please be careful when doing chemistry – polycarbonate shouldn’t contain chlorine but it does when synthesized by the most common method because the reaction uses chlorine and some is left behind.

  1. ABS will release chlorine gas

    You know the bell’s tolling, but don’t know in which church. As far as I can tell there is no reason for that, because ABS contains no chlorine in its molecules. You can’t laser cut PVC, because it emits carcinogenic vinyl chloride (monomer) when heated. .

      1. This is like saying “don’t smoke marijuana because you might catch HIV from an infected needle”. Erroneous but well-meaning safety advice risks being ignored when it has obvious factual errors, and ironically making people also ignore the actual danger.

    1. I’m responsible for the color sorting, and some panels look terrible! The grayscale ones are the best, and I’m sorting them by color. The thing with this is that you won’t always be able to get the color you want, and I make ugly panels to get used to it! :P

  2. Doesn’t PLA have some additives that are released when heating, too? I mean, putting plastic in the oven does not sound very healthy, even if it is a very “organic” type of material.

    In this regard I am very cautious. I am always printing PLA with the window open, or at least I am ventilating the room after the print has finished.

    How do you handle this? Is it reasonable to be concerned about fumes and fine dust or is it pure overreacting?

    1. No one knows for sure how bad PLA is. When melting it in the oven, I make sure it only melts, without bubbles. When making the very first panel, I left it in the oven for too long and it started bubbling, which led to a terrible smell that lasted a week… in my kitchen! Since then I refined the process as much as possible, but I think melting it this way is as good/bad as 3D printing it, which also involves melting it.

      Concerning laser cutting it, we have a very big air filtering system which really helps, but as someone already mentioned, some plastics such as PVC cannot be laser cut as they’re really toxic.

      I’ve tried to keep the process as toxic as 3D printing or laser cutting themselves. Of course, the blender I use is only for plastic smoothie purposes, no food in there!

    2. At Ultimaker here, anything but PLA/PVA needs to be printed in a well ventilated room at our office. And as you can understand, we print a LOT. So the dangers of PLA aren’t that bad.

  3. Hmmm.. I was literally just wondering what I could do with my big box of PLA scraps. The only contaminant is Nylon which shouldn’t be a problem as it can be laser cut as best I can tell. Its also an obviously different colour so I can pick it all out too. I wonder if theres anything useful I need laser cut out of PLA at the moment

    1. I think you mixed something up here again. According to http://atxhackerspace.org/wiki/Laser_Cutter_Materials:

      > Melts / Cyanide
      > ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt). Also, cutting ABS plastic emits hydrogen cyanide, which is unsafe at any concentration.

      For once and for all: ABS releases cyanide, not chlorine when heated.

  4. Did you really delete my comment because I pointed out that you do a bad research job and that comparing the smell of laser cutting to a battle where houndred thousands of people died and suffered is tasteless?

    You guys are officially fucked up. Remove the comment section if you don’t like people blaming you for doing a bad job.

    Shame on you.Seriously. I’m done with Hackaday.

  5. WAY too much trouble and potential danger when laser-safe acrylic sheets are cheap! Color your products with transparent glass paints and they’ll look a hell of a lot better than these things. Do it like paper marbling (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_marbling) and they’ll look 𝘷𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘭𝘺 better!

    Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should.

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