Industrial Design Student Wins Grant for Setting Up 3D Printing Filament Recycling System

Life experience makes for a good industrial designer, and Ryan Colwick has plenty. On the academic side, he’s got degrees in both Architecture and Graphic Design and is now zeroing in on his Masters of Industrial Design at the Design School at Arizona State University; on the work experience side, he’s worked as a lab tech in a print shop, driven a forklift at Home Depot and did eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which included working at the petroleum refinery at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, generating the fuel for F/A-18 Hornets.

Now working his way through school designing pools for a landscaping company, Colwick’s final project is a parting gift to both the ASU ID department and the planet. He and fellow ID student Aleksandra Froelich pooled their money to purchase a Protocycler and have set up ThermoLab, “a service for students all over Tempe Campus to recycle misprinted or previous models and [turn] it back into usable filament.”

“As Industrial Design students, we create a lot of plastic waste from creating prototypes for our projects,” Colwick writes. “Students in the Design School have no way to recycle their filament, and therefore are either holding on to it for no reason or simply throwing it out. This can lead to mounds of wasted plastic being sent to our landfills and eventually our oceans.”

Colwick and Froelich are setting up a system for students to deposit their waste prints to be ground up by the Protocycler and turned into fresh filament. “By creating our own spools from used filament gathered from different departments, we can reduce the cost of 3D printer filament spools by up to 80%, and offer an economical and sustainable option for students to prototype future projects. This could save students hundreds of dollars per year on printing costs and prevent more plastic being sent to the landfill.”

Once the system is up and running, Colwick and Froelich’s plan is to gather data, to be used as ammunition in a push for expansion. “We plan on measuring the success of our project by how much we recycle in weight, how much money we save in having to not buy new filament, and how many students come to us to recycle their own plastic,” Colwick writes. “Following enough data collection, we will pitch different departments, encouraging them to invest in more recyclers–one for each program.

“We hope that ThermoLab will convince the entire school to enact recycling programs for all facilities that use 3D printing.”

For developing the project, Colwick has received a Sustainability Challenge Grant from ASU social impact organization Changemaker Central. He’s also graduating this semester, and his future plans are “to pass off the reins [to ThermoLab] to my partner Aleks,” he says, “and then hopefully head to a design agency where I can work on projects from multiple fields.”

For those of you in a position to hire, you can check out Colwick’s book here.