Construction Residential

Managing waste through 3D printing

Manchester and Zurich taking steps to integrate 3D printing into construction and waste management.

Manchester and Zurich taking steps to integrate 3D printing into construction and waste management. 

Back in March, the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) announced a £8.5m project to turn single-use plastic waste back into raw plastic, which can then be transformed into new plastic products using 3D printing technology combined with intrusion moulding. The project will also see purpose-built plastic recycling plant constructed in Manchester.

The announcement was welcomed by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, who in the same month approved the city’s Zero-Carbon Action Plan to reduce emissions by 13% every year to 2038. “The reduction of single-use plastic is a key focus area for Greater Manchester, and we are committed to helping support behaviour change and to reduce our consumption and production of single-use plastics,” he said. 

The project will also see the construction of two, purpose-built plastic recycling plants, one in Manchester and one in the Netherlands.

There’s been much talk over the past few years about the merits of 3D printing as a technology that will speed up construction, with plenty of individual projects showing how quickly dwellings can be built. With the UK facing a severe housing shortage and the government committed to building 300,00 houses a year, 3D printing is being touted as one possible solution close the gap. In October, The Telegraph newspaper explored that very idea, citing Futurologist Matthew Griffin, who spoke to Ireland’s Newstalk’s podcast in the same month.

But what about 3D printing’s potential to improve the sustainability of construction? Well, last month one of Europe’s leading innovation platforms, Kickstart announced a partnership between cement manufacturer, Holcim Switzerland and Swiss Industrial Automation company, Mobbot in The City of Zurich. The focus of this collaboration is the integration of recycled building materials into 3D printing technology. The partnership was announced on 10 November, along with 48 other collaborations between start-ups, scale-ups and established companies and institutions, with a similar focus on waste reduction. 

This project embraces and implements the concept of the Circular Economy, which according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is about “gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system.” 

These principles are starting to be embraced by policymakers. In December 2018, for example, the UK government published its waste and resource strategy for England, placing the circular economy at its heart. Part of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the goal is to double resource productivity and eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050. 

With the government this year setting out legally binding targets within the Environment Bill, can 3D printing technology help the construction industry play its part in reducing waste?

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