Using Plastic Waste to Print Useful Things in the Solomon Islands

Group of Melanesian children sit at a stilt house on Malaita Island near Auki, Solomon Islands.

One of the chronic problems in the developing world has been the lack of clean, safe drinking water. People who live in the Solomon Islands not only live with that shortage but with plastic pollution that clogs streams and waterways. Dr. Mazher Mohammed, along with a team from Deakin University and Plan International, has come up with a plan that addresses both problems using 3D printing.

According to 3DPrint.com, Dr. Mohammed and his team have developed a 3D printer that can use the waste plastic to create items like pipe fittings and filtration devices to help bring clean drinking water to the people who live in the island nation.

The first project involved repairing an old water pipe using plastic fittings. The team gathered up the waste plastic, ground it into pellets, and fed it into the 3D printer. The printer created fittings that worked perfectly with the pipe, repairing a number of leaks that had sprung over the years as a result of ad hoc repairs.

The idea is eventually for the locals to have access to solar-powered 3D printers, which can churn out a number of parts as needed. The only labor-intensive tasks involved will be to gather up the waste plastic and grind it into pellets that can be fed into the printer.

The idea is to enable people living in the developing world to have a measure of self-dependence, using the 3D printing technology to suit their needs. The arrangement is seen as far superior to one that involves aid agencies swooping in, doing a number of projects, and then leaving the locals to their own devices.

Dr. Mohammed’s team has embarked on an effort to commercialize the 3D printer, which will cost less than $10,000. Considering the degree of plastics pollution that exists throughout the world, the technology could be quite a boon.