Turning ewaste into 3D printers for developing countries

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The need to combat e-waste is a very real issue. According to the UN Environment Programme (Unep), up to 90 per cent of global electronic waste is illegally dumped or traded every year. The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014 report: Quantities, Flows, and Resources, also concluded that 41.8 million tonnes of electronic waste was dumped in 2014. This figure has increased significantly since then. Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom because there are individuals and organisations making a significant effort to combat this problem.


We are not only talking about governments and the various directives that have been put in place. But, there are a number of intelligent people all around the globe that have been setting up businesses and charities that have the aim of dealing with this massive issue. Take the establishment of the world’s first ethical smartphone as a prime example. The Fairphone aims to reduce e-waste while also improving factory working conditions in China and ensuring that all supplies are ethically sourced. Another organisation that deserves a considerable amount of praise and attention is Techfortrade. This is a UK charity that taking unwanted or broken inkjet printers and turning ewaste into 3D printers for developing nations.


Most developing countries cannot afford 3D printing. While this has brought significant benefits to businesses in the UK, including improved time to market, a more efficient manufacturing process, reduced expenditure, and better products, those in the developing world are unable to afford to make this investment. This is something that Techfortrade are attempting to change. They are creating software that has the ability to utilise e-waste components in order to build 3D printers. They are making this technology available online for free, and anyone around the globe can follow the technique they are utilising as well.


This represents an effective use of e-waste, and it is something that more and more businesses should be looking to follow. After all, it is estimated by Wrap UK that a quarter of all electronic waste equipment that is sent to recycling centres could be re-used, and this is only relating to household recycling centres. This is worth approximately £200 million per annum. This could be anything from fax machines and inkjet printers to tablets and old PCs.


Techfortrade aims to take these once-treasured gadgets and utilise them to serve a new purpose. The charity was founded in 2011 by William Hoyle. He had observed that trucks were crossing the border from Zambia to the Republic of Congo with supplies, and he began to explore whether he could lower the dependency on trucks carrying supplies to these poorer African nations through 3D printing, giving them the ability to create their own supplies.


The charity developed Retr3d, which is an open source software program, which allows individuals to create their own custom 3D printers by using different components from old photocopiers and inkjet printers that do not match, such as pulleys, cogs, motors, and head rods. The software calibrates the 3D printer to get it to work. This gives students and professionals the ability to create their own 3D printers to create supplies and boost the economy in their own country.

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