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3D Printing in a Circular Economy

Industrial economies are doing bad things to the environment. Despite shareholder and stakeholder plans for corporate social responsibility the full costs of doing business are not being factored in. Currently our economy runs in a linear fashion, we pursue output and growth in the years to come. We intend our systems to expand and are largely oblivious to their impact on cyclical forces outside our control. Consumption can always be increased as a method of expanding. Whereabouts along the supply chain, from resource extraction to consumer, the will to consume is differs, but the relentless need to consume cannot be stopped. Nor would it in a circular economy, we’d be changing the supply chain to minimise impact on natural resources and humans.

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Cradle to Cradle is emphasised over Cradle to the Grave. Not that this is some spooky metaphysical economy, its a suggestion that we should consider the life that comes after our own individual one.

Some Principles of a Circular Economy

  • Waste is food

In a literal sense that supermarkets waste perfectly good food and in a sense that one companies waste is anothers treasure. An appraisal of as many supply chains as possible to find out what they need and what they waste would set up new relations between people and places.

  • Promote autonomy for all

Energy generation is a system that is ripe for being made autonomous. In 20 years it would be excellent to see cities and rural areas self-sustaining their electricity needs through local production. This idea plays on the principle of a system circulating around us all the time, roughly described as weather, and dipping oars and turbines and panels in to collect what flows round us.

  • Externalities must be internalised appropriately

An externality is an action that has an affect on someone or something separate to the person doing the action. Take a company producing huge amounts of greenhouse gases through their manufacturing of an item. The damage done by the greenhouse gases or the particulate matter does not factor into the cost of the item. Pollution is able to harm others at a distance, just for profit. A Carbon Tax would set a price on emitting one ton of carbon, this tax could be set to be revenue neutral or positive for the government, regardless it has the intention of making it expensive to do a certain thing that causes harm to others.

3D Printing in the Circular Economy

Additive manufacturing would be well suited to a circular economy. Recycling used products into material for printing would reduce the amount of resources we need to extract. Renewable powered 3D printers would help humanity meet its material needs while fitting into, not disrupting, large systems essential to life on earth.


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Mathew Sayer

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