AACE Lab plans to help Cooper Union transition to a zero-waste campus by building an in-house plastic recycling center that focuses on recycling waste filament and failed 3D prints. The interdisciplinary team has fabricated a shredder, sheet press system, and injection molding workflow for recycled PLA.

The project benefits students from all schools that utilize 3D printers and could potentially become a local recycling hub for the community. This recycling system serves as an organic module that will grow to accomodate the waste we produce.

With papermaking and a metal foundry in the art school, a strong community of students and faculty who compost, and a heightened awareness of plastic usage in the school of engineering, Cooper is uniquely suited to successfully transition to a zero-waste campus. According to GrowNYC, New York City only recycles about 17% of its total waste, and exporting plastic waste costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To continue the development of a strong culture of sustainability at Cooper, the next step is to build an in-house plastic recycling center.

We focus on the waste filament and failed prints from the 3D printers on campus. The 3D printers at the Makerspace consumed 1.5 kg of filament for prototyping alone in the last semester. The AACE lab has 465 active users including students from the art, architecture, and engineering, and has printed over 110kg of PLA filament in 2022. That is an estimated 111 kg of plastic (the weight of 160 basketballs). 3D printer modules, shredders, and extruders can convert scrap PLA to newly reusable filament or plastic sheets that are well suited for prototyping.
PLA Waste Produced at Cooper 2022 (kg)MakerspaceAACE Lab98.7%
ShopPLA Waste (kg)
AACE Lab110

First, a shredder and then an extruder will be fabricated for an initial PLA recycling process. In future semesters, RECoop can grow to offer additional recycling methods, including an injection molder, compression oven, or sheet press. The RECoop project will help the Cooper community in its zero-waste initiatives and provide materials for future projects.