OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

ReFlow - High quality 3D print filament from plastic collected in developing countries

Reflow is a social enterprise producing high quality PET filament from plastic collected in developing countries.

Photo of Jasper Middendorp
4 3

Written by

What do we do?

Reflow is a social enterprise producing high quality PET filament from plastic collected in developing countries. Our mission is to improve the livelihood of  waste pickers while establishing 3D printing ecosystems all around the world

What is 3D printing anyway?

3D printing is a technique used to create a product by adding layers of a specific material (e.g. plastic, metal, ceramics, steel and more) on top of each other. Where a traditional printer would print one layer of ink, a 3D printer (FDM 3D printer to be more precise) now prints layers upon layers to create a three-dimensional end-product. With this technique we no longer need expensive molds for production and we can easily create one-offs. You just download a digital file and start your own production line.

E-waste 3D printer at Stic Lab, Dar es Salaam

Why 3D printing for emerging economies?

Just as mobile payments took Africa by storm because of to the lack of financial infrastructure, 3D printing will find its next market in emerging economies because of broken distribution lines, high costs of transport, fluctuating oil prices, lack of capital for larger scale productions and the dependence on low-quality foreign manufacturing. The disruption of manufacturing by 3D printing will take root in Africa long before it will in the Europe and the US. Where previously laptops, printers and the Internet made us all writers, composers and publisher, now 3D print technology can make us all manufacturers. 3D printing is the next step in Africa's technological innovation boom.

First filament created in Oaxaca, Mexico

What do we do?

Over the past three years,  ReFlow has developed a low cost, open-source extruder that converts PET plastic flakes into 3D print filament. Our low cost machine (<$1000), allows us to set up small-scale local production facilities spread  throughout the world. The profits made from filament sales flow back to the waste pickers collecting the plastic bottles. As 3D print filament is a high value product (>$25 per kg), this added income helps  to lift waste pickers out of the poverty trap. The social enterprise was born out of a collaboration between Enviu, a not-for-profit that kick-starts world changing companies and techfortrade, a NGO that focused on bridging the divide between emerging technology and international trade and economic development. This process had led us to pilot testing the initiative in a partnership project known as ReFabDar.

Extruder at Sticlab, Dar es Salaam. Part of the ReFabDar initative

In Tanzania, ReFabDar, a World Bank-led initiative on urban upcycling, Through collaboration with the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, we are actively  testing the viability of using 3D printing to turn PET plastic waste to value. Next to 3D printing filament we’ll be testing unique, locally appropriate and marketable 3D printed products sold and traded by waste collectors.

Climate Change and 3D printing

According to the UNECE, the transport sector accounts for 23% of global CO2 emissions. Currently, most solutions are aimed at making transport more sustainable, for instance, by innovating biofuel options and smart vehicle technology. Although helpful, these developments still accept a world where mass-production and global shipping is the norm. To truly change the world we need to start believing in a radically different one. To truly innovate and make a difference, we need to believe in radical changes. A world, where we produce the products we actually NEED locally. A world, where shipping is an (expensive) last-resort measure and all our plastic resources are being reused.

We believe that 3D printing technologies will play an instrumental part in shaping this new world, and that this movement will start in the countries that we now would consider to be “developing”. It starts by all of us needing to believe in this different world. As Peter Marshall once said: “A different world can not be build by indifferent people.”

More information





Where is this innovation/innovator located at? Be as specific as you can (country and city).

The ReFabDar inititiative is located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Other testing sites are in Oaxaca Mexico, Bogota Colombia, and Nairobi Kenya

If you are an innovator, how can OpenIDEO support you? What are your current needs? If you are not an innovator, tell us what you do and what your needs are.

OpenIDEO can support us by sharing our story and spreading our vision. We will launch our social filament early 2016 and by sharing our story you will greatly help us to get the word out. More specifically, we are looking for: - Communication partners to get the word out - Inspiring entrepreneurs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - A Storyteller/Brand expert/Growth Hacker to join the core team - Corporate partners for material testing and plastic supply - 3D print enthusiast that would have some time to spare to talk to us about their experiences with previous filament they used

How did you find out about this challenge? (Check all that apply)

  • OpenIDEO website
  • A friend

Would you like to be involved in Accelerate in the future? (Check all that apply)

  • Yes! I'd love to be involved in some way.
  • Host an event
  • Attend an event
  • Help innovative organizations as a volunteer
  • Help tell stories of climate innovators
  • Help raise awareness about Accelerate
  • Help connect Accelerate to potential partners


Join the conversation:

Photo of Cristian O&amp;#039;Ryan

Love it, We are thinking on working on 3D materials from plastic bottles but it hard to get them. I read you are working in Colombia, what about Chile??  can you send samples?

Photo of Jasper Middendorp

Hi @Cristian O'Ryan, great to hear. Do you mean it's hard to get clean enough plastic. Also a struggle on our side. We'll be testing with universities over the next months. After that would be happy to send you some samples. Are you 3D printing the SULI lab light?


Photo of Cristian O&amp;#039;Ryan

Jasper Middendorp we don't work on producing plastic for 3D printers, rather we buy it to produce the accessories for SULI, not the SULI itself. And we have thought that it would be great to have plastic from recycled bottles but no one seems to produce it yet. We have a partnership with a 3D printer laboratory here in Chile, so if you wanna test your plastic theres no problem! We'll be happy to have a samples when you can!

Photo of Jasper Middendorp

Cristian O'Ryan Clear, What kind of plastic are you using now, and if I may ask what are you paying for it?