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.
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.
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.
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.”