We recycle plastic waste into new 3D printing filament
Waste is not an end product
We recycle plastic waste into new 3D printing filament
Waste is not an end product
Here at QiTech, we stand for sustainable recycling. Instead of greenwashing, we want to support the circular economy in Germany and recycle plastic where it makes sense!
For this purpose, we produce new filament from bottle caps and other plastic waste with our own machines - the ink for 3D printers, so to speak.
Both the 100% recycled filament and the machines are available at our company!
In addition, we are continuously researching ourselves in order to be able to pass on important know-how to the community.
2 million bottle caps...
Normally, black disposable spools are often used for filament. This accumulates a lot of avoidable waste. We, on the other hand, produce our recycled reusable filament spools by injection molding from old bottle caps.
Why bottle caps?
They're easy to work with and you can find them in all colors.
The plastic lids of glass bottles
It all started with a local collection campaign of bottle caps, which we sorted by hand.
For the expansion of our coil production, we thought about how to get more bottle caps.
Conveniently, reusable glass bottle washing plants generate millions of lids as waste because they are unscrewed before washing.
What happens to lids of returnable glass bottles?
In order to get to the bottom of this question, we contacted numerous regional producers of water and learned that every producer of mineral water is obliged to take back empty bottles. The lids of glass bottles cannot be reused because of the broken safety ring. Before washing out the glass bottles, it is logical to remove the old lids. What then exactly happens to the lids is not well documented.
A considerable proportion is sent for so-called downcycling, in which the colored lids are shredded and only brown or black plastic is obtained from them, which is used, for example, to make flower pots.
Cooperative structure ensures uniform material and lid sizes
One remarkable aspect here is that the mineral springs in the region are organized in a cooperative structure, which enables uniform material type and lid size.
Where do we get the lids?
Thanks to the generous support of Martin Schilling, the owner of Brohler Mineralwasser in Koblenz, we were given the opportunity to regularly purchase 2 million lids. That's about the amount of waste produced every 3 days at his company.
The lids could be unloaded at our facility if there is a delivery of beverages along our direction.
Lids from local communities
In addition to industry, we also work with the "Deckel-Ohne-Grenzen" initiative from Gudd-Zweck to recycle plastic lids locally and thus reduce plastic waste.
Michael and Michaela Roos organize the collection of lids around Oberkirchen.
They already supported us in "garage times" and made it possible to set up production in the first place.
The community lids also give us an additional material stream and colors that are not available in Brohler's glass bottles.
Community lids from "Deckel-Ohne-Grenzen"
Michael and Michaela Roos from "Gudd-Zweck" started the remarkable initiative called "Deckel-Ohne-Grenzen", which originated in Saarland. Through the great support of the community, they were able to collect numerous lids, which served as valuable starting material for our first production batches and thus enabled our start-up growth.
Thechallenge of color sorting - Regional support
However, a special challenge arose when processing these lids, as different colors were mixed and we first had to sort all lids for color-pure high-quality recycling. With the help of Valérie Hutzler from the Landskronschule Oppenheim and her dedicated students, as well as Christoph Tigges Tagesstätte TaBeA, we were able to sort all the community lids and process them in pure color.
We are pleased that their work and the start of our bottle cap recycling program was documented by Galileo:
The problem with downcycling
Bottle caps come in all kinds of colors. If you shred them like this and melt it, you get a brown mess out of it (= downcycling).
The problem: once you mix it, you can never get it apart again! That's why we try to recycle the material as purely as possible.
Regional support with the color sorting
For high-quality recycling, we therefore had to separate all the bottle caps by color, which was a huge challenge for us. Of course, we were not able to sort more than 2 million bottle caps by hand just like that.
However, with the help of Valérie Hutzler from the Landskronschule Oppenheim and her dedicated students, as well as Christoph Tigges Tagesstätte TaBeA
, we were at least able to sort all the community lids and process them in pure colors.
You can also see their work and the start of our bottle cap recycling program in a Galileo documentary about QiTech.
Our automatic bottle cap sorting machine
In order to be able to sort even larger quantities, we have built a sorting machine with the support of Philipp Schmechel (which you can see in the picture on the left).
With the first bottle cap sorting machine and our local support, we have already been able to sort more than 2 million bottle caps by color and thus obtain sufficient material for our filament coil injection molding production.
In the future, however, we want to develop an AI-based bottle cap sorting machine that is ten times faster than the current version. With this new machine, we aim to produce high quality plastic pellets from the bottle caps in a highly profitable way
Learn more in the pitch of Milan and Philipp at Founders League:
We produce our filaments from industrial waste, i.e. waste from plastics factories in the region.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of greenwashing in this area. Many companies write that they produce from recycled material. However, "recycled", "eco-friendly" regranulate often comes from other countries, and it is rarely checked to see if it is actually recycled.
We only used plastic waste from the region, from factories where we personally pick it up, and document everything with videos and photos. However, despite many attempts, we have never been able to use bottle caps for filament production because of their plastic material properties.
Production with waste ASA plastic
After the first newspaper article from the Start-up Garage, Mr. Jost from JOST Plastec invited us to his production to "see how professionals do it"
In Ingelheim, HZ and JOST Plastec produce plastic profiles, e.g. baseboards and the corresponding connectors.
During the injection molding of the connectors, sprue channels are produced as waste. At the beginning of the extrusion of profiles, there is also some scrap, as the profiles do not yet have the perfect color.
These rejects cannot be used again directly, since the most exact standards are set during production, and, for example, the perfect white tone must be met.
For us, the RAL tone of the color is not relevant, so we have produced our ASA filament series from it.
Attention: The video is already a bit old... We now have larger shredders and a factory building, and instead of a car we used vans. But apart from that, the process remains the same.
Production with PETG waste
Shortly after our founding, we first met Robel Goitom from Grünstoff Recycling, one of the fastest growing recyclers in the polycarbonate (PC) sector.
When Grünstoff had some leftover PETG sheets, they came up with the idea of working together. With their larger plastic grinders in their factory building in Frankfurt, they can also grind large PETG sheets into pellets.
These sheets are production rejects from a large German company (whose name we are not allowed to disclose at this time). The plate wastes arise during the start of production when the sheets are not yet clear enough or the diameter varies.
After Grünstoff crushes the sheets, we pick it up and grind it into fine granules from which we produce our PETG filament collection.
We also provide weekly insights into our production on social media
Yes, we produce each roll of filament in our own facility in Darmstadt. Take a look at Youtube or Facebook/Instagram to get some insights into the production.
3D printing waste recycling service for corporate customers.
For large companies we recycle 3D printing waste in closed-loop back to new filament for their production.
For corporate customers, we get large quantities of uniform material, so recycling here is reasonable and profitable.
Here is an example video.
Yes, we have spent the last 3 years developing the JARVIS Filament Line, specifically to process recycled plastics. Our JARVIS-System consists of modular machines for the production of 3D printing filament, which we design and build (in-house) in our factory building in Darmstadt. Meanwhile we have delivered over 70 machines to 14 different countries and can count FORD, BMW and numerous universities to our customers.
Here is a video where you can see our filament line:
Yeah, we've built an injection moulding machine and milled several shapes for spools, so we can now recycle bottle cap granulate into master spools. We are even expanding the whole process with a new machine.
Here is a video of the spool production (Attention: Old video! Update video coming soon)
Yes. However, we do not accept empty coils to refill them.
We don't believe in a future where we keep sending the black disposable plastic spools across Germany. We believe in the concept of our recycled MasterSpool that can be used multiple times!
So what do you do with empty filament spools?
They go into the shredder. We receive high-quality PC or ABS-PC that we are currently collecting so that we can use it to injection mold new master spools. Currently, our master spools consist of bottle caps. In the future, we want to use the PC material from old coils to make new master coils. We don't have enough material yet, but that would be a cool statement.
Do you pay for shipping empty filament spools to you in Darmstadt?
No. We don't think it makes sense for private people to send 1-2 spools across Germany for recycling. We believe that in the future local Makerspaces will become the collection points.
Currently we collect spools mainly from business customers who switch to our master spools and surrounding companies. If you have too many spools lying around and recycling is worth the shipping costs, you can send the spools to our color hall in Darmstadt.