KiwiFil and the environment

At KiwiFil, we are really tree-huggers at heart. We are doing the best we can to make the production of filament as environmentally friendly as we can. Yes, we know that all companies say that these days, and most of it is just empty talks and "greenwashing". However, in our case, making the most sustainable 3D printing filament possible, was why we started KiwiFil.

Our long-term goal is to use only recycled plastics, and we have launched our first line of 100 % recycled filament made from discarded 3D prints. We are also making filament from virgin (new) PLA, which is a bioplastic made from sugarcane. On this page you can read about the environmental impact of our 3D printing filaments. Our filament extruder is a re-purposed drinking straw machine, and most of our other equipment is used or re-purposed. Our box and spool are locally made from mostly recycled paper, and we are zipping around town to suppliers and retails in an electric car, charged with renewable electricity.

Environmental impact at a glance

To make a 1 kg spool of KiwiFil PLA pro filament (including the box and all-paper spool), the CO2 equivalent footprint is approximately 0.7 kg. That is equivalent to driving an average New Zealand car for 4 km (2.5 miles).

The PLA is made from sugar beets and sugarcane. It takes 1.6 kg of sugar to make 1 kg of PLA, which is equivalent to the sugar in four birthday cakes.

(Sources for all this data are found further down on this page)

Environmental impact from PLA filament

PLA stands for Polylactic Acid and is a plastic material that is made from plants. PLA is commonly made from corn, sugar beets, and sugarcane. The PLA in the KiwiFil filament is made in Thailand from sugarcane.

Because it is made from plants, does that mean it has zero environmental impact? No, nothing has zero environmental impact. The sugar beets and sugarcane have to be grown, harvested, and processed into lactic acid, which is then polymerized into to PLA plastic. However, we still think it is better to use plants than crude oil to make 3D printing filament.

How much sugar that it take to make PLA?

Sugarcane, you may ask, isn't that a food product? Is it really ethical to make plastic from food? Well, we still think it is better than making it from petroleum. Sugarcane is a very efficient crop, and according to the manufacturer of the PLA, it takes only 1.6 kg of sugar to make 1 kg of PLA. That is the same amount of sugar used for 4 birthday cakes. Or the same amount of sugar that the Germans eat in the form of candy in 3 months.

Sources:
Amount of sugar in cake: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6067366/
Size of a birthday cake: https://cockeyed.com/science/weight/birthday-cake.html
Amount of sugar needed to make 1 kg of PLA: https://www.total-corbion.com/media/ibglprg0/totalcorbionpla_brochure_a4_190830.pdf
Consumption of candy: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2016-10-31/countries-that-consume-the-most-candy-per-year

CO2 footprint from PLA

The CO2 equivalent footprint from 1 kg of KiwiFil PLA filament is about 0.7 kg. To put that number perspective, 0.7 kg CO2 is the same amount of CO2 that the average car in New Zealand will emit when driven as little as 4 km. This means if you drive your average petrol or diesel car the store to buy one spool of filament and drive back home again, and your store is further than 2 km from your house, your driving will have the same or larger footprint than your filament. That is some food for thought, we think.

The net CO2 emissions from manufacturing of 1 kg of PLA plastic from sugarcane is 0.5 kg CO2, according to this Life Cycle Analysis published in the Journal of Polymers and the Environement. For plastics made from petroleum, the equivalent CO2 emission for new (virgin) material is around 3 kg per 1 kg of plastic.

In addition to making the raw plastic material, it also has to be transported to New Zealand, and then extruded into filament. Sea transport is very efficient, and adds about 0.1 kg of CO2 per 1 kg of plastic. The extrusion process uses electricity. We use 100 % renewable energy with very small carbon footprint. However, if we had used average New Zealand electricity, the filament extrusion would have added another 0.1 kg of CO2 per 1 kg of filament, but it doesn't in our case. The spool and the box made from mostly recycled cardboard, together with the bag and labels, add about 0.1 kg of CO2 equivalent.

Altogether, the CO2 emission from sugarcane field to filament is about 0.7 kg per 1 kg filament.

In addition to these emissions, there will also be CO2 equivalent emissions from your use of your 3D printer. The electricity consumption will vary greatly with different printers, so it is difficult to estimate it. There will also be some emissions from the transport from the store or the warehouse to your 3D printer room. These emissions will vary greatly depending on the mode of transport. We typically drive our electric car (charged with renewable electricity) to stock our local retailer. For our national retailers, we would use courier or freight companies. Some of these are carbon neutral, like New Zealand Post. There will also be some emissions from other manufacturing related activities, such as making coffee in the lunch room, but we currently don't have a good way of estimating these emissions.

Because of the variation in the total carbon footprint for your particular spool of filament, and the uncertainty in some of the calculations, we take the 0.7 kg number and we double that to be on the safe side. We offset 1.4 kg of CO2 for every 1 kg spool of filament we sell, using Gold Standard certified programs. In addition to that, we also support the tree planting and the rescue of the unique New Zealand birds Kiwi and Kakapo, which you can read about here. We also encourage you use online tools to calculate your own carbon footprint and see how you can improve it. Below are a few carbon footprint tools. You can also offset your emissions using Gold Standard certified programs, just like we do.

Future Fit by GenLess: https://www.futurefit.nz/
Carbon Footprint: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
Climate Hero: https://co2-calculator.climatehero.me/

Sources:
PLA life cycle analysis: https://www.total-corbion.com/media/d0vjddgv/mora-o-bie2019_article_lifecycleimpactassessment.pdf
Energy use for plastics production: https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/warm/pdfs/Plastics.pdf
CO2 footprint of cardboard: https://www.corrugated.org/carbon-footprint-calculator/
Emissions from average New Zealand cars: https://www.stuff.co.nz/motoring/113716572/the-cleanest-and-dirtiest-car-brands-in-new-zealand
Emissions from New Zealand electricity: https://ecotricity.co.nz/news/carbon-knowledge/
CO2 footprint from cardboard: https://www.procarton.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Carbon-Footprint-Report-2019.pdf

Water usage for PLA manufacturing

It takes 1782 litres of water to produce 1 kg of sugar from sugarcane. With 1.6 kg of sugar per 1 kg of PLA, that means 2851 litres of water is used per 1 kg of PLA. That may sound like a lot - almost 10 bathtubs full of water. However, it takes a whopping 15415 litres of water (yes, fifteen thousand!) to produce 1 kg of beef. For the amount of water used in your spool of PLA filament, you can get two medium sized hamburgers...

Source:
Waterfootprint.org: https://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/product-gallery/

All-paper spools & box

Our filament comes on all-paper spools. Both boxes and spools are made here in New Zealand, and made from recycled fibers to whatever extent is possible without sacrificing the function and strength. When you have used all the filament, just chuck the spool in the recycling bin to become new cardboard. The box can be turned inside-out and be reused for other purposes, or it can be recycled, of course.

When we started KiwiFil, we did what any new company would do - we looked at our competitors! Most other brands use heavy plastic spools, but we found that incredibly wasteful. A few manufacturers use paper spools, and we decided to do the same. The paper spool also weighs less, so you will pay less for shipping. We put our own twist on the design with the colourful jungle artwork on the 1 kg spools. If you look closely, you will spot native New Zealand birds and plants hiding in the grass.

Both the 1 kg spools and the 250 g spools are made locally, with several small business in the supply chain. The spools are made from recycled paper to whatever extent possible. The beautiful print on the 1 kg spools is done just around the corner from the KiwiFil factory by John, Ben, and Lindsey at Trade Colour Print. The printed paper is then glued onto the the thick paperboard using water-based PVA glue by the wonderful Lindsey. Lindsey is a professional bookbinder and does an awesome job getting it absolutely perfect!

The sheets are then sent a block away to be die cut by a clever young lady named Monique, who is the next generation die maker at Fine Forms.

The paper tubes that make the center of the spool are cut to size across town by Auckland Paper Tubes, and then finally Eva assembles the spools herself using PVA glue and 3D printed jigs.

Our spool design isn't only lighter and less wasteful than the regular plastic design that most of our competitor use, it also supports local businesses. All of these things are important to us.

In addition to the cardboard box, the spool is also packed in a plastic, re-sealable bag to protect from moisture. The bag is also made in New Zealand. The bags are made from virgin plastic, but are actively looking for more sustainable alternatives.