Thesis title

Matters of Concern in Maker Culture

Student reflection

The Biorecycling Machine is a speculative device based on the biocompatibility of plastic 3D printer waste and the human body. With the growing trend of desktop 3D printing, the danger is the substantial amount of plastic waste created by new producers operating these devices at home. Although the polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock material of many 3D printers is often advertised as eco-friendly, this leads to the assumption that it biodegrades easily and can be disposed of in a compost bin. Like biodegradable takeaway cups, bioplastics like PLA are perceived by the public as easily disposable. However, this is a misunderstanding as bioplastics require specific treatment to decompose, are difficult to differentiate from petroleum-based plastics, and can contaminate waste streams. Despite these issues, supporters of 3D printing technology promote the benefits of these devices and how they are “extending manufacturing to a hugely expanded population of producers – the existing manufactures plus a lot of regular folk” (Chris Anderson, 2013, in Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, pg. 41).

As part of my practice-based research, the Biorecycling Machine provides an alternative end-of-life option for post-consumer PLA 3D printer waste. This speculative recycling device interrogates polylactic acid’s biocompatibility with the body using the invasive qualities of the tattoo. Currently, PLA is a material used extensively in medical applications including drug delivery systems, sutures, screws, and implants. Using a handheld rotary tattooing device, the PLA polymer ink made from discarded 3D printed material is deposited into a person’s intramuscular tissue. Once inside the body the PLA is biologically recycled as it is metabolized into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and water before being excreted. Addressing the issue of 3D printer waste, the Biorecycling Machine leverages the human body and PLA’s biocompatibility with it turning us into a resource for plastic recycling.

Matt Harkness is a PhD Art, Design and Media student.

Acknowledgement of Country

UNSW School of Art & Design stands on an important place of learning and exchange first occupied by the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples.

We acknowledge the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples as the Traditional Custodians of the land that our students and staff share, create and operate on. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all First Nations peoples across Australia. Sovereignty has never been ceded.