androidCreated with Sketch. angle-left2Created with Sketch. angle-right2Created with Sketch. appleCreated with Sketch. blogCreated with Sketch. envelopeCreated with Sketch. facebookCreated with Sketch. github_24 Icon/contact/chat/ic_chat_24Created with Sketch. Icon/electricity/electricity/ic_electricity_24Created with Sketch. Icon/energy/ic_energy_24Created with Sketch. Icon/gas/gas/ic_gas_24Created with Sketch. Icon/home/ic_home_24Created with Sketch. Icon/lost-search/ic_lost-search_24Created with Sketch. Icon/device/phone/ic_phone_24Created with Sketch. ic_solid-arrow-left_24 ic_solid-arrow-right_24 ic_spinner_24 Icon/profile/ic_username_24Created with Sketch. cabCreated with Sketch. calculatorCreated with Sketch. credit-cardCreated with Sketch. envelopeCreated with Sketch. folder-openCreated with Sketch. homeCreated with Sketch. laptopCreated with Sketch. ovoCreated with Sketch. pagelinesCreated with Sketch. phoneCreated with Sketch. smartmeterCreated with Sketch. toggle-onCreated with Sketch. linkedinCreated with Sketch. plusCreated with Sketch. stackoverflow_24 star2Created with Sketch. star-halfCreated with Sketch. twitterCreated with Sketch. youtubeCreated with Sketch. forum legacy-icon-communities-exit

Is 3D printing good or bad for the environment?

By Rachel England Wednesday 20 November 2013

3D Printing


Wouldn’t it be convenient if the next time a curtain hook snapped you could simply magic one up yourself, without having to slog down to the DIY shop? Or the next time you had unexpected guests you could just whip up a few extra plates – seemingly out of thin air – instead of resorting to the battered paper plates shoved in the back of the kitchen cupboard? Of course it would, and very soon this could be a reality.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but 3D printing has been gaining traction for years now (the first working 3D printer was created in 1984!), and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Instead of printing flat, two-dimensional images onto paper, 3D printers use layers of liquid plastic to create physical, three-dimensional objects (watch a quick demo here). From kitchen utensils to children’s toys, if it can be made from plastic it can probably be made by a 3D printer.

At the moment, 3D printers are primarily being used by architects and engineers, but domestic hobbyists are also getting in on the action, using them to make jewellery or bits and bobs for the home. Such printers usually cost between $600-$2,000 – not dirt cheap but not enough to totally put shoppers off, either – and they’re set to get cheaper still as 3D printing becomes more popular.

Although it may be some time before you’ll find a 3D printer in every home, it won’t be too long before you’ll find them in shops and supermarkets, printing off items on demand which would otherwise gather dust in a warehouse somewhere. 3D printing could therefore completely revolutionise the way we purchase goods, and indeed the life cycle of everyday products altogether. But what does this mean for the environment? As usual, there are pros and cons, and here we take a look at both:


No transportation pollution

If you need something, you could just ‘print’ it out at home, or nip out to a nearby shop where it could be printed for you. No more lorries transporting goods around the country (or even air freight importing items from overseas).

No needless manufacturing

Say you’re in the market for some garden furniture – a nice plastic lawn chair, for example. Thousands of these are manufactured every year – all requiring energy and materials to do so – but not all of them are sold, and those that aren’t either end up abandoned in a corner of a warehouse, or wind up as rubbish. If it were possible to print a lawn chair on demand, it would do away with needless manufacturing and save a lot of embedded energy.

Fewer raw materials wasted

3D printing uses additive processes, where successive layers of materials are laid down in different shapes. Traditional machining processes often use subtractive processes, where cutting or drilling is used to remove unneeded parts of the object (to create holes and gaps, for example). These redundant bits of material are often useless, and just end up in the bin or at best, are recycled (which in itself uses energy).

Longer lives for products

If your toaster gives up the ghost because the lever is broken, what do you do? Sure, you could try to seek out a replacement part, but that might take a while, not to mention cost you a pretty penny – after all, products are designed with a degree of built-in obsolescence, to ensure you eventually buy new models. If you had a 3D printer, you could potentially print your own level replacement, thus extending the life of an otherwise perfectly-usable item.

Easier recycling

As it stands, all objects created by 3D printing are made from a single raw material, making the recycling process a lot more straightforward (although it is likely additional materials will be introduced in future generations of 3D printer).

Less energy across the product lifecycle

Taking into account many of these factors, scientists reckon that an item created by 3D printing has a lower energy footprint than one created by traditional processes. A study at the Michigan Technological University found that making items with a basic 3D printer took 41%-64% less energy than making them in a factory and shipping them to the US.


Heavy reliance on plastics

Generally speaking, anything involving plastic isn’t great news for the environment, and while researchers are working on creating plastic polymers (the ‘ink’, if you will) that are biodegradable, the whole process still relies on a material that is environmentally damaging to create and a real headache to get rid of.

Encouraging wastefulness

While consumerism has a lot to answer for as far as the environment is concerned, at least standing in the way of complete and utter frivolity is the cost (and logistics) involved in a big retail binge. If you go out and buy a pair of shoes with your hard-earned cash you’re going to look after them, right? But what if you could just print a new pair of shoes any time you wanted? How long would it be before you had more shoes than you could ever need piled up in your closet? Key thinkers on the subject are concerned that relatively cheap and easy access to ‘stuff’ on demand will have a pretty damaging impact on reduce, re-use and recycle efforts.

Second-hand fumes

Recent research indicates that hot plastic releases toxic fumes, and while 3D printers release around the same amount of fumes as you’d get from cooking indoors, the long-term effects of exposure to such plastic pollution isn’t yet fully understood.

Energy inefficiency

While basic items created by 3D printing may use less energy than those manufactured and shipped traditionally, 3D printing remains a pretty slow and inefficient process.  While an injection mould could pump out 1,000 objects in an hour, a 3D printer may only manage 100, using the same amount of electricity. Furthermore, 3D printers are frighteningly energy hungry. According to researchers at Loughborough University, 3D printers that use heat or a laser to melt plastic consume between 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than an injection moulding making the same object.

O​VO​ Energy Ltd, registered office 1 Rivergate Temple Quay Bristol, BS1 6ED, company no. 06890795 registered in England and Wales, VAT No. 100119879

Additional terms and conditions
Please see below for full terms and conditions on 33% renewable electricity, 3% interest rewards, exit fees and saving claims.


1Monthly cost - Representative monthly direct debit costs based on a non-economy-7, dual-fuel, medium user (3100 kWhs elec. and 12500 kWhs gas) paying in advance by direct debit, including online discount.  All rates correct as of 06/06/2017, but may go up or down.

2Weekly cost - Representative weekly costs based on a non-economy-7, dual-fuel, medium user (3100 kWhs elec. and 12500 kWhs gas).  All rates correct as of 06/06/2017, but may go up or down.

3Pay Monthly Savings claims: Saving based on the estimated annual cost of OVO Two year fixed tariff for a non-economy-7, dual-fuel, medium user (3100 kWhs elec. and 12500 kWhs gas) paying monthly in advance by direct debit, including online discount. Comparisons made against the average of the Big 6 standard variable tariffs with equivalent features. All rates correct as of 04/10/2017.“The Big 6” are British Gas, Scottish Power, SSE, Npower, E.ON and EDF.

4Pay As You Go Savings are based on the average estimated annual costs for new PAYG OVO customers quoted through the OVO website (based on household and/or consumption information provided by those customers), compared to their current supplier and tariff. Comparisons taken between 01/01/2016 and 11/10/16. Incl VAT. Actual savings may vary according to your current supplier or tariff, individual tariff options, household information, consumption and location. 

We include almost twice as much renewable electricity as the national average: At least 33% of electricity in all of our tariffs comes from renewable sources. The national average, according to Ofgem as at March 2014 was 16.7%. For more information please visit this page.

33% of your electricity comes from renewable sources: 33% renewable electricity as standard as of 1st April 2015. Renewable electricity is generated from wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydro, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogas.

3% interest: Calculated at 3% per year for customers paying by advance direct debit.  The OVO Interest Reward is paid monthly based on   number of days in credit and the amount left in your account after you’ve paid your bill,  and the credit balance on which you can earn the OVO Interest Reward is capped. Terms apply:

95% of new customers save when switching to OVO: Savings based on the average estimated annual costs for all new OVO customers quoted through the OVO website, compared to their current supplier and tariff. Comparisons taken between 01/05/2016 and 11/10/16. Incl VAT.

94% of surveyed customers would recommend us: OVO conducted a survey of their customers in between 1st January 2016 and 15th April 2016. Out of 15,312 customers who responded, over 94% rated OVO 6+ when asked 'how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend and family, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Britain's top rated energy provider: Britain's top rated energy provider in the Which? 2015 satisfaction survey. Survey conducted in October 2015. Awarded in January 2016.

uSwitch's Energy Supplier of the Year: OVO energy was voted and awarded  'Energy Supplier of the year' and best for: Overall Customer Satisfaction, Most Likely to be Recommended, Value for Money, Best Deal for You, Customer Service, Billing Services, Energy Efficiency, Meter Services, Online Services, Green Services and Transfer Process. OVO Energy scored a 96% customer satisfaction score.

Which?: Achieved the highest score of 78% in the Which? Satisfaction Survey conducted in September and October 2016.

* EV - Everywhere, full terms and conditions:

* OVO SolarStore (Beta), full terms and conditions:

Pay Monthly unit rates

PAYG unit rates

Read more Read less

Like most websites OVO Energy uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this site. Accept and Close