The recycling business is booming, says the Environmental Protection Agency, with the industry producing $173 billion in revenues in recent years and generating jobs for over 1 million people. The use of recycled materials is well known in design, fashion and technology, but they have an increasingly large scope of use in weird and wonderful ways. One new project reveals the extent to which old materials can be given new life – it is a bridge that will be produced by a 3D printer, using 100% recycled materials.
A Green Bridge in a Green City
The bridge will be built in Rotterdam’s Kralingse Bos – known as the ‘green heart’ of the city. It will be made from a fiber-reinforced material called Arnite – a high-performance engineering plastic that combines strength with optimal processing characteristics. Arnite is currently used to make cars, electricals and consumer goods. The new bridge joins others also made from recycled plastic – such as the 30-meter footbridge built across Tweed River in Scotland, designed by Welsh startup Vertech and made from 50 tons of recycled plastic waste.
Sustainability In Bridge Design
The use of recyclable plastics in bridge design is considered a quirky new development, since in the past, sustainable bridge design has centered around the use of recycled metal. Scrap metal pricing figures indicate that recycled metal sourced from old copper, stainless steel, aluminum, and brass items can give new life to a bevy of new items. In 2016, California’s Bay Bridge Steel Program found a unique way to salvage and repurpose metal that once made up the eastern part of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (built in 1933). More recently, architects and builders have been advocating for the idea of ‘designing for deconstruction’. This concept involves designing bridges, highways, and other large constructions with a view to disassembling them and easily refashioning them so that waste is reduced to zero.
Adding 3D Printing into the Equation
Arguably the most original aspect of the new Rotterdam bridge, is the fact that it will be printed using 3D technology. It will be replacing the current bridge and will be lighter and more resistant. It will also feature cool technology, such as data collecting apps that will monitor its state of maintenance and its structural safety in a smart, more efficient manner. Mozafar Said of the City of Rotterdam, stated that through the bridge, the government would “continue to push the frontiers of sustainability for bridges, using thermoplastics which will enable greater circularity.” He added that his team would continue to search for ways to build new-generation bridges that are more sustainable, more technologically advanced, and cheaper to maintain.
The new bridge being built in Rotterdam is as unique as they come, since it will be completely printed from recycled plastic. Not only will this type of ‘construction’ result in lower costs, but it will also enable more efficient maintenance, since it will contain digital features that provide key information regarding maintenance and safety. The bridge is an excellent example of how to reduce the effect of plastic pollution on our fragile planet.