The end of throwaway culture

Our society has a pretty serious problem. If you've ever heard the term 'throwaway culture', then you'll know what we're talking about. Single use paper cups, plastic bags and other such products are manufactured using energy-intensive processes, used once, and then discarded in the trash.

Throwaway culture goes beyond just plastic bags, however. It's common now to simply purchase a newer kettle when the handle breaks on your current unit, or start looking for a new laptop when a few keys fall off. Interestingly, Singapore Environment Council Projects Manager, Vaidehi Shah, explained that plastics are symptomatic of the larger issue.

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It's unsustainable, and it's also something that society will need to change in the very near future. Thankfully, new technology is enabling us to finally put an end to a trend that's been ongoing for over three decades.

Welcome to the replicator

Much like the device aboard the Enterprise in Star Trek, 3D printers, using models developed on CAD software, can be used to print durable replacement parts for nearly every conceivable appliance in a home.

Take a fridge, for example. When a support for the egg shelf breaks, instead of sending for a new part overseas, people can draw up a replacement in CAD software, print it off, and slot it into the fridge. The same principle applies for something like a wheel in a drawer. If it ever breaks, a replacement can be developed in a matter hours or possibly even minutes. In one fell swoop, CAD software coupled with home 3D printers can take a massive step toward resolving throwaway culture.

However, there is one point that needs mentioning. What about those people unable to really use CAD software? While 3D printers are quite simple to operate, measuring a replacement object from the real world and then recreating it on a computer can be a daunting task.

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A solution that's fast developing

Online forums, since their development in the late 1990s, have become hubs for niche communities regardless of global boundaries. People from all over the world come together to share thoughts and ideas on topics ranging from motoring right through the latest video games and movies.

Unsurprisingly, forums are also starting to attract people interested in 3D printing – from consumers without experience all the way up to experienced developers. Part sharing is just one part of this growing online movement, with people requesting specific appliance and product parts, and posting finished components for others to use. In a short space of time, this could completely overhaul after market support for everything from toys to vehicles.

Here's an example of how part sharing could solve an issue many parents can identify with:

Say a child opens a new RC drone on Christmas morning, only to quickly fly it into a wall and break one of the small rotors. Instead of waiting days or potentially weeks to have a part sent from another country, a parent can hop on a forum, post the dimensions of the part, and quickly have a replacement designed by member of the community and ready to print in a short space of time. Alternatively, the parent could design the part themselves and save it for future use, having a limitless supply of extra rotors.

The development of future communities

This movement can already be seen across the US, and it's starting to grow Down Under. It's easy to see why given our examples above, and it's even easier to see where this trend could go in the near future. In just a short space of time, it may be possible to leave throwaway culture in the dust.