Marrying a social cause with technology, Sidhant Pai belongs to a new generation of innovators who are using technology to not just develop concepts but also give back to society. Protoprint, Sidhant’s brain-child, works on a simple concept: collaborating with waste picking cooperatives in India and providing them with low-cost technology for waste recycling plastic into 3D printing filament. We invited Sidhant to tell us more about how Protoprint came to existence.

“I was working on a college project in MIT, when I happened to meet the waste picker community. I was surprised and appalled to find out how little they made with a day’s hard work – sometimes as little as Rs. 50 in a day.

I got thinking, along with my dad on a way to empower the community and work on my own 3D project at the same time and that’s how Protoprint was born.

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Our concept is quite simple. We offer the waste picking community with low-cost technology that allows them to recycle plastic waste and eventually turn that into printable 3D filaments.

Three and a half years into the making, I think our biggest breakthrough came with our tie up with SWaCH, a waste picker community. This helped streamline the project. Because we were aiming to enter an existing supply chain, an efficient approach has allowed us to seamlessly fit in with ease.

The Protoprint project works on a simple model. On the site, the waste pickers segregate the waste material, filter it through FlakerBot, a machine that shreds plastic and then put it through RefilBot, that transforms the shredded plastic into filaments.

As in most innovations today, our biggest problem is technical issues. Take for example, crystallisation. While there might not be a big difference between virgin and recycled plastic filaments to the naked eye, when you use it for printing, the difference is stark. Ironing out those issues, before we go commercial is our utmost priority.

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Once we go commercial I aim to make Protoprint a multi-city project. I think that 3D printing is going to pick up in a major way especially in education institutes. Art and design students can use 3D printing to their advantage as it offers more structure than a regular format.

I always wanted to create a product that lets me give back to the social pyramid of society. This projects lets the waste picker community earn a lot more, with the same amount of plastic. I think that we are now seeing a trend of socially active innovators and given the dire need, I hope that we see utmost success.

For now, we are focused on empowering the community, offer the end users with a cheaper, globally sound alternative to virgin plastic and have a tangible solution to plastic waste recycling.

Photographs by Sidhant Pai

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