3D Printing: Increasing Profits While Eliminating Jobs?

Printing Out the World

DW (2020)

Film Review

This documentary literally gushes over 3D printing, which in my mind makes great leaps in eliminating both manufacturing and warehouse jobs. Increasingly the wealthy elite refer to large scale job elimination as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Great Reset. While aspects of this new technology are both fascinating and exciting (especially for billionaires seeking to increase profits), I find it concerning the film fails to mention the social impact of the mass elimination of jobs.

Recent advances mean that current 3D printers are much faster and less energy intensive than early models. This increases the probability that more manufacturing will return to the industrial North from the Third World, leading to shorter supply chains and eliminating the need for warehouses. Using 3D printing makes it possible to produce spare parts as they are needed, increasing the lifespan of a wide variety of machines. This new technology also has the potential to eliminate overproduction, a traditional bugbear of the capitalist economic system.

The filmmakers visit a major German 3D printer manufacturer and Radius, their US counterpart.

At present 3D printing is used to produce a variety of plastic parts for Airbus, significantly reducing the weight of their aircraft, thereby increasing their fuel efficiency and reducing their carbon emissions. 3D printing is also used to produce soles for Addidas shoes. Although Adidas is headquartered in Germany, the soles (which are printed in Germany) have to be shipped to Asian factories for assembly. 3D printing is also used to produce cellphone cases.

Although most 3D printers use built-up layers of liquified plastic (a major environmental contaminant) in the products they make, it’s also possible to 3D print products out of aluminum and carbon fiber. It’s also possible to 3D print with biodgradable plastic made of cornstarch.

In India, there are projects that recycle the PET from plastic bottles into plastic filaments used to 3D print sung;asses and other produces.


The Informal Economy that Recycles 90% of China’s Waste

China’s War on Waste

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

China’s War on Waste looks at a culture that creates and discards more products than any other society in the world. Despite its centrally planned economy, there are many ways in which China’s economy is beyond the control of central government. This relates, in part, to production decisions approved by (often corrupt) local officials and, in part, to an extensive informal economy under no official control.

China’s 2017 ban on imported waste was a first step in Beijing’s effort to shut down the informal waste sector. Thanks largely to informal rubbish scavengers, at present China recycles  90% of its recyclable waste. This figure is more than double the rate of most industrialized countries.

The plastic landfill waste gathered by informal waste collectors is resold three to four times before reaching a reprocessing center. Along with their 2017 ban on imported waste, China also shut down thousands of unlicensed backyard reprocessing centers that produced dangerous toxins affecting both the environment and worker health. Many of these centers have since reopened and continue to operate illegally.

The government is also trying to put informal garbage pickers out of business by demolishing the shacks they live in.*

Some of these informal scavengers have been replaced by 5,000 automated recycling machines that reward users for by depositing one cent in their bank account for every bottle they insert.

China hopes to incinerate 50% of Beijing’s waste by 2020 – in plants that recapture the heat produced to generate electricity. At present, the city incinerates one-eighth of its garbage, despite the toxic dioxins existing plants release to the air.

The government has also introduced curbside recycling in some areas. Thus far, the uptake by residents has been poor.

*They put the garbage picker featured in the film out of business by erecting a wall between his home and the street. He can climb the wall to seek casual laboring jobs but can’t take his bicycle-powered recycling rig with him.