A remote island is probably one of the most unlikely places you’ll find a 3D printer, but 500km from Darwin they are using some of the latest technology to deal with plastic waste by recycling plastics into 3D printer filament.

Ernest Gondarra lives on Yurriwi – or Milingimbi – one of the Crocodile Islands in Arnhem Land. The island is beautiful; surrounded by stunning water, you get a real sense of isolation. This isolation means the only way to get anything onto the island is by a boat, plane or barge. These methods are also the only way to get anything off the island, which is a huge issue for plastic waste.

When ModFab, a company that teaches 3D printing and the associated technology, came to Yurriwi, Ernest was fascinated; he wanted to learn more. After attending a bunch of workshops, he realised that this would be a huge opportunity for his mob.

Surrounded by other makers on the island (like artists, jewellery makers, and furniture designers) and supported by ALPA (Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation), Ernest started designing and printing all sorts of objects – from phone covers to fairy light covers and ID card holders. He even helped out Rio Tinto, making 3D printed models of their boats.

Seeing the opportunities for creativity and resourcefulness, Ernest has started teaching CAD (computer aided design) and 3D printing to the island’s young people. When we visited, students were using a piece of software called Tinker CAD to make a personalised bubble wand. Ernest printed each one, and handed them to students the next morning to try them out.

So this helps solve the problem of bringing things on to the island, but what about getting plastic waste off the island? Well, Ernest’s next idea is to introduce plastic recycling, where waste plastic can be turned into filament and then 3D printed into useful objects.

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