Turn your milk jugs into… whatever. At home. With 3D printing.

Great idea, if it works. Laboratory Equipment looks at the possibility of slicing up plastic trash to use as “ink” for 3D printers:

Using free software downloaded from sites like Thingiverse, which now holds over 54,000 open-source designs, 3D printers make all manner of objects by laying down thin layers of plastic in a specific pattern. While high-end printers can cost many thousands of dollars, simpler open-source units run between $250 and $500 — and can be used to make parts for other 3D printers, driving the cost down ever further.

“One impediment to even more widespread use has been the cost of filament,” says [Joshua]Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering [at Michigan Technical University]. Though vastly less expensive than most manufactured products, the plastic filament that 3D printers transform into useful objects isn’t free.

Milk jugs, on the other hand, are a costly nuisance, either to recycle or to bury in a landfill. But if you could turn them into plastic filament, Pearce reasoned, you could solve the disposal problem and drive down the cost of 3D printing even more.

So Pearce and his research group decided to make their own recycling unit, or RecycleBot. They cut the labels off milk jugs, washed the plastic, and shredded it. Then they ran it through a homemade device that melts and extrudes it into a long, spaghetti-like string of plastic. Their process is open-source and free for everyone to make and use at Thingiverse.com.