I am using PLA for 3D printing, and I know it does not degrade well in the wild. I would like to know if there is a chemical process I could use to treat it at home.

Specifically, I am looking for a cleaner alternative than throwing my 3d printing scraps in the garbage, so I wouldn't be generating toxic components when doing this, ideally. I would like the plastic to degrade (in a few years maybe?) when I put it underground, while limiting the amount of toxic matter propagates in the soil.

I have read that hydrolyzing PLA could help achieving this. I also found threads on disolving it How to dissolve PLA (polylactic acid)? But as I am looking for an ecological process, I think I need to stay away from this as the fumes may be very toxic and polluting

Thank you for your help!

  • $\begingroup$ You could try leaving your PLA material in a water/vinegar solution for a few days (weeks?). The acidic solution should help hydrolyze the ester bonds, breaking down PLA into lactic acid. Might take a while $\endgroup$ – mcole Dec 23 '20 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ That seems like a good idea! Do you know if that might generate fumes, or other toxic byproducts? Or if Heat will help the vinegar act faster? (I have no autonomy in chemistry, maybe there is a resource online that might help me predetermine inputs/outputs of a reaction?) $\endgroup$ – JCSB Dec 23 '20 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming your material is pure PLA, the only byproducts of hydrolysis (reaction between PLA and water) will be lactic acid. The vinegar (acetic acid) simply acts as a catalyst. Heat will help. The only safety concern is if you end up boiling off all the water and leave behind concentrated acetic acid. Keep the temp around 60C and do it in a well ventilated area. $\endgroup$ – mcole Dec 24 '20 at 19:22

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