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Sustainability and Cosplay: 3D Printed Kits and Shipping - DangerousLadies

Sustainability and Cosplay: 3D Printed Kits and Shipping

By now, you probably know that 3D printed cosplay props are made from plastic, which produces quite a bit of waste. So, if you are an environmentally conscious cosplayer, it's only fair to ask what steps Dangerous Ladies is taking as a business to cut down on plastic waste, and what materials we are choosing in order to lessen our impact on the environment.

Here at Dangerous Ladies, we primarily print with Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament. PLA is a thermoplastic polyester that is derived from renewable resources. In our case, eSun PLA+ (our preferred filament) is manufactured with corn starch! This means it is biodegradable and recyclable.

You read that right. PLA is recyclable… but it has a catch!

PLA Filament derived from corn starch
Do not eat the filament... 
Firstly, being biodegradable does not mean it is compostable. Something that biodegrades will break down in the environment, but this still includes things that take decades or even centuries to biodegrade, unlike something that is compostable, which will basically turn to slop within years. PLA biodegrades in about 80 years, which is obviously too long to just leave things sitting around waiting to melt, but it can be sped up very quickly by applying certain bacterias. (There’s a much longer explanation by BioResources here if you want to get into the weeds of it.)

If you don’t want to destroy it entirely, you can reuse it! It is possible to melt down and reuse for other purposes, but like many, many other “recyclable” goods, you can’t just throw it in your municipal recycling pick-up because it can only be recycled using specialized processes. Currently, the vast majority of recycling facilities are not set up to do this.

Hopefully in the near future, recycling plants will expand what they do, but for now, all those PLA scraps still need someplace to go. And we produce a lot of scraps, so it’s important to us to mitigate that however we can.

Recycling 3D Printer Filament

When we fill an order for a 3D Printed cosplay prop, there's always supports that we remove in house before we ship it off to you for bodyshopping and finishing. Depending on the print, supports can be a couple grams worth of material, or a couple dozen. (By designing our files to print efficiently, we do reduce this quite a bit!) But in 2023, we shipped out over 2,500 physical orders and although some of those orders were resin kits or fabrics, our printers are always busy. I'm sure you can imagine how much support waste piles up, especially once you add failed prints we can’t salvage for seconds sales.

Below, you can see the amount of scrap filament we've collected after a day of packing and processing orders. Ouch!  

Recyclable 3D Printer Filament Supports

So here’s our solution: we recycle our filament where possible through the recycling program. We also are able to recycle any plastic or cardboard filament spools and packaging through their incredible services. We get no kickbacks from this, and can’t understate how important it is that companies like are willing to run this as a service at all. Right now, the cost of recapturing used filament is basically about the same as producing a new reel, if not more. The equipment to grind down, melt and then re-extrude PLA back into a reel of filament costs thousands of dollars, which is understandably a large investment for many companies. Once you add in the labour to operate it, most companies just haven’t figured out a way to make this viable. It’s important to support initiatives to recycle filament, even if it doesn’t really benefit us in any way.

And, by the way –– PLA is the most recyclable filament there is. It is much harder to recapture other filaments, and since PLA is the most common filament, it stands the best chance of being recycled.

Sustainably Packing and Shipping Orders

Maintaining conscious shipping practices is also a great way to reduce our impact on the environment. We pack and ship our orders using as much recycled plastic and padding as possible! We achieve this in a couple ways:
  1. Reusing packaging from orders shipped to us, as well as collecting extra packaging and shipping material from nearby businesses in our community. Our neighbourhood is full of little automotive companies; they get shipments of parts often, so they often drop by with big boxes of air pockets, crumpled paper and so on, which we then use. A few years ago, we bought four large reels of bubble wrap… a year and a half later, we’ve gone through less than one of them because the reused packing from our neighbours has made up the difference! That’s a lot of plastic.
  2. We forgo some bells and whistles such as thank-you cards, branded packaging, or physical written instructions in favour of digital tutorials housed here on our blog and recycled packaging items. We know it’s very trendy and popular to do custom packaging and include gifts and whatnot, and that it looks nice on unboxing videos on social media, but at the end of the day, a lot of that is just extra materials and costs. We would rather skip the frills and create less waste, especially since we know most of those things will end up in someone else’s recycling or garbage. We take special attention to pack our items with care, and make it easy for our clients to dispose of any packaging they receive from us in a sustainable manner!
  3. We're licensed under Germany’s Packaging Act, VerpackG. This means we're compliant with Germany's new laws for international retailers regarding the sorting and sustainable disposal of packaging products. Dangerous Ladies ships to Germany with plastic-free packaging whenever possible and are consistently investigating ways to cut down on plastic shipping materials for all shipments. You can read more about our partnership and licensing on our store policy page.
  4. We have moved away from plastic packaging wherever possible. Some things are proving harder to replace than others –– more on that in a sec –– but we’ve switched to paper Kraft envelopes and paper wadding for padding this year, and won’t be reordering other plastic goods once we’ve used up our current stock.

There are also some things we’re looking forward to updating eventually:

  1. We’d like to switch to Kraft/paper tape for closing boxes, but presently the only way to buy these in bulk is to use water-activated Kraft tape, which needs a specialty machine that goes for upwards of $1200. (It’s also way trickier to use than a regular tape gun!) We’re still figuring out what to do here, but in the mean time, we’re trying to be efficient with how we tape boxes.
  2. Plastic zip bags are another tricky one to replace. We currently ship kits and small parts in plastic zip bags so little pieces stay grouped together and don’t get lost, but this does mean including more plastic packaging. We could switch over to paper bags, but even ones that seal safely to protect those pieces have the issue of being opaque –– one of the real benefits of the plastic bags is that you can see what’s in them! The paper ones also don’t offer water protection, which we like when shipping fabric, and the plastic-coated paper bags aren’t recyclable.

Reusable Packaging for Display

Starting in 2024, we've been looking into new options for packaging that you can keep! Now, some of our more delicate jewelry items ship in their own jewelry boxes, including Dion's Earrings.

You can keep these boxes for storing your earrings, or other little trinkets instead of throwing it away.

Dion Lesage Earrings Sterling Silver Cosplay

Reusing and Repurposing Cosplay Pieces

If you didn't already know, Dangerous Ladies often hosts Seconds Sales, Masters Sales, and Cosplay Closet Sales! Rehoming kits with small imperfections, masters we no longer use, and cosplays that we no longer wear is one of the most efficient (and easiest) ways to keep cosplay pieces out of the trash, not to mention allows a cosplay new life and to be loved by another cosplayer.

If you have questions about sustainability and Dangerous Ladies, please contact us!

Featured in our header image is: our Venti Accessories Kit by: S1ck1y and LXE.
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