Building RETRD 3D Printer

Kick-starting the Nairobi 3D-printing ecosystem

Recycling has never been more mainstream, as a new initiative in Kenya recycles plastic waste for use in 3D printers.

About the Project

TechforTrade recently developed the world’s first open source system for recycling plastic bottles into the filament used in 3D printing.

100 scientific microscopes designed and produced by Cambridge University, made their way to the University of Nairobi’s Makerspace/Fablab – to trial this technology for Kenyan schools.

A global analysis* revealed that:

billion metric tonnes

– which is; all plastic manufactured (as of 2017), becomes rubbish in less than a year, while:


Plastic waste ends up in the natural environment

Increasing potential risk of harm to sea life and/or waste left to rot in landfill for centuries.

3D Printer

The “Retr3D” printer is the first – and thus far only – fully open source 3D printer built in Africa.

The Challenges

Getting the right waste plastic to convert into filament for use in the 3D printers is less straightforward. PET is the polymer we’ve identified that produces the best quality prints.

ABS plastic is often treated with things like flame retardants. That means toxic fumes. PLA is good, but there’s not a significant amount of it in Kenya.

We now have agreements in place with restaurants around Nairobi to use their PET bottles.
The 3D printers are recyclable too: the “Retr3D” printer is the first – and thus far only – fully open source 3D printer built in Africa.
(The printer is constructed from e-waste, 3D printed components and parts easily available in developing countries.)


Digital Blacksmiths Nairobi, Kenya
University of Cambridge logo

Nairobi students with the 3D Printed microscope

Bottle and Filament Gear

The “Retr3D” printer is the first – and thus far only – fully open source 3D printer built in Africa

Nairobi students using the microscope

Filament Extruder and water bath

Bike collecting Nairobi waste plastic

Recyclable Retr3D printer made from collected e-waste and parts easily accessible in developing countries

Tech for Trade - building 3D printers

Building 3D printers – assembly work

Press coverage

Tech for Trade - Tech Monitor meet the Digital Blacksmiths - forging futures on a 3D anvil

Meet the Digital Blacksmiths : Forging Futures on a 3D Anvil
Tech Monitor, Mar 19, 2018

Tech for trade Digital Blacksmiths Report

Schools Digital Microscope Trial Implementation Report
Digital Blacksmiths, Dec, 2018

Tech for Trade 3D printing for low-resource settings - The Bridge

3D Printing for Low-Resource Settings
The Bridge, Journal of US Academy of Engineering, Fall, 2017

Tech for trade - A rubbish innovation -Precision Air

A Rubbish Innovation – Will 3D printing change our lives?
Precision Air, Nov, 2015 – Jan 2016

TechforTrade -HackSpace - Digital-Blacksmiths Network

Digital Blacksmiths Network

TechforTrade -HackSpace - Digital-Blacksmiths Network

Digital Blacksmiths Network – Changing the future of manufacturing in the developing world
HackSpace Magazine Feature, 2018


Tech for Trade logo

About TechforTrade

TechforTrade’s CEO William Hoyle from 2011 to 2022 worked to alleviate poverty through the marriage of technology and entrepreneurship.

TechforTrade is the largest project funded by Tech4All to date – its mission is to improve the incomes and livelihoods of small producers in some of the poorest world economies, by increasing opportunities to trade and to reduce the cost of production. Its approach is to act as a catalyst for technology enabled trading, supporting national and international market access for small producers. 

Based in London but with impact in communities around the globe techfortrade delivered a number of projects including using 3D printing, microfinance as well as mobile payments and information.
TechforTrade focused on bridging the divide between emerging technologies and international trade and economic development.