It is now abundantly clear that we have a waste problem. Living in what is described as the ‘Anthropocene’, our consumption is now vastly outstripping our resources (Simms and Potts, 2012:13). And as our numbers continue to grow exponentially so does the destruction to the planet caused by our waste.
Our consumerist behaviour is main cause of all this waste, we live in a society where people’s goals are dictated through the acquisition of goods which are unnecessary. Perpetuated by the overabundance of labour forces and a growing use of plastic post World War II, lead to an overabundance which demanded a need for new products to be manufactured (Simms and Potts, 2012: 3). Similarly our mentalities changed; with past generations, if something broke then it would be mended, but now the mentality is often to simply throw it away and replace it. Often enough, due to the lack of skills and time, this proves to be the cheaper option. Similarly, products are no longer built to last, with planned obsolescence now designed into almost any product; so it could be argued that ultimately, it is the Designers that are responsible for forming this throw away society (Fry, 2009: 7).
Unfortunately, there is now abundant evidence to demonstrate the damage caused by our adoption of consumerism. The Great Pacific Garbage patch is a very large area (three times the size of France) situated in the North Pacific Ocean, which holds an inordinate amount of plastic debris.
However it’s not only plastic which is wreaking havoc to the planet; there’s also e-waste.
Around 20 million tons of e-waste are produced every year (ifixit.org, 2017). The average Briton throws away between 44lbs and 55lbs each year, most of which ends up in landfills, gets incinerated or simply collects in people’s homes remaining unused (Knapton, 2017).
Of all the e-waste produced, only around 20-40%of it is recycled (depending on the sources), with the rest going to landfills or shipped overseas to be burned for scraps, where toxic metals leach into the environment. Of that which is recycled, around 30% of the electronic material simply cannot be recovered (ifixit.org, n.d.).
Electronics are becoming cheaper every year and their lifespans are shortening. Advancement in technology often means devices become obsolescent quickly if the items don’t stop functioning after some time anyway, so often he households and businesses are left to figure out what to do with old computers, broken televisions, and obsolete electronics. These items are often stored and forgotten about or simply thrown in the trash. Both of these scenarios are less than ideal.
The awful implications of our consumerist society were noted by Victor Papanek, who stated “”… by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed” (1972: ix). He believed it to be the designers responsibility to create a more sustainable future and their duty to encourage mindful design.
There are organisations who are attempting to tackle this problem, such as the Edinburgh Remakery.
The Remakery, part of Remade, is an organisation who describe their vision as such: “We’re not content with teaching repair skills in the community – we want to generate a repair revolution. This means changing the way people use and dispose of resources, encouraging manufacturers to build things to last and to be fixable, and making sure the facilities are in place to allow people to repair and reuse.” (edinburghremakery.org.uk, 2017)
We visited their warehouse in Granton where Sotiris, the man in charge of the technology at the Remakery, explained their operations. The warehouse was filled with shelves worth of monitors and computers, bins full of cables sat around and various broken components were around the place. The warehouse also held a lot of furniture, part of which gets repaired and up cycled to then be sold in their shop on Leith Walk.
He explained how the majority of their hardware comes from offices and institutions, such as the University of Edinburgh, who every few years decide to freshen up their computer suits and throw out hoards of perfectly good computers and electronics – it becomes easy to see how so much e-waste ends up building up. These are then inspected and repaired if necessary to then be sold on, but as far as we could see, they mostly sat in the warehouse collecting dust.
At the warehouse I decided to take some broken laptop monitors as I believed they held some potential – particularly I was interested in seeing whether I would be able to recycle the possible LEDs held within.
I wanted to create an ornamental/sculptural light feature utilising almost nothing but the materials already found within the broken screen. I was keen to use the different films, with their unique properties, especially such as the polarising film and ideally the LCD. My aim was to take something broken from the Remakery, which many might have at home, abandoned and unused, in order to make something completely new.
My aim was to make something which didn’t look like some hacked piece of up cycling, but something entirely unique.
After experimenting with the materials, I decided to use the clear plastic sheet, along with the polarising film and opaque film to create a lamp. These were the most accessible to the user and had very appealing aesthetic qualities. The form was chosen for it’s simplicity and the ability to procure them all from a single sheet of plastic. The shape is also reminiscent to a shard of broken glass – a nod to it’s previous form, and also because of the similarity to a diamond when the light plays on the polarising film.
A key feature of the design is the ability to make it easily at home – the main stipulation for the simplicity of the design. Therefore I created an Instructable which talks you through step by step. A minimal amount of tools are needed, mostly just a scalpel, glue and pliers. The electronics will be trickier; requiring a degree of knowhow, however I’ve suggested an alternative, at the risk of the user, which doesn’t require as much tinkering and investigation.
The Instructable can be found at the following address: https://www.instructables.com/id/Recycled-Broken-Monitor-Lamp/