New Making

Recycling keyboard plastics in an interesting, somewhat performative way


Upon visiting the remakery, I discovered a large number of old keyboards, more or less all made of off-white ABS plastic. They were testimony to the times changing; more and more people are using laptops with built in keyboards, and keyboards have improved enough that there are a massive amount of older model keyboards lying unused and derelict in random deposits around the world. Many of them are made of ABS, which is a thermoplastic and can be reheated and reformed. Though keyboards and the plastic they are made of aren’t the most “e” of all “e-waste,” they are still part of the massive problem of e-waste going unsalvaged. As computer technology continues to improve, these older keyboards will continue to pile up and up, their plastic unreclaimed.

According to a study by Science Advances, the first global analysis of all plastics ever made—and their fate, of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. 275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK. That is around 15 million bottles per day which are classed as ‘single use’. According to David Palmer-Jones, CEO for Suez recycling and recovery in the UK, “The UK is at a tipping point and without radical change to improve England’s household recycling rates the UK will not meet its EU agreed target of 50% recycling rates by 2020,”

     E-waste has been identified as the fastest growing waste stream in the world at present, according to a study in the Journal of Health and Pollution. The increasing ‘market penetration’ in the developing countries, ‘replacement market’ in the developed countries and ‘high obsolescence rate’ make e-waste one of the fastest waste streams, according to the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Major types of polymers (plastics) in the e-plastics stream include acrylonitrile, butadiene styrene (ABS), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonate (PC), polyvinylchloride (PVC), high impact polystyrene (HIPS), or blends of these thermoplastics.

I’m focusing on the plastics associated with e-waste, specifically those used in keyboards. Most older genereation keyboards of the 90s and 2000s were made out of injection-molded ABS. Two of the major barriers to e-plastics’ reuse or recycling are the mixed plastic content and the presence in the e-plastics of flame retardants (FR), of which two classes in particular, the brominated flame retardants (BFR) and organo-phosphorus flame retardants (OPFR), have associated health concerns, according to a paper by William Mills and Robert A. Tatara. These health concerns limit how easy or simple it is to  directly reuse these plastics in compression molding, as well as the expected air bubbles and imperfections of the process.

However on a smaller scale, or in a design arena where small structural flaws don’t matter, there is great opportunity for re-use of these plastics. In combination with digital fabrication techniques and other reclaimed materials such as scrap wood and other computer parts, these plastics can be harvested and reheated/molded into complex shapes, shells, or bodies for new products. Currys PC world offers a free recycling service for any unwanted electronic object, and most countries and states have program for the same. However, most of these specify e-waste, and keyboards, though they do contain at least a small circuit board, are mostly plastic and sheets of mylar, etc. There is very little precious metal to be retrieved from them. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) is the European Community Directive 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) which, together with the RoHS Directive 2002/95/EC, became European Law in February 2003.

There are now over 800 registered IT recycling companies in the UK, the majority of which were established after the introduction of the WEEE Directive in 2007. What is of most concern is that an alarming number of these companies are not providing a bonafide service, which could leave you liable. With that being said, perhaps keyboards and similar items should not just be recycled, but given second life. The thermoplastic most are made out of can be used as a sort of sculpting material, and upon a quick search for computer parts being repurposed artistically reveals a large number of precedents. In fact, there are many people that have discovered many ways of repurposing many different parts of modern keyboards, including the conductive mylar sheets.


Much of my early ideation related to the silver-traced mylar sleeves under the keys of the keyboards I dissected, which were conductive. I was fascinated with turning them into something useful but found it very difficult to realize, and that the concept of flat conductivity was interesting but tough to harness effectively in this form.


Reheating and molding the keyboards wasn’t too hard after cutting them into smaller pieces. I found that if I used a heat gun and some pliers, the pieces could be stretched and hand-formed, although I’m sure the hot air coming off of the plastic wasn’t the healthiest. I was sure to do this in a well-ventilated area. That being said, it was remarkably easy to reform the plastic and I began imagining what form I could use these technique for. I decided to make the body for a lamp out of these warped, decidedly unappealing pieces of plastic as a sort of statement piece about what we can do with the plastics in keyboards worldwide that are either lying dormant or unrecycled.

I used a store-bought lamps wiring and light socket (after getting to them with a hammer) inside the body I molded out of plastic. As I continued I realized that the shape I’d chosen didn’t make the lamp any prettier, and a symmetrical volume might have looked better.

The final artefact is not a good-looking thing by any means, but is definitely striking and different.

The point is this: we waste a lot of plastic, and a lot of our electronic appliances seem unaproachable after they fall into disrepair or become out of fashion. This lamp proves that anybody with the will can take their unused thermoplastics, of which there are plenty, and easily and safely reuse them. There are a massive amount of these plastics out there, just waiting to become something new. Maybe not pretty, but new.

Social Narratives

Ectogenesis, and the future of reproduction

With a large number of topics under the umbrella of genetic advancement in modern medicine coming into the public forum, questions of morality and ethicality come with them. One of these issues is ectogenesis, or the possibility thereof, and how it’s perceived. Media and pop culture have made it easier for people to imagine these technologies impacting us in fantastic ways. The concept of an artificial womb, though not possible with today’s technology, seems more like science-fiction than it should, perhaps.

Ectogenesis, a term coined by J.B.S. Haldane in his seminal work Daedalus; or, Science & the Future, refers to the gestation of a human embryo in an artificial womb. He predicted that by 2074 only 30% of births would be human births. The process involves IVF, with the fertilized embryo being implanted into the artificial womb instead of back into the mother’s uterus. Many people see it as playing god. Many more would benefit from one, were it to exist.

As Jessica H. Schulz states in her paper in the Chicago-Kent Law Review, “Ectogenesis could help those who cannot carry a pregnancy have genetic children without a surrogate and could also save the lives of premature babies.” Surely the gay community, those suffering from infertility, and mothers unable to give birth would be interested in the notion of an artificial womb. The issue is very complex in it’s social, economic, and political implications. What’s more, the importance of a physical bond between child and mother can’t be forgotten, as well as the what this would mean politically, with current views around the world on abortion and religion. 

Were you to google the topic, many of the top results question, or at least mention that others are questioning, the ethics of ectogenesis. It’s the same story with most new genetic advances in medicine. During the gestation of the first IVF baby in 1978, Louise Brown’s mother received hate mail and death threats from around the world regarding her decision to use IVF. When Louise was born, healthy and normal, it showed the world that things weren’t so black and white. 

Ectogenesis exists at a complex, highly contreversial intersection of medecine, bioethics, and reproductive politics. The advent of the artificial womb would change these arenas of medicine and debate forever, as well as the people given the opportunity to use one. In professional climates, too, where women feel social pressure to hide their pregnancies, ectogenesis would allow women to have babies on their own timetable, away from the prying eyes of supervisors and co-workers. As new data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows, pregnancy discrimination continues to affect women in all professional fields. If artificial wombs became an affordable option for working women, pregnancy discrimination could be avoided altogether by rendering gestation and childbirth completely invisible to employers and prospective employers alike. This seems perverse, but can’t be ignored as an implication of the artificial womb.

We are currently unable to fully and successfully gestate a child outside it’s mother’s womb, and there are major advances that need to be made before we can. Much current research is aimed at saving premature babies, lengthening the time embryos can survive outside the womb, which counts as indirect research into artificial wombs. Dr. Teruo Fujii’s “womb-on-a-chip” experiments are an example of that indirect research. In July 2007, Dr. Fujii and other researchers at the University of Tokyo reported that they had designed a “womb-on-a-chip,” lined with endometrial cells, which could hold fertilized eggs until they are ready for implantation. Studies with mice suggest that the womb chip could increase IVF success rates compared to the current system (embryos held in microdroplets). Dr. Fujii next plans to test the device with human embryos.

At least 12 countries, including the United Kingdom, bar scientists from working with embryos older than 14 days. The US government drew up guidelines suggesting the limit in 1979, on the basis that 14 days marks the beginning of gastrulation in humans. It is also around the latest point at which an embryo can split into identical twins. After this time, the logic goes, a unique individual comes into being. It’s easy to imagine the floodgates opening and public perception changing once the first child is born fully independent of it’s mother’s womb.

Regardless, we are living in a time when the mystery shrouding reproduction has lifted and the fetus is no longer inaccessible.

Nature has set a precedent for incubation; birds and reptiles and their eggs. Penguins, such as the rockhopper, are hatched and then protected/ kept warm by their parents while they incubate. This connection, regardless of the egg being outside the mother’s body, is seen as vital and natural nonetheless. Snakes lay multiple fertilized eggs at a time, and stay with them until they hatch.

Though there are examples of out-of-body- incubation in nature, they are all natural processes. The idea of an artificial human womb is strange, as it’s a departure from our normal birthing process, but research brings us closer every day. Were humans to incubate their children in a similar way, would it be all that strange? If it were at first, would it eventually be normalized, as IVF was? Imagine a future where the concept of an artificial womb was not only normal, with some percentage of the population opting to use one as opposed to a surrogate mother or adoption, and the concept of your child gestating in a machine not seeming as strange as it does now. My design is a critical look at this future, in which I’ll try to depict and humanize the alien concept of an artificial womb, and how future couples could/ would interact with one. 

The artefact is meant to stir debate, through an intentionally alien look, and commercial, sterile depiction of the child-rearing process. The negative and positives of it are for the viewer to decide upon, but the artificial womb of my design is undeniably fascinating concept, and something that we may be more comfortable with as time passes and medical technology and science-fiction begin to merge into one.