A Curious Hummingbird: Beautiful E-Waste Art

I remember how I used carry around my CD collection in a zip-up case that I kept in my backpack. It feels like just a few years back, but technology and music mediums have changed quite a bit in that time. I still keep a stack of CDs in the glove compartment of my car on the off-chance that I leave my iPod behind, but the disks are probably dusty now from disuse. While electronics stores still fill aisle after aisle with new CDs, I don’t believe it is profound to suggest that the CD-ROM is going the way of the floppy disc and the zip drive. With the advent of iTunes, Amazon Music, and now Google Play, it is pretty easy for me to imagine a world without compact disks, but what to do with the stacks of blank CDs still sitting under your desk waiting to be burned? Australian artist Sean E Avery has discovered a beautiful solution, breaking the discs into pieces and turning them into fanciful animal sculptures.

Staying true to the obsolete technology theme, Avery’s work also makes use of old circuit boards, chips, and other recycled computer parts. Avery, who does not stray from turning his e-waste into anything but whimsical animal sculptures, has an amazing talent for capturing the creatures in an interesting state of motion. The result is dramatic and captivating, artistic recycling in its most elegant form.

Sculpture of an ant carrying a leafDuck sculpture made from recycled paper

Sean E Avery via DVICE

The Hotel in a Sewer Pipe

You are probably not going to helped by a bellhop  at the Dasparkhotel in Germany. Don’t count on a plush lobby or room-service either.  The brainchild of Austrian Andreas Strauss, this hotel is comprised of re-purposed concrete sewer pipes that have been closed in with a simple door and back wall and placed in a grassy park. Each room comes equipped with a double bed, a small storage space, and a desk-side lamp. I guess you’ll have to look elsewhere when it comes to showering and locating a toilet.

The hotel is not just unique in its structural choices; Andreas Strauss’s open-to-the-public, semi-outdoor, pay-what-you-want Dasparkhotel is minimalist travel taken to another level of creativity. Knowing that concrete is a fairly porous material and a terribly poor insulator, I think I prefer to sleep in a tent than one of the structures. Nonetheless, I must applaud the ingenuity and creativity that went into project.

Dasparkhotel via DVICE

Recycled Cardboard Lamp

The Beute Lamps, created by German designer Michael Wolke, combine both recycling and sculpture, cardboard and light.  The lamps are made from repurposed cardboard and appear modern in their design.

Recycling is certainly a worthwhile cause that we must dedicate our discarded bottles and papers to, however, reusing is a more efficient practice that requires less energy.  By reusing materials, rather than recycling them, we can find new purposes for old objects and perhaps even have a chance to showcase our creativity.  Wolke’s Beute Lamps do just that.  By cutting, folding, and rearranging the corrugated cardboard, this designer creates a useful household object that can be used for years to come.

While making household objects out of discarded materials is by new means a new concept, Wolke’s lamps are still innovative.  His design is a modern one and could certainly be found and displayed in upscale homes and businesses as well as in the common man’s apartment.  The corrugated cardboard, rather than appearing broken down and dirty, is transformed into a lampshade that is at once both rustic and beautiful.

Wolke’s design, and those of other artists who reuse old materials in their work, reminds us that items that we might discard in the recycling bin can serve a more innovative function.

Reduce, repurpose, recycle.

Source: Herrwolke via Contemporist

Recycled Suitcase Vanity

This recycled suitcase is bound to add a lot a character to your bathroom or bedroom. The suitcase stirs up images in my head from old movies and classic Hollywood actresses hoping around the globe via movie sets. The style just looks so charming and well-made, characteristics that have been since replaced by cheap and practical. Not to say I would trade in my suitcase with wheels, but I do enjoy the romanticism images of traveling the world with a leather suitcase.

These suitcase vanities are made by lovenostalgicwhimsy, an absolutely perfect name, and are composed of worn out and recycled leather luggage. These pieces are turned into simple medicine cabinets that can be quite easily mounted on a wall. The fabric interior of the luggage also adds a nice touch. The size of the suitcases make them quite perfect for holding the odds and ends that clutter most vanities.

Via Lost at E Minor

Nothing Wasted: Recycling Plastic Number 5

Preserve, a company manufacturing high performance, eco-friendly products for your home, has created the first high-quality product from recycled plastics- the Preserve Toothbrush. Made from recycled yogurt cups, the toothbrush gets your teeth cleaner while minimizing your impact on the environment.

The toothbrush is designed with a curved handle to clean those hard-to-reach places, while a three-level bristle arrangement gently massages your gums. The handle of the toothbrush is made from 100% recycled #5 plastic, while the bristles are made from new nylon. The toothbrush is BPA free and is also completely recyclable after use.

When you are finished with the toothbrush, you can send it back to Preserve, who will give the toothbrush to a partner company. This company will grind it up and turn it into plastic lumber to be used in new picnic tables, park benches, and boardwalks.

As a company, Preserve strives to combine socially and environmentally responsible business practices with groundbreaking designs in order to create products that people feel good about having in their homes. Founded in 1996, Preserve’s President Eric Hudson was committed to the need to use the earth’s resources more efficiently and responsibly. Hudson saw the developing plastic recycling marked as a great opportunity to reuse the earth’s resources. Hudson started Preserve to reuse Earth’s resources and turn them back into products that people wanted. Since creating the Preserve Toothbrush, the company has grown and now offers a range of everyday products from razors, colanders, and cutting boards, to tableware and more.

By choosing Preserve Plastic, consumers are investing in a company dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and using less water, energy, oil, natural gas, and coal in the production of plastic products.


Recycling Nuclear Fuel

The former chairmen of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims that the U.S.’s failure to pursue a program for recycling spent nuclear fuel has put the country behind other countries and also can be connected to the country’s missed opportunities to enhance the nation’s energy security and influence in other countries.

Dale Klein, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Texas System, said that unfounded concerns about the reprocessing of spent fuel has prevented the U.S. from tapping into an extremely valuable resource. Klein states that spent nuclear fuel is often referred to as waste.

Klein states that the spent nuclear fuel is not a waste; the waste comes from the failure to tap into the valuable and abundant domestic source of clean energy in a systematic way. Compared to other fuels which are used in the production of electricity, the energy density of uranium is extraordinary. Furthermore, Klein stated that nearly 95% of the energy value in a bundle of spent nuclear fuel rods remains available for re-use.

Critics to nuclear energy cite the potential for nuclear weapon proliferation as the largest reason to oppose nuclear fuel recycling. Klein acknowledges these critiques, but believes that while it may be true that plutonium in recycled nuclear fuel is fissionable, no country in the world has ever made a nuclear weapon from low-grade plutonium from recycled high burn-up nuclear fuel. Klein believes that this tactic is not practical for a strategic or a tactical nuclear weapon.

Other countries, including France, Japan, the United Kington, Russia, India, and China have dedicated significant resources toward their reprocessing programs. Reprocessing not only recovers significant energy value from spent fuel, it also reduces the volume and radiotoixicity of high-level nuclear waste.

In the U.S., utilities operating nuclear power plants store spent nuclear fuel rods on site in pools of water. Eventually, the fuel is moved into dry cask storage. While there is debate over whether the casks should be located in one central storage site, the practice is accepted as safe and secure.

Klein claims that in order to establish a program to recycle nuclear fuel, a public-private partnership operating outside normal Congressional appropriations as well as having a charter to manage the fuel over a period of decades would need to be established.


Villa Welpeloo: A Salvaged Home

There is more to this ultra-modern home than first meets the eye.  Named the Villa Welpeloo, this eco-home is located in Enschede, The Netherlands. The home’s creators went to great lengths to assure that the project made a clear statement of utility and sustainability. While the beautiful design and natural look are sure to catch the eye of passersby, the most significant characteristic of this home is that it is constructed from almost entirely salvaged materials. To decrease the carbon footprint even more, all the materials were sourced within a nine mile radius of where the home now stands. Through a process the architects call recyclicity (rather than the more commonly used term of salvaging), 60% of the exterior and nearly 90% of the interior are composed of reused and repurposed materials. For the construction industry, that is an incredible accomplishment made possible only by the environmentally conscious minds of its creators.

In many ways, the designing and building of Villa Welpeloo was done backwards. The architects started off with a giant heap of scrap materials from local factories and warehouses and then went about building a structure that best utilized the resources. The team also used maps from Google Earth to locate any abandoned lots or building near the build site in the hopes of finding reusable materials. The efforts paid off and Villa Welpeloo’s exterior is covered with wooden boards salvaged from 600 cable reels that were heat-treated to better weatherize them and maintain their integrity. The home’s framing is comprised of steel taken from abandoned machinery in an old textile mill; turning old into new again.

The interior design certainly lives up to the goal of sustainability and repurposing by turning old advertising signs into cabinets and broken umbrella spokes into low-voltage lighting. Sunlight provides most of the buildings lighting and walkout decks invite occupants to live both inside and outside of the home. The villa is a beautiful achievement and a perfect example of how reusing building materials can reduce the waste in landfills and our demand for natural resources. Personality and creativity can turn the abandoned buildings of the past into the structures of the future.

2012Architects via Inhabitat

Sonic Fabric Recycled Neckties

This glossy and durable material is called sonic fabric and is the brainchild of conceptual and sound artist Alyce Snatoro. This audible textile is made from 50% recorded audio cassette tape and 50% colored polyester thread resulting in an interesting and eco-friendly recycled fabric. The sonic fabric is woven in New England and then hand sewn into small, limited-edition accessories by Manhattan designer Julio Cesar. These cassette tape ties add an amazingly geeky twist to black tie apparel.

Since the ties are made from used cassette tapes, the sonic fabric emits a garbled or underwater-sounding rendition of the music that resides on the old tapes. The ties come in dark brown, light gray, and black, just in case you are looking for a more casually shade of tie. A perfect accessory for geeks and music lovers alike, the sonic fabric tie is decades’ worth of technology and popular music woven together into a single stylish accessory.

Source: Supermarket

Recycled Paper Coffee Table

The coffee tables pictured here are made of recycled paper and are the work of artist Matt Gagnon. Gagnon’s work has a beautifully organic appearance that I really like. Everything is slightly imperfect and incomplete, but the materials used and the color tones make for an aesthetically appealing creation. My high school art teacher would say that Gagnon “courts the muse of chance” with his work, a favorite phrase of he had that more or less means that Gagnon goes with the flow or figures it out when he gets there (“courting the muse of chance” became one of my favorite phrases when my art teacher would ask me what I planned on doing that day in class). In all, Matt Gagnon’s pieces are distinctive, dramatic, and elegant.

Of these, I’m draw most to the Paper Table because of its environmentally conscious character. The coffee table, which doubles as a magazine rack, has a one-of-a-kind form that would only complement an interior design with a similarly cool and contemporary style. In other words, I do not think I could pull off a coffee table like this in my living room. The table reminds me of a riddled piece of driftwood that has been poorly pressed into the shape of a brick or a rock that had a very selective series of rivers running across it.

The Paper Tables were made using many, many sheets of laser-cut recycled paper that have been bolted together. The strengthened form was then sanded smooth and finished with oil. This is where one of those symbolic art things comes into play: the table is essentially made of recycled magazines and now it is being used to hold magazines. In this way, the paper is coming full circle. Witty. This is certainly an example of upcycling though, since the sheets of paper are being turned into a product of greater value than the recycled inputs. However you put it, these paper tables are an interesting use for a pile of old magazines.

If you like what you see (or even if you don’t), you should check out Gagnon’s website to see some of his other artwork.

Matt Studio

Redesigning the Plastic Bottle

The use of plastic bottles, containers, and utensils has become a serious pet-peeve of mine because these products perpetuate the clearly flawed idea that we have an unlimited supply of plastics. The concept of disposable products, which is incredibly popular in the United States, is the absolute antithesis of sustainability. While SOME plastics CAN be recycled, as discuses in The Thing About Plastics…, the vast majority of plastic food products are used one time before ending up in landfills. Even when plastics are recycled, the chemical breakdown in the material means that every subsequent reuse produces a material of poorer quality. Our careless use and waste of plastics is a hallmark of the unsustainable lifestyle we have created for ourselves.

A product design student by the name of Andrew Kim came up with the redesigned plastic bottles shown here, called the Eco Coke Bottle. It would be foolishly Utopian of me to even hope that people will stop using disposable plastics before the end of the cheap energy age. So instead, it would be cool to see companies redesign the way they package and transport their products in order to reduce the carbon footprint (by that I mean the amount of fossil fuel used to get the product from the production location to the consumer).

The key features of Kim’s square bottle design are that the flattened sides should improve the efficiency of transport and the collapsible bottle, the efficiency of recycling. By making the bottles easier to stack, Kim believes he can decrease the carbon footprint of the plastic bottles. The square bottle design would require a massive redesigning of bottling and distribution centers. Also, the reason that bottles are cylindrically shaped is to allow for the even distribution of internal pressure (caused by the carbonation) and thus the least amount of material is needed. On top of that, the soda bottle is as iconic as it is functional. Basically what I am saying is that neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi plans on changing the shape of their bottles any time soon. Nonetheless, Kim certainly did an impressive job in completing his product design, taking full advantage of Adobe Photoshop’s capabilities. I thought his design was the real deal when I first saw the square bottles.

Source Design Fabulous

Greener Cycling Tips

There has recently been a huge push for people to park their cars and ride a bike to commute. Miles of new bike paths and swarms of cyclists have become a common site to see in many bike-friendly communities. Not only does biking improve the environment, it can also have health benefits. For those who want to do more for the environment than simply ride their bicycle, there are a few extra steps people can make in order to get an even greener ride.

Energy Use Prevention

High amounts of energy are used in order to mine raw materials, smelt them in furnaces, and mold the materials into bike parts. Oil and gas are needed to ship parts from one location to another. Electricity is used to light the store where bikes are sold. To ensure a cleaner ride, use a bike you already own instead of searching for a new ride. Take the necessary steps to keep your old bike in good shape. By simply keeping the tires properly inflated, the life expectancy of the inner tubes can be drastically prolonged. Inner tubes are petroleum based products and are thus not biodegradable. Regularly washing and lubricating your bike can prevent corrosion and lessen the wear and tear of moving parts.

Recycle If Possible

There are few disposable parts on a bike and when parts need to be replaced, there isn’t really an environmentally friendly way to handle the waste. It is not an easy task to reduce, reuse, and recycle when it comes to bikes. There are shops in Indianapolis, Indiana such as Freewheelin’ Community Bikes, which accepts donated bikes, repairs them, and then resells them. All the while, Freewheelin’ Community Bikes teaches kids important bicycle-maintenance skills. Josh Prater, service manager for Bicycle Garage Indy, explains how the shop accepts busted inner tubes for recycling. “We collect old tubes and send them to companies that make new products, such as seat bags and other biking accessories.”

Keep It Local

Shipping long distances, especially overseas, requires a lot more energy than a local purchase. Shopping and supporting local businesses has its rewards, too. Local business owners have a strong incentive to treat customers better and provide their assistance and expertise to bikers.

Go On a Ride

Biking is great for running errands or commuting to work. One can become even greener by simply biking more. Getting more bikes on the road will make cycling safer because motorists will become accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists. Furthermore, motorists will become more diligent when it comes to looking out for cyclists. Once motorists see how biking has become safer and easier, there will be more of an incentive for them to leave their cars and hop on a bike.


Light Bulb Oil Lamp

Traditional light bulbs are slowly disappearing as people turn toward more environmentally friendly and energy efficient forms of lighting. One designer by the name of Sergio Silva decided to turn this aging technology into a beautiful art piece with his Oyule Lamp Set. Using reclaimed light bulbs, some non-flammable paraffin oil, and a short wick, these glass orbs are turned into flickering lamps that will add a gentle glow to any room. Plus the novelty of the design is sure to catch people’s attention almost immediately.

The metal rim of the light bulb has a strong spherical magnet installed in it. The acrylic base also has a magnet, which is what allows the light bulb lamps to remain seemingly suspended in this diagonal position. I have to admit, the effect is pretty cool and probably the characteristic that makes these lamps so dramatic.

Silva’s Oyule light bulb lamps come in sets of two and have a price tag of $650. Yes, I too thought the price was ridiculously ridiculous. I wondered if perhaps they forgot to put in the decimal point, but indeed, the asking price is a bit more than I would every pay for an oil lamp. If you are interested in having a recycled oil lamp like this, I recommend you build it yourself. The design is simple enough and the materials are all very very cheap (perhaps with the exception of the shiny black and magnetized acrylic base). I cannot reasonably explain the $650 price tag. That is a whole new kind of expensive. The Oyule Lamp Set has a definite cool factor though and magnets certainly are amazing.

66degrees via Coolest-Gadget

Shipping Container Architecture: Contentainer

Old shipping containers are becoming a more and more popular feature in modern architecture. I cannot confidently say whether this is done in the spirit of reuse and recycling, if the containers offer a cheap building material, or if they simply make for good attention grabbers. The Indonesian firm dpavilion architects has certainly put their supply of shipping containers to good and creative use. The building shown is titled Contertainer, and is “an amalgam of two words: container and entertainer. From its outer look, at a glance one can see an architectural form made of several brightly painted containers–red, yellow, blue and light green–in attractive position and composition, thus forming a contertainer.” You get the idea pretty quickly that the people at pdavilion are trying to make a statement with their work. The firm’s manifesto begins with a strong but simple statement: “Architecture is Dead.”

The Contentainer, located in Batu, East Java Province of Indonesia, is meant to be a place of social gathering and contains a clinic and library. The architects describe the driving motivation behind their project on dpavilion blog:

“Along with the development of Indonesian towns and cities, aside from the rise of wealth, there is also a widening gap between the haves and the have nots. The have nots get more and more marginalized, their access to educational and health care services becomes more obscure, due to the increase of related fees. Such is an effect of global economy system, which mechanism is akin to the law of the jungle. This contertainer is a social attempt to entertain lower class people through free library access and health care service, so they would be able to have a better living quality amidst the fast-moving world.”

The message of the blog begins with the very practical and meaningful discussion that I would expect from a professional company, but very quickly it changes to the abstract kind of description that I always find interesting yet often nonsensical:

“A container has dynamic nature, it moves and shifts, yet it also transformed into static, unshifting architectural being. To force a container to remain still, is seemingly against its dynamic nature. Yet the designers celebrate its dynamic form through a twisted, non-linear composition. This is enhanced with supporting columns placed uncongruently, making the contertainer enjoys its dynamism.”

“The contertainer is also a parody, the dichotomy of architecture as a place for activities (which considers human scale) and as expression (expressing emotion and  the will of artist), the contertainer exhibits containers of goods as containing human beings. We may ponder upon this: how important is human being for architecture? How un-important is human being for architecture?”

If I were to design a building that looked like this and was asked to explain why I chose to do things as I did, I’m sure I would disappoint many in the architectural design community by responding that “I though it looked cool that way.”

dpavilion via TreeHugger

Recycle Paper into Pencils

Here is an idea for an in-house paper recycling tool. Known as the P&P Office Waste Paper Processor (they could probably work on finding a catchier name), this compact design concept is intended to turn used office paper into a product that is always useful around the office: a pencil. Now all those worthless memos and letters can be put to good use again instead of just crowding your desk.

The act of turning an already processed material or product into a completely new product of better quality or a improved environmental value is refereed to as upcycling. For all intents and purposes, it is a form of recycling, but the distinction of upcycling is the emphasis on the improved quality from initial to final product. Turning tires into rubber mulch for playgrounds or melting varies types of plastic into one blend are easy examples of downcycling because the final products are of lesser longer term quality or value.

The internal functions of the paper to pencil device are kept under raps. While recycled paper composes the largest quantity of material used by the device, graphite, glue, and electricity would also need to be supplied for the pencils to be made.

TreeHugger via YankoDesign

Bicycle Wheel Clock

Here is a stylish and modern looking clock made from an used aluminum bicycle wheel. The metal wheel forms a light weight body to the clock and can be fastened directly to the wall through the hub with a wall anchor. If you do it just right this recycled clock will have the illusion of simply floating on the wall. People who are good with their hands and a little ingenuous can certainly create a clock of their own to decorate a wall in their home. This clock is equipped with a high torque German quartz movement and the movement has been hidden away from view by a set of rear cassette gears. The entire system is powered by a single AA battery.

Though some people may be put off by the scratches and marks that are sure to accompany a used bicycle wheel, I think the fact that the clock is made from recycled materials is one of the coolest features. This bicycle clock would certainly make a great gift for a cycling enthusiast and the thought that all the material has been rescued from ending up in a landfill should make you proud of the clock.

Source: RecycleChicken

Skateboards Made Whole Again

The story behind Deckstool’s recycled skateboard furniture is about as simple as they come. After Jason Podlaski was handed a collection of old and broken skateboard decks by his brother and asked to turn them into a unique piece of furniture, Jason was inspired. He recognized the consistency with which the boards had broken (around 75% of them broke at the truck and 25% broke in half) and the potential to design furniture that creatively repurposed these broken decks.

Since the longer pieces are more available, they are naturally best suited to be used as the legs of the stools. The smaller, broken in half pieces are then used as the seats of the stools. Old skateboard trucks (the metal part that the wheels are attached to) form the bracing that holds all the pieces together. Jason went through a few different prototypes along with hours and hours of adjustments before creating the stools and benches seen here.

Deckstool now produces a unique selection of hand-crafted seating options all from recycled materials and skateboards. By preventing broken skateboard from being discarded and sent off to landfills, Jason has created a sustainable and environmentally conscious furniture design. His deckstools recycle what most consider waste into high quality pieces of furniture that are full of style and character. Each stool is sure to be distinctive to the life it led before ending up in Jason’s hands. The stools are compact and versatile making them perfect for apartments or dorm rooms. The makers insure that every stool has been professionally built by skilled craftsman in their Pennsylvania factory. Not only is this one of a kind and durable piece of furniture made from recycled materials, but you know that it can take a beating and stand right back up.

Recycling and reusing materials is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste production and decreasing our impact on the natural world. Sure, the skateboards used in these stools adds a level of grit and character that cannot be easily replicated, but on a more basic and practical level, the re-purposing of these skateboard decks represents an important aspect of ecological responsibility. A key component of sustainability will always be the ability to prevent reusable waste from getting buried away in landfills.