what lasts over 100s of years?

hi guys,

im a product design student and trying to figure out what lasts over 100s of years such as buildings.
im currently doing a project on e-waste and have an idea of grinding ewaste then bonding it to form a brick?
obviously taking apart the toxic elements.

would you guys have any other ideas of what i can do with grinding up ewaste and bonding them to be a different material that lasts long? well an ewaste brick not be relavant but as an example. also i was thinking resin to bond the grindings of the ewaste.

hope you guys can help me!


This is an ambitious - but frankly inappropriate student project - students are not exposed to nearly the level of complexity involved in addressing a problem such as this (one that the entire sustainability industry is focused on changing)

The problem with this as a concept is you need to spend a few minutes dissecting all of the pieces that can exist in “e-waste”.

You have:

Heavy metals (which when ground up will be released into the environment as toxic dust)
Metal & plastic (which can be recycled on their own)
Precious metals (gold is often used in circuit boards, chips and connectors)
Other stuff - Rubbers, silicones, glues, and other materials which are often completely impossible to do anything with.

A piece of the sustainability puzzle that is usually misunderstood is the energy required to make something, and then recycle it back. Recycling material such as gold is currently something that happens actively, but the process of doing it usually leads to the release of toxic gasses and chemicals. Countries like China don’t care about this, which is why countries like the US send millions of tons of E-waste to mainland Asia, but it just moves the problem and does not solve it.

Grinding up toxic materials, and mixing them together with a toxic epoxy would create a material that would still cost more money, and require more energy than creating a standard brick, cinderblock, or other finished product. In which case, why would someone use a “Recycled cell phone brick” over a regular old clay fired brick?

As a design student you should be taught why over molding plastics is bad, why designing for disassembly is important, and why encouraging people to always buy the latest and greatest thing is great for capitalism but not for the environment.

Trying to solve “what to do with garbage” is an inappropriate design school exercise - and one that will probably lead one of your classmates to some type of toxic chemical experiment by trying to dissolve their cell phone.

You say that like it is a bad thing.

Mike brings up some good problems with E-waste, but you could use other product types. Take a look at what Nike does with their “Re-Grind” program. Also look into “Micro-Plank” flooring made from milled scraps from the furniture industry. There are lots of opportunities for waste and excess materials that are not hazardous to students :slight_smile:

  1. Isn’t university for inhaling dangerous chemicals, voluntarily or otherwise?

  2. Why does it need to last for “hundreds of years”? I always start by questioning the mandate. What if you could save an enormous amount of waste by replacing some product with a recycled one that is still single use or short life span? Maybe you already thought of this…

  3. Buildings don’t necessarily have long life times. Average building life span in NA is about 50 years. Japan is 25 years. Also, society changes. There are a lot of quality buildings in Detroit that have been uninhabited for 10-20 years.

  4. Back to the core question…Furniture, art, toys, decorative fixtures can all have 100+ year life spans. Watches and clocks seem to last a long time (and wouldn’t those projects fit eloquently with your mandate?). Watch a few episodes of “Antique Roadshow” and ask yourself what you could use.

Maybe the past isn’t as revealing as looking at products available today. “What today will last 100s of years?” As a quick and dirty example, I can think of a ton of amazing things made from materials that weren’t commonplace in 1800 or 1900 - A titanium bike frame should last 100s of years, but it will be obsolete before it falls apart. If the pace of changes continues to accelerate, trying to design something that lasts 200 years seems rather futile (besides interstellar spacecraft?)… better to design the society and systems to make reusing materials the norm rather than the exception!

Also, look at Patagonia’s new initiative to reclaim and recycle down - pretty telling of down’s capability to last.

A lot of materials will last 100s of years.

Remolded E-waste will not be that long lasting because it will be a mixture of different materials with different properties, some prone to weathering, some to hydroscopic effects, fatigue, brittleness etc. So you will likely have to develop a composite to be able to somewhat control mechanical properties.

Having said that, why not focus on less sustainable solutions that, when their lifespan is complete, can simply be remolded again and again, contributing to a circular economy adapting to the needs of the moment. Check out for example the work Oscar Andres Mendez Gerardino did with Unilever: Planet & Society | Unilever

I also see great opportunities for composites from bio-waste - corn plants, palm leaves, beets, grasses etc.

If you want to take a more conceptual/poetic route, you can “glorify” e-waste by turning it into jewelry, which is often passed down through generations. Fonderie 47 does a similar sort of thing with reclaimed AK-47’s. http://fonderie47.com/