The power of trash

By December 3, 2018ecology, technology

Arthur Huang, architect, engineer and CEO of Miniwiz explains his processes and machines to use the most abundant resource on our planet: trash! Trashpresso, a portable solar-powered recycling machine was in Milan’s Parco Sempione during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2018.

PART I

CRISTINA: Arthur, what is the power of trash for you?

ARTHUR: It is the most abundant resource that’s out there right now. It’s in our ocean, it’s in our water, it’s even in the glacier at 4.900m. This trash resource is growing so I think we need to do something about it to power our new way of designing and our lifestyle.

CRISTINA: You are doing something about it. How many systems have you designed?

ARTHUR: We actually designed 1.200 new processes and they come with 4 big categories of machinery, which can sort and transform the material from the original raw source of trash that we throw away every day from cups, bottles, packaging, all the way to waste fiber. From these four major categories we can go into lots of different variations of pre-fabricated material for designers and engineers to be able to use in building construction or for products.

CRISTINA: You’re wearing a number of your new materials. Can you point them out?

ARTHUR: This is 100% single material, without glue in it, it’s made 100% from plastic bottles. This is also made with 100% plastic bottles but it feels like wool. The shoes are also made from recycled PET. Even the buttons and the sunglasses and the watch strap are made from cigarette butts. This button was made from four butts, that we collected from Switzerland and Italy and we’re turning into a new form of buttons and hardware and sunglasses. These are the sunglasses.

CRISTINA: And how much energy does it take to actually strip some of these materials from their toxic elements?

ARTHUR: It is actually much easier than you think, that’s why we designed the portable machine called Trashpresso, to demonstrate how little energy is used. All of the machines are actually powered by the sun, all the water and air is internally recycled, so we want to show people that the transformation process actually requires very little energy, as little energy as possible. You get a 90% savings in energy in the transformation, rather than going out there into the ocean, taking out the oil, producing that and transforming it into raw material.

CRISTINA: There are no toxins left in the the cigarette button?

ARTHUR: Actually we did a whole set of safety tests and there isn’t anything left in the cigarette butts after the transformation process, there are some fumes, but they’re captured by the machine. A lot of times during the transformation process the toxins are actually already exposed in terms of fume.

PART II

CRISTINA: We’re reading on the papers that there’s more recycled materials than the market demands, so this is a critical issue, and people are burning these stocks of transformed trash. How can your strategy and your system have an impact on a global scale?

ARTHUR: First of all, most of our systems are designed to be portable. I think this is very important, you need to take the transformation technology as close to the trash source as possible. Most of the problem today is that when you recycle, you mix the materials. Once you get contamination, the material has no value, once the material has no value, the transformation process has become very expensive and it also becomes more environmentally damaging. The idea is to bring the machine as close to the source as possible and then you can transform it into a medium that the designers and engineers can work with on site.

CRISTINA: From your experience where are the missing links to be able to harness all this expertise, intelligence and solutions?

ARTHUR: The missing link is the recycling process itself, you need to know how to sort the trash. That’s the first question. All the recycled materials out there, no matter how much percentage you collect, in reality only less than 2% is being used to be turned into some sort of recycled substitute material. And then on top of that, after you know how to sort and process the material, you have to know how to form it. And there is the whole transformation process with all the different data that’s needed. You also need application, is it going to go into shoes? Jackets? Is it going into a chair, or a building? These all have different specifications, so right now all that missing link of data is what we are working on. We are opening up a material database with 1.200 new materials in it to open source data from our learning in the last 15 years to give to institutions for education so young designers and engineers can play with the material. So we are trying to fill the missing link with data.

CRISTINA: What is your moonshot?

ARTHUR: Our moonshot right now is to build an airplane made out of trash. We actually bought an airplane from Germany and we shipped it to Taiwan and now we’re actually trying to come up with a new process to build an airplane wing made from recycled PET.