Thoughtful waste management in makerspaces
Waste is an often inevitable by-product of design. The design process taught in the studio encourages student engineers to try out many ideas, iteratively refine existing solutions over time and make many mistakes. These activities lead to the creation of waste in multiple forms – software files, printed paper, soldered boards, 3D printed models, wood, metal and acrylic offcuts – all of which could be destined for the trashcan. The DIT Design Studio has been working to ensure mindful reduction, reuse and recycling of waste created in our space. This blog post will detail some of the ways we have done this.
The design studio operates on a finite amount of resources with ever-burgeoning membership numbers. So we are always looking for ways to ensure that the material we have serves as many students as possible. Sometimes, thoughtful waste management is as simple as not throwing things away.
If you have taken our laser-cutting workshop, you’ll know that we teach how to maximize material use when cutting. As part of our laser cutting curriculum, members learn how to optimize each job for material conservation by the custom placement of the machine origin, the orientation of vector files in LaserWorks, and the placement of the workpiece in the machine. Members who have passed our laser cutting certification are capable of making their desired cuts out of material that has had several prior cuts. We also save material by storing much of our laser cutting workpieces on trays organized according to size for easy access. Material is only thrown away when no pieces larger than 2cm x 2cm can be cut from it. In addition, we have strict size and material guidelines for training sessions and machine certifications. If you’re learning to use the laser cutter, you’ll perfect your use of the machine while cutting small designs out of (relatively) cheap and biodegradable 3mm wood before you can cut out of acrylic.
We extend the storage of used workpieces to all other studio stations, saving as much material as possible. We save and organize everything from wood pieces, pipe offcuts, unused hardware, metal bars, soldered components and protoboards in specially designated areas where they are free for use by other studio members. This has a twofold impact, it reduces the amount of waste disposed and increases the amount of material available to studio members for tinkering.
As the number of tools, consumables and members in the studio grows, management is under increasing pressure to ensure that all our supplies are easily accessible to student members. We use the collective waste collection sites described above as sources for raw materials for creating organizational tools for the studio. We built a tape holder in the studio using waste wood and piping from our UVGI project, waste acrylic from our lasercutting class and an old hacksaw blade that had gone dull with use. Rather than ending up the trash pile these materials were reused and assembled into a functional holder that allows for easy identification and use of the many types of tape in the Design Studio. The holder is easily detachable for refilling of tape. Our prototyping table also features a glue holder built using discarded wood. With a fresh coat of blue paint, the wood is given a new life fitting into the Design Studio’s official color palette.
Building organizational and teaching tools is just one way we reuse materials in the Design Studio. We also store all bags, envelopes and plastic electronics boxes that come into the studio. When students check components out or when our technicians go purchasing, they reuse this packaging to hold their supplies. All paper printed on one side is stored on our prototyping table and students are welcome to use it to write notes, draw sketches or brainstorm ideas. The studio also cleans, stores and flat packs all cardboard that comes through our doors. The cardboard is then cut and used to make our ID cards. In this way, every member carries a piece of our waste management mindset in their pocket everyday.
Our methods are not limited to material that is sourced inside the Design Studio. We also source old Ethernet cables outside the studio and strip them for use in beginner electronics courses. Ethernet cables are made up multiple twisted trips of colored solid core wire that works well on protoboards and breadboards. While most would discard Ethernet cables with broken connectors, in the Design Studio they end up on new circuits and not in the dumpster.
A major source of waste in the Design Studio is 3D printing filament. At some point, every roll of filament gets used up until there is just but a few centimeters left on the roll. Printing from multiple rolls requires patience and advanced understanding of 3D printer operation that not all our busy users possess. Further, most members desire to print objects that are only one color, so these leftover scraps are thrown away.
Over the two years of our existence the Design Studio had accrued a lot of leftover filament of many different colors and we have kept it in storage awaiting use. While thinking about maps and the incredible ways that 3D printers represent contour lines, I decided to use our multiple colors to create models of the 7 summits- the tallest mountains of the world. Scale models of the 7 summits sourced from Thingiverse were sliced on Prusaslicer as one print and over the course of the day, were printed by patiently switching between our leftover filaments. This was a communal studio effort! The result is the seven mountains in multicolor which we mounted on a lasercut wooden board. Rather than being a handicap, the multiple colors clearly reveal relative elevation between the summits and show how topography and contour lines are related thus, building a fun and colorful teaching tool.
Recycle (looking to the future)
Detailed above are just some of the ideas we have explored to produce less waste and make the most of the limited resources we have. However, we still produce waste and are keen to find out new ways to expand our commitment to thoughtful consumption and waste reduction.
We are in conversation with the small recycling companies in Dar es Salaam to discuss ways we can recycle all the paper we use for classes in the studio. In preparation for this, we have designated a paper recycling container in the studio that will be delivered to a recycling site when it is full. Ideally, we hope to be the first of more DIT labs to bring together waste paper for recycling. Even after finding a solution to the leftover filament problem, failed prints and older 3D printed iterations present a significant source of filament waste. We save and store all our unused and failed prints with the hope that one day we will have the capability to recycle the PLA for reuse as (probably multicolored!) filament.
As the world faces the harsh realities of climate change, it is imperative that we all think about ways we can reduce our contribution to global waste. The Design Studio has identified multiple ways to thoughtfully manage our materials to reduce what we discard and make the most of what we have. We are always looking out for new ideas on how to do this. Have any ideas? Tell us in the comments below.