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Rapid Re(f)use: Promoting Debate About Waste
Green Futures, 21 May 10

by Julian Rollins

If you’ve seen Pixar’s animation WALL-E, the concept of the robot waste operative may seem familiar. But for a group of architects and scientists based in New York, the idea deserves serious thought.

The non-profit collaboration Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology) has conceptualized a new generation of waste compacting ‘robots’ to put the vast quantities of municipal rubbish to good use – as giant bricks. Dubbed ‘Rapid Re(f)use’, the project claims that it has found a way to rebuild seven Manhattan Islands at full scale, using only materials recovered from landfill sites.

The thought-provoking vision is intended to promote debate about waste, and is based on existing technology, according to Terreform Co-founder Mitchell Joachim. “If I were an alien looking down from space I would think that cities were an engine whose primary purpose was to produce landfill,” says Joachim.

The robots would combine software used in automated 3D printers with techniques found in industrial waste compaction devices. Equipped with ‘jaws’ for greater precision, they would compact the waste into simple interconnecting shapes that could be used to build new structures. The machines would also distinguish between different types of material, separating out plastics for windows, organic compounds for temporary biodegradable structures, and so on.

Image of "Architecture of the Future: A Load of Rubbish" by Mitchell Joachim, PhD, Terreform ONE.

This piece originally appeared in Green Futures. Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future, one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

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