[ISEA2022] Paper: Erik Contreras — E-Waste: The Unnatural, Natural Resource | A Case Study on Creative Uses of Obsolete Technology


Short paper, theme: Futures and Heritages: Critical research, Maker culture and art studios
Venue: CCCB, date: June 15

Keywords: Electronic Waste, Right to Repair, Maker Community, Hacking, Industrial Design, New Media

When consumer technology reaches it end of its life, the waste that is generated becomes taxing on the environment. This paper will provide a methodology and a case study for finding practical and/or creative solutions to reusing/repurposing obsolete technology.

With many issues surrounding our high-tech products including: 1) planned obsolescence, 2) a linear “cradle-to-grave” life cycle, 3) the accumulation of electronic waste (e-waste), and 4) consumer culture, there is potential in finding practical/creative solutions to reusing/repurposing our obsolete technology. These solutions not only benefit the consumer, but also the communities that are affected by the growing e-waste problem. These issues analyzed through a case study where an artist converts a typewriter into a USB printer using the design principles laid out in this paper, including the use of open-source hardware and software as well as incorporating adaptive design for future updates. While it is unfortunate that our massive accumulation of e-waste has turned this material into an unnatural, natural resource that can be foraged, there is potential for projects (both practical and creative).

  • Erik Contreras (US) is an interdisciplinary designer and engineer with a background in mechanical engineering and rapid prototyping. His work involves prolonging the lifespan of consumer electronics and finding alternative uses for post-consumer products. His design philosophy seeks to promote user repair, modification, and reuse for consumer products. As an advocate for the right to repair, he wishes to develop products and prototypes that “welcomes the end-user, inside and out”. Erik typically uses a hands-on approach towards his work/research and can be found hacking obsolete tech or 3D printing custom parts in his home machine shop. With technology being part of every aspect of life in the Bay Area, there also a vast accumulation of e-waste in the community. With e-waste being readily available, Erik feels the material is an “unnatural, natural resource” when it comes to finding parts and inspiration for his prototypes. https://www.erikcontreras.com