How might we give a second-life to 60 billion feet of communication cable?

PostIndustrial

Winner of Kier Service Design & Social Innovation Award


PostIndustrial is a concept for 21st century home goods that are made from abandoned 20th century communication infrastructure.

Client

Personal Project

Duration

2 Months

My Team

Asher Blackburn
Max Stropkay
Supawat Vitoorapakorn

My Role

Industrial Design
Branding
Research

Problem Space

Around 60 billion feet of commmunication cables
in the United States will end up in the landfill.

(That’s about half the circumference of the Earth)

Fiber optics & 5G replaces cables

As people move away from cable TVs and wired phones towards fibre optics and 5G, older communication infrastructures are getting abandoned in favour for newer ones. Coax cables are everywhere. It's in your walls, your basement, and even on your city's street.

Pre-Netflix this is how TV was delivered. Your home probably still has this outlet.

Coax cables being replaced with fiber optics.

Electrician removing cables from a home

Our team visiting AAA Scraps to learn more about coax cable’s afterlife

“Not everything is worth our time to recycle.”

By weight, coax cables are less than 1% copper. After visiting our local scrapyard, we learnt that these wires are simply tossed in the landfill because it’s not worth it to strip and recycle its many layers.

Cable companies have gotten away with this form of urban pollution because of outdated policy and a lack of awareness. Cleaning your home and city from coax cable improves property value, and up-cycling cables prevents them from entering the landfill.

Mission

Build enduring products and communities from abandoned communication cables in Pittsburgh.

Design Intervention

Product and Communication

From abandoned to enduring

Post-Industrial’s goal is to up-cycle abandoned communication infrastructure and turn it into household products. Each item we sell decreases the amount of waste that litters the city and may end up in a landfill. Residents and homeowners are encouraged to learn how to safely remove cable and can send in cables for discounts on products. Post-Industrial also incentivizes scrapyards to help collect wires by purchasing the coax cable they collect.

All items purchased come with a tag that shows how much abandoned wires were used in creating the object.

PostIndustrial’s product ranges from small home goods to bigger furniture like chairs and tables.

Vision

Prevent one billion feet of abandon cables from entering the landfill, and transform them into growth for the communities it was left in.

System Change

Key Interventions:

Invest in local Jobs

We pay for our cables and invest in our local scrapyards’ sorting facilities.

Grow a Circular Economy

We prevent abandoned cables from ending up in the landfill.

Clean our City

Our products help get rid of wires from Pittsburgh’s streets and basements.

Towards a more circular future

Current System

Big telecom and electric companies have installed coax cables in most homes and connected them to telephone poles. When electricians or demolitionists take these cables down, they send them to the scrapyard or landfill.

Preferred Future

Post-Industrial incentivizes local scrapyards, electricians, and residents to turn in abandoned cables by establishing a market value for the wires.

Where does outdated infrastructure go?

Our team visited a local Pittsburgh scrapyard and learned that the lack of copper in coax cables meant it had no value recycled. We spoke with all of the big cable companies and learned that when they do cut down wires they throw them away. While collecting the wires to use in testing and prototyping, we talked to several local pittsburgh residents. Our team realized that most people didn’t know the wires were dead and could be taken down.

Research with Literature

Understanding the History

Before conducting research with people and materials, I looked at the history coaxial cables to gain a better contextual undestanding of the problem.

Manufacturing of the TAT-1 (Transatlantic No.1) coaxial cable from ATT’s Archive

TAT-1 Cross-section

Research with People

It’s everywhere yet invisible to most people

Most people cannot tell the difference beteween communication cables and electric cables. Fewer people are even aware of their rights to demand communication companies or landlords to remove these abandoned cable.

Helping a neighbor remove unwanted cables

Research with Material

Experimenting with the material

Months of experimentation went into finding the best construction method for coax cable. Many different methods were tested including: weaving, gluing, soldering, jigging, and more.

Helping a neighbor remove unwanted cables

Prototyping

Collecting cables from basement

Trying to make a hammock

Trying to weave a doormat

Creating a jig

Applying rubber cement

Using a “lathe-jig” to speed things up

Sketches

Planters, hanging lamp, and clocks

How to make hanging lamp

Standing lamp

How to get cable companies to buy their own waste

Results

A way to prevent 60+ billion feet of cables from entering the landfill while upgrading our communication infrastructure.

Illustration of how to mass manufacture rotational forms from coaxial cables

A cleaner transition for every city

With most people transitioning to fiber optics and 5G, abandoned communication infrastructure is a global problem. While the context that PostIndustrial was designed for is Pittsburgh, USA, every major city in the world will be facing a similar challenge in the next few years: what to do with the e-waste from old instrastructure?

E-waste generally moves from high to low income countries, ScienceDirect

A way to protect developing countries’ health

In Bangkok, Thailand where I come from these wires are illegally burned to scavenge for copper. Burning PVC can kill you. The gas it creates is chemical weapon used in wars. And most of the wires burned doesn’t even come from Thailand. An alternative to burning, will prevent many early deaths in these area.

The Price of Recycling Old Laptops: Toxic Fumes in Thailand’s Lungs, NYT

Next Steps

Diffusing the Innovation

An innovation isn't really innovative when only a few know about the idea.

In this sense, this project is not complete. We've came up with a novel method of up-cycling coax cable, and now the next step would be to spread the idea. The plan is to use social media platforms like Youtube and DIY communities like Instructable to spread this idea with a video. Combining social media with Design has huge potential, and I'm currently practicing this craft with a few videos first before I re-engage with this concept.