Look at how such a system might affect the US. America is the lead creator of waste on the earth, making approximately 30% of the world's trash and tossing out around three-quarters of a ton per US citizen per year. It seems value has devolved into rampant waste production: mega-products scaled for super-sized franchise brands, big-box retail, XXL jumbo paraphernalia and so on. The US mindset is typifying a throwaway consumer culture. Where does it all end up? Heather Rogers said in her investigative book Gone Tomorrow that throwing things away is unsustainable. The first step we must take is reduction – meaning a massive discontinuation of objects designed for obsolescence. Then we need a radical reuse plan. Our waste crisis is immense. What is our call to action?
New York City is currently disposing of nearly 33,000 tons of waste per day. Previously, most of this discarded material ended up in Fresh Kills on Staten Island, before operations were blocked. Manhattan’s inhabitants discard enough paper products to fill the Empire State Building every two weeks. Terreform ONE’s Rapid Re(f)use and Homeway projects strive to capture, reduce and redesign New York’s refuse infrastructure. The initiative imagines an extended city reconstituted from its own junked materials. The concept remakes the city by using all the trash entombed in the Fresh Kills landfill. Theoretically, the method should produce, at minimum, seven new Manhattan Islands. New York City’s premier landfill was started by the divisive urban planner Robert Moses and driven by apathetic workers and machines. Now, guided by a prudent community with smart equipment, we must reshape it.
How could this work? Outsized automated 3-D printers could be modified to rapidly process trash and to complete the task within decades. These potential automatons would be entirely based on existing techniques commonly used in industrial waste compaction devices. To accomplish this job, nothing drastically new needs to be invented. Most technologies are intended to be off-the-shelf. Instead of machines that crush objects into cubes, compaction devices could benefit from adjustable jaws that would craft simple shapes into smart ‘puzzle blocks’ for assembly. The blocks of waste material could be predetermined, using computational geometries, in order to fit domes, archways, lattices, windows, or whatever patterns would be needed. Different materials could serve specified purposes: transparent plastic for fenestration, organic compounds for temporary decomposable scaffolds, metals for primary structures and so on. Eventually, the future city would make no distinction between waste and supply.
If you think this sounds familiar, it is. Think back to the 2008 Pixar animation WALL-E. At approximately the same time that Rapid R(e)fuse was initiated, the movie was announced. WALL-E’s name is an acronym: Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class. Left behind by mankind, he toils with trillions of tons of non-recycled inner-city trash. He tirelessly configures mountains of discarded material. Why pyramids of trash? WALL-E’s daily perpetual feats seem almost futile. The film omits exactly why he is programmed to pile refuse; and there is the shortcoming.
There’s a deeper motivation for stacking refuse. What if the rubbish was refabricated to become real urban spaces or buildings? If it is plausible to adapt current machinery, how much material is available? At first sight, any sanitary landfill may be viewed as an ample supply of building materials. Heavy industrial technologies crush cars or to automatically sort out garbage are readily available. 3-D printing has exhausting capabilities if adjusted to larger scales. This is where Terreform ONE’s city began.
The envisioned city would be derived from trash; not ordinary trash, but ‘smart refuse’. A significant factor of the city composed from smart refuse is ‘post-tuning’ – and we would have to adapt this raw material for use. Integration into the city texture would be a learning process. In time, the responses would eventually become more attuned to the needs of the urban dweller. This new city may be built from trash, but it will also be connected via computers. The buildings blocks will learn.
Cities, unlike machines, are similar to a complex ecology. Ecology is capable of achieving a continuous harmonious state, or even further, a positive intensification. If ecological models are productively everlasting, urban models can logically follow.