Repurposing Old Smartphones: When Reusing Makes More Sense Than Recycling

When looking at the specifications of smartphones that have been released over the past years, it’s remarkable to see how aspects like CPU cores, clockspeeds and GPU performance have improved during this time, with even new budget smartphones offering a lot of computing power, as well as a smattering of sensors. Perhaps even more remarkable is that of the approximately 1.5 billion smartphones sold each year, many will be discarded again after a mere two years of use. This seems rather wasteful, and a recent paper by Jennifer Switzer and colleagues proposes that a so-called Computational Carbon Intensity (CCI) metric should be used to determine when it makes more sense to recycle a device than to keep using it.

What complicates the decision of when it makes more sense to reuse than recycle is that there are many ways to define when a device is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. It could be argued that the average smartphone is still more than good enough after two years to be continued as a smartphone for another few years at least, or at least until the manufacturer stops supplying updates. Beyond the use as a smartphone, they’re still devices with a screen, WiFi connection and a capable processor, which should make it suitable for a myriad of roles.

Unfortunately, as we have seen with the disaster that was Samsung’s ‘upcycling’ concept a few years ago, or Google’s defunct Project Ara, as promising as the whole idea of ‘reuse, upcycle, recycle’ sounds, establishing an industry standard here is frustratingly complicated. Worse, over the years smartphones have become ever more sealed-up, glued-together devices that complicate the ‘reuse’ narrative.

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A man with dark skin in a red shirt and khaki shorts sits in a chair. His left leg has a prosthetic below the knee. The upper half of the prosthethic is an off white plastic socket with flecks of different off white plastic throughout hinting at the recycled nature of the plastic. The lower half is a metal tube attached to an artificial foot in black sandals.

Precious Plastic Prosthetics

Plastic waste is a major problem, but what if you could turn the world’s trash into treasure? [Yayasan Kaki Kita Sukasada (YKKS)] in Indonesia is doing this by using recycled plastic to make prosthetic legs.

Polypropylene source material is shredded and formed into a sheet which is molded into the required shape for the socket. A layer of cloth and foam is used to cushion the interface between the patient and the socket itself. Using waste plastic to make parts for the prosthetics lowers the price for patients as well as helps to keep this material out of the landfill.

What makes this project really exciting is that [YKKS] employs disabled people who develop the prosthetics and also trains patients on how to maintain and repair their prosthetics with easily sourced tools and materials. With some medical device companies abandoning their devices, this is certainly a welcome difference.

We’ve previously covered the Precious Plastic machines used to make the plastic sheets and the organization’s developments at small scale injection molding.

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Utility Mat Turns Waste Epoxy Into Useful Tools

Epoxy is a great and useful material typically prepared by mixing two components together. But often we find ourselves mixing too much epoxy for the job at hand, and we end up with some waste left behind. [Keith Decent’s] utility mat aims to make good use of what is otherwise waste material.

The concept is simple yet ingenious. It’s a flexible mat that serves as a mold for all kinds of simple little plastic workshop tools. The idea is that when you have some epoxy left over from pouring a finish on a table or laying up some composites, you can then pour the excess into various sections of the utility mat. The epoxy can then be left to harden, producing all manner of useful little tools.

It may seem silly, but it could save your workshop plenty of nickels and dimes. Why keep buying box after box of stir sticks when you can simply make a few with zero effort from the epoxy left from your last job? The utility mat also makes other useful nicknacks like glue spreaders, scrapers, wedges, and painter’s pyramids.

We’ve seen other great recycling hacks over the years too. Video after the break.

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Sonos Speakers Free To Sing Again

Over at the EEVBlog, [Dave Jones] takes a second look at the Sonos Play 5 Gen 1 that he rescued from the dumpster recently. Despite being solidly built, [Dave] discovered that even the stereo line-in jack can’t be used without registering an account with Sonos. Not to be defeated, he hacks these speakers to make them work standalone.

Bluetooth Audio Amplifier Module (Fosi Audio)

The hack here involves fitting the speaker cabinet with new “guts” in the form of a wireless stereo 2×50 watt digital amplifier [Dave] found online for under $30. This particular model, the Fosi TB21, is almost a perfect fit for the Sonos cabinet — with only minimal Dremel tool encouragement required. It turned out the power supply section of the Sonos main board was easy to isolate. [Dave] couldn’t use the existing amplifiers, so he removed them from their power supply and re-routed the power supply to the Fosi module. He also removed the Sonos wireless interface board from the cabinet, and used an online design tool to make a simple first order Butterworth crossover network set to 2800 Hz to connect the speakers.

The new amplifier board is mounted in the shallow base of the speaker cabinet. It could have easily been oriented either way, but [Dave] chose to install it knobs-forward. This also gave him a reason to toss out the Sonos badge. The resulting modified unit looks very professional, and works well as a Bluetooth speaker for the lab.

We wrote about the opposite conversion last year, where old speakers from the 1960s were hacked to add Sonos capability. You can read about the controversy surrounding Sonos here, and we discussed the issue on the Hackaday Podcast in episode 058.

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Australia’s Soft Plastic Recycling Debacle

We’ve all been told to cut back on waste to help prevent environmental crisis on Earth. Reducing waste helps reduce the need to spend time and energy digging up fresh materials, and helps reduce the amount of trash we have to go out and bury in the ground in landfills. Recycling is a big part of this drive, allowing us to divert waste by reprocessing it into fresh new materials.

Sadly, though, recycling isn’t always as magical as it seems. As Australia has just found out, it’s harder than it sounds, and often smoke and mirrors prevent the public from understanding what’s really going on. Here’s how soft plastic recycling went wrong Down Under.

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Digital Taxidermy Spool Recycling concept art.

Spool Tower: Empty Filament Spool Or Base For Miniature Civilizations

While churning through rolls of FDM filament, there are these empty spools that remain at the end. These can be thrown out with the trash, or be used as a standard base for miniatures, for use with Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gaming or similar, or just as a display piece. The latter is what the blokes over at Digital Taxidermy ran with when they started their first Spool Tower Kickstarter campaign. Now they’re back with Spool Tower 2: The Re-Spoolening.

These are STL bundle packs that should contain all that’s needed to turn an empty filament spool into an art piece, minus of course the painting. To get a free taste of what the experience is like, Digital Taxidermy provides a few free STLs, such as for the Ye Olde Taxidermee Shoppee and the Hab Block from the new crowdfunding campaign.

This effort raises the interesting question of what other standard (plastic) shapes of packaging could conceivably be used in a similar manner. After all, why print the whole thing when half the model could be made from something you’d otherwise just toss into the trash bin?

Thanks to [scat happens] for the tip.

ERRF 22: Recreator 3D Turns Trash Into Filament

In Back to the Future, Doc Brown returns to 1985 with a version of his DeLorean time machine that has been modified with technology from the future. After telling Marty they need to go on yet another adventure, Doc recharges the DeLorean’s flux capacitor and time circuits by tossing pieces of garbage into the slick Mr. Fusion unit mounted to the rear of the vehicle. The joke being that, in the future, you could simply head over to the local big box store and pick up a kitchen appliance that’s capable of converting waste matter into energy.

Unfortunately, we’re nowhere near powering our homes with banana peels and beer cans. But if the Recreator 3D is any indication, the technology required to turn plastic bottles rescued from the trash into viable PET filament for your 3D printer is all but upon us. While there are still some aspects of the process that could stand to be streamlined, such as fusing multiple runs of filament together into one continuous roll, the core concepts all seem to be in place.

The MK5Kit Mini is currently in development with LDO Motors.

Creator [Josh Taylor] made the trip out to the 2022 East Coast RepRap Festival to not only show off the Recreator 3D, a project he’s been working on now for over a year, but to get people excited about the idea of turning waste plastic into filament. It’s not necessarily a new concept, and in fact [Josh] says earlier efforts such as the PETBOT are what inspired him to create his own open source take on the “pultrusion” concept.

According to [Josh], actually printing with the recycled filament isn’t that different from using commercial PETG, though it’s recommended you lower your speeds. A nozzle temperature of around 260 °C seems to work best, with the bed at 70 °C. Interestingly, the filament produced by the process is actually hollow inside, so the most critical change to make is increasing your extrusion rate to about 130% of normal to compensate for the internal void.

The current revision of the Recreator 3D, known as the MK5Kit, can be assembled using several core components salvaged from a low-cost Ender 3 printer in addition to a number of parts that the user will need to print themselves. For those who’d rather not source the parts, [Josh] says he hopes to get formal kits put together sometime next year, thanks to a partnership with LDO Motors.

But ultimately, [Josh] says the most important thing to him is that the plastic is recycled instead of getting sent to a landfill or incinerator. So whether you build a Recreator 3D or come up with your own design, all are welcome to the PET Pultruders United Facebook group he’s created to discuss the finer points of turning plastic trash into treasure.

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