The Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch
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Where do our things really come from? China is the most common answer, but Thomas Thwaites decided he wanted to know more. In The Toaster Project, Thwaites asks what lies behind the smooth buttons on a mobile phone or the cushioned soles of running sneakers. What is involved in extracting and processing materials? To answer these questions, Thwaites set out to construct, from scratch, one of the most commonplace appliances in our kitchens today: a toaster. The Toaster Project takes the reader on Thwaites s journey from dismantling the cheapest toaster he can find in London to researching how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise. His incisive restrictions all parts of the toaster must be made from scratch and Thwaites had to make the toaster himself made his task difficult, but not impossible. It took nine months and cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store. In the end, Thwaites reveals the true ingredients in the products we use every day. Most interesting is not the final creation but the lesson learned. The Toaster Project helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture and the ridiculousness of churning out millions of toasters and other products at the expense of the environment. If products were designed more efficiently, with fewer parts that are easier to recycle, we would end up with objects that last longer and we would generate less waste altogether.
myself”—but like most rules, they require interpretation. Making a toaster “on his own” means not employing other people, but in the world today, can anyone ever really be entirely independent, forgoing the expertise and services of others? Surely that’s the lonely territory of antimodern hermits like Theodore Kaczynski, author of another vow of chastity, “The Unabomber Manifesto.” The Toaster Project—over time—becomes a social one: in the course of his quest, Thwaites makes willing conscripts of
turns it into plastic for brand spanking new things. Its comanaging director is a man named Keith Freegard whom I met at a conference called “Plastics—Greener Than You Might Think.” I’ve come to get some advice from Keith about how I can melt down some plastic that I will “mine” from the dump and turn it into a new toaster. Meeting with Keith Freegard at Axion Recycling Keith set up Axion with his business partner because they weren’t ready to retire and they’d always wanted to have a
price” is the price after general inflation has been taken into account). Ehrlich and the gang are gutted, and amongst a lot of embarrassing efforts to get out of it, hand over a cheque for $578.00, the combined fall in price of all five metals. London to the Isle of Anglesey, 288 miles On a sunny day in April my girlfriend and I (Simon couldn’t get time off work), set out in a car with three empty twenty-litre watercooler bottles (which I’d found in one of the handy New Cross street
2005. Image Credits Photography by Daniel Alexander, except for the images on the following pages: Nelly Ben Hayoun: 84–85, 110, 142–43, 145, 147 Dover Publications (Georgii Agricolae, De re metallica, 1950): 55 Simon Gretton: 47 (bottom), 48, 92–95, 97, 123, 127 Home Retail Group PLC: 14, 39 Austin Houldsworth: 57–67 Xiaodi Huang and Jiann-Yang Hwang: 76 Dr. Jill Key, Sue Reid, and Shell Education Service: 104 A Young Kim: 152 NASA: 47 (top), 91, 122, 140 Eric Norcross: 33
used as a pigment in lipstick and artists’ oil paints. I think Ray thought it a good idea to keep at least some mining going (even if just to make lipstick) so as not to end the history of mining that stretches back to a time when most residents of these islands lived in hovels (or indeed in the caves at Clearwell themselves). I wonder if Ray feels there’s something slightly ignominious about his mine having been turned into a tourist attraction. What would have to change for the iron at