John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Rube Goldbergian "mobile foundry" smelts aluminum cans into helpful objects for your butt.
In São Paulo, much of the recycling is handled by poor trash-pickers who comb through landfills to extract aluminum, glass, and other not-quite-worthless materials. The pickers, known as catadores, leverage this material for cash, allowing them another day of food and drink and sifting through wealthier people's garbage.
The life of a catador is no doubt full of difficulty and toil. Brazil's Studio Swine has an idea to make the situation possibly better, in an artsy, ideal-world kind of way, which seems to be how several attempts at helping the pickers have gone of late. The creative minds at the studio have devised a portable machine that melts aluminum cans into furniture that might be sold for more substantial wads of money. The process has the added benefit of teaching a new skill to catadores, its boosters say, building a "system where their livelihoods can extend beyond the rubbish collection."
Studio Swine has performed at least one successful test run of the mobile foundry, smelting a line of unusual-looking chairs for a cafe's public seating. The Rube Goldberg contraption seems to be efficient: It is made from an empty beer keg, burns waste cooking oil collected for free from restaurants, and uses unwanted sand for metal molds. The designers explain a bit more on Vimeo:
The Can Stools are made simply with sand casting technique using readily available construction sand from local building sites, and by casting an assemblage of objects found on the streets. The furnace and the tools are made with salvaged materials.
Can City creates a system where Catadores (waste collectors) can use this free metal and free fuel to produce an endless range of individually crafted aluminum items.
I'm not sure why that cooking oil was free (paging international grease thieves). But the endeavor was attractive enough to get funding from Heineken and billing at a local gallery, so it's up to time to see if movable furnaces will soon be all over the streets. Here's the foundry: