How do you keep old electronics out of the trash? One answer is a simple hack: Stick a newer gadget inside an old shell. These classic Macs from the late '80s have been fitted with iPads inside, making them a hybrid of recycled Apple parts.
The project came about by chance when a Dutch designer stumbled on the old computers. "When I helped my buddy with moving last month, he was going to throw out his nerdy Macintosh SE from 1989," recalls Fredo de Smet, a principal at a creative firm called Fisheye. "There were six of them, and I saved them from destruction."
The company pulled out the old image tubes, and 3-D printed a frame to hold a seven-inch iPad inside. So far, they’ve used the hacked computers at a trade show and occasionally bring them to meetings, though De Smet notes the obvious: "The old Mac is not truly mobile."
Could something like this be done on a bigger scale? There’s no shortage of trash to work with: Every day in the U.S., around 17,000 tons of electronic waste is tossed. Much of it ends up in landfills, despite the valuable metals inside. and gadgets that are recycled often end up being shipped around the world to hellacious mega-dumps where old electronics are burned in toxic fires.
"This is a way to get existing hardware out of context and give it a new destination," De Smet says. "Very often only one element is broken, but the entire part is thrown out. To hack old hardware is a way of recuperating quickly obsolete hardware and give it a new function."
Still, another reason electronics get thrown out is that they look dated (even if they’re only six months old), and it’s hard to imagine this would work as well with other equipment that doesn’t have Apple’s cult following. If hacked old computers were available for sale, would you want to buy a Dell from 2003?
Another challenge is in the materials getting recycled. Here, the plastic shell of the old monitor gets reused. But most of the environmental impact of computers actually comes from everything's that's inside— manufacturing circuit boards and other components uses gigantic amounts of energy and has a comparably large carbon footprint.
De Smet compares his hacked computers to the idea behind Phonebloks, a modular smartphone that lets users upgrade specific components as needed rather than replacing an entire phone. It's the same sort of design that would be brilliant in computers if it was built in, rather than a hack. And maybe it makes more sense to flip De Smet's idea around: Instead of reusing the outside of a monitor or computer, why not use modular parts inside and make it easy to upgrade the look of the exterior?