Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

The final Product

What is the toaster project? The toaster project follows Thomas Thwaites exploration of his project to reverse engineer a simple cheap toaster by sourcing, mining and manufacturing the materials himself, but the journey proved to be much more problematic and complicated as first predicted.

I believe that the Toaster Project  is a unique vessel in which we can track the age of the Anthropocene (Latour, B. 2013) , where by following Thwaite’s journey of sourcing materials , mining them by hand and reconstructing them by learning how manufacture them at home highlights how we are moving towards the age of Anthropocene and that humanity as a collective have brought upon this new epoch(Latour, B. 2013).

Throughout Thwaites journey we discover how difficult something as seemingly simple as a toaster is to reconstruct, and how much of an impact these items have on the environment we inhabit. The deconstruction of the toaster revealed that there were over 157 individual parts and then within those parts contained “bits” which were calculated to have contained over 404 different parts, further more each of these bits were difficult to deconstruct as they contained different types of plastic, copper etc which Thwaites believe were over 37 different materials (Thwaites,T, 2011).

Deconstructed Toaster

Deconstructed Toaster

from this discovery thwaites (not having his whole life for this project) chose the most important and similar items from the toaster by grouping them into items that have similar materials not worrying about slight differences, and in the end chose:

  • Steel
  • Mica
  • Plastic
  • Copper
  • Nickel

Each of these materials had there challenges but I will talk about the ones I felt showed the biggest impact on the environment and were more suited to the concept of Anthropocene most within this project which are plastic and copper.


Plastic is of course one of the ultimate symbols of mass production it can be found from toys to water bottles, but is also distinctly renowned for being almost impossible for the earth to break down and highly contaminates our environment. There are many different types of plastic but the main plastic used is called polypropylene and is explored by Thwaites in this project.

Plastic is basically made from the lightest molecules in crude oil, but this proved a problem as crude oil is difficult to get, and the process of making it into plastic is highly dangerous and explosive (Thwaites,T, 2011). Thwaites went through much trouble to create the plastic, but the final way Thwaites made plastic was really interesting, as it has a huge impact on our environment, the basic principal of this plastic was based on the concept of Anthropocene where future geologists without knowledge of our civilization would notice sharp changes in the strata of rock laid down today and be able to detect a mass extinction (human Existence) event that would cause many fossils of species to simply disappear. This would then cause the earth to be more radioactive and contain different substances such as plastic embedded in the earth (Thwaites,T, 2011).

Thwaites on that note then went to a recycling plant in Manchester called Axion Recylcing that are specialists in plastic recycling, which interestingly enough was created to try and deal with the mountain of garbage the mass production of products such as a toasters creates. Thwaites went here to mine this new age “rock” that is produced by the new epoch of Anthropocene (Thwaites,T, 2011) and then melted it down to create his final plastic toaster cover.

Creating the final plastic toaster cover.

Creating the final plastic toaster cover.

Copper was very important because It explored the way in which the mining of the substance and mining in general has in fact made the earth and or the water that runs through it toxic and contains aresnic, lead and most importantly copper. Almost all mines that have water flow through them have this acidic water (TED, 2010), and the best example of this toxic run of is the “Rio Tinto” river in Spain which is so toxic nothing but bacteria can live there. The river in Spain is the produce of over 5000 years of mining in the area by Rio Tinto.(Bordenstein, S, 2013) It’s companies like Rio Tinto that need to be more “Earthbound” and to realise that we are heading towards the age of the Anthropocene.(Latour, B. 2013)

The "Rio Tinto"

The “Rio Tinto”

By this process Thwaites visited a copper mine and to give context to the “Rio Tinto” the water that Thwaite’s collected from the old copper mine had enough copper in it to extract and use to cast his copper plugs. (TED, 2010).

Toaster on display ( put into context)

Toaster on display ( put into context)

In the end the toaster sat proudly on the shelf with the rest of the mass produced items. I think this project was really interesting and there is so much to talk about it, but i preferred to go into detail about the most important parts when referring to Anthropocene. I have learnt a lot about Anthropocene throughout this blog post and have  much better grasp of the concept.


Bordenstein, S, 2013. Rio Tinto – Spain, Viewed 5th August 2014, <;

Latour, B. 2013, ‘Telling friends from foes at the time of the anthropocene,’ Lecture prepared for the
EHESS-Centre Koyré- Sciences Po symposium “Thinking the Anthropocene” Paris, 14th-15th,

TED, 2010,Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster from scratch, video recording, viewed 5th August 2014, <;.

Thwaites,T, 2011. The Toaster Project, or, A heroic attempt to build a simple electric appliance from scratch, New York : Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.


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