Why Optical Fiber Cables No Longer Need to Go to Landfills

Fiber optic cables (FOCs, also called optical fiber cables) are cables made of pure glass or occasionally plastic fibers that transmit information via light. Hundreds of these fibers are bundled together inside a protective plastic coating. These cables can run for miles across and under land, also traversing seabeds to transmit data across oceans. They’re a key part of delivering internet data, cable television, and phone services. They’re even a part of dental instruments, some of which require intense focused light.

Like other equipment, fiber optic cables can eventually need replacement or removal. Recycling optical fiber cables can prove a massive challenge due to the mix of materials involved in their construction, and simply disposing of the cables is creating a trash conundrum.

Fortunately, there is now a way to avoid this trash trouble while also benefiting businesses and increasing their ability to meet environmental goals.

Optical Fiber Cable cutaway

Fiber Optic Trash: A Long-Term Problem

While the individual plastics and glass that make up FOCs technically can be recycled like ordinary trash, separating them is quite difficult and time-consuming. What’s worse, the scrap value — the straight cash value of the basic materials — of FOCs hasn’t traditionally been very valuable.

Additionally, much of the cabling that needs disposal consists of bits and pieces — ends that were trimmed off, for example. There’s not much call for trying to dismantle these tiny pieces or reuse them in their current form. Besides, cable that has already broken or decayed isn’t usable for any purpose at all.

When Disposing of FOCs, There Is No “Away”

While throwing away small bits of plastic and glass might not seem like such a problem when you think about the sheer quantity of trash that gets tossed out each day, keep in mind that these bits and pieces of FOCs do not degrade quickly — and it’s not known just how long it might take them to eventually break down. Pieces of FOCs thrown away nearly 40 years ago are still in landfills, and experts think the cable scraps could last upwards of 500 years or more.

These estimates are just speculative amid the uncertainty of how many pieces of FOCs are sent to landfills yearly around the globe. When companies simply toss FOCs into the trash, the likely result is that the cables sit in landfills for centuries.

A Cross-Industry Issue

As of 2018, about 550,000 miles of fiber optic cables had been installed just for internet data transmission alone. These cables are estimated to carry about 97 percent of all intercontinental data transfer. Each year, they experience breaks that require repair.

FOC repair for internet data transmission involves removing old, broken cable, but it also involves snipping new cables to ensure they’re the right length to replace the damaged sections. The process results in a lot of waste cable. Now consider that this is describing the situation in just one industry.

Given that several industries — from decorative lighting to surgical instruments to automobiles — use fiber optic cables, the amount of FOC waste generated each year is likely astoundingly large. A way to recycle or reuse these cables and all the waste bits associated with them is essential for environmental health.

Waste optical fiber cable project Miniwiz x Taiwan Mobile

Recycling Optical Fiber Cables: An Innovative Solution

At MINIWIZ, we’ve come up with a solution that could revolutionize industries that rely on fiber optic cables. In partnership with Taiwan Mobile, we’ve developed a recycling pathway that turns FOC waste particles into custom furniture — and that’s just the start.

In addition to coffee tables and other pieces, we’ve developed a way to take FOC waste and turn it into brick and rebar substitutes. Instead of sourcing steel for a construction project, for example, a builder might source FOC “rebar” instead. Other construction uses for old optical fiber cables may include strengthening bridges and other infrastructure. FOCs are stronger and more waterproof than steel, leading to better structural strength and longevity.

Steel usage in construction and other industries is predicted to decrease annually by 28 percent. However, that doesn’t mean steel won’t be needed. The use of upcycled FOCs can free up existing steel supplies for use in different projects. The addition of FOC rebar as a building material should also reduce the effects of a steel shortage in the future.

We estimate that the use of FOC waste to replace steel and brick could reduce annual carbon emissions by 300 million metric tons while increasing business opportunities by a stunning NT$22.3 billion.

Structure made with concrete and waste optical fiber cable in replacement of 28% of steel.
Computer simulation of FOC as the replacement for steel.

Adding FOCs to the Circular Economy

Using FOC waste for construction purposes is not just about saving landfill space and protecting the environment, although those are amazing and necessary benefits. The reduction in greenhouse gases alone makes the process of recycling FOC waste into steel substitutes worthwhile.

Repurposing FOCs is a stellar example of how we can strengthen the circular economy — one based on reuse and recycling to conserve resources and reduce stress on the environment. Imagine being able to build new, safer, stronger buildings without increasing waste sent to landfills.

Recycling optical fiber cables means nothing if you have no way or limited ways to use the post-recycling material, and the point of our work at MINIWIZ is to allow companies to complete that cycle.

FOC Recycling Delivers Tangible Business Benefits

Along with the opportunity to use more recycled materials, companies with goals for stricter environmental standards will find them easier to meet as the recycling of fiber optic cable waste increases. Recycling and reuse are becoming a stronger emphasis in many companies.

Our research carries additional benefits for businesses beyond reducing their environmental footprints. For companies that need steel for projects, the availability of this new material should increase the resources available, thus making purchases more economical and in line with tighter budgets.

MINIWIZ Offers the Creative Solutions Industries Need

At MINIWIZ, we focus on efficient solutions for supply chains, enabling companies to further integrate themselves into a circular economy that is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Take a look at our website to see what projects we’ve done and what else we can help you with. Whether you need furniture design, architectural solutions, or new ways to reuse and recycle materials, we can help you achieve your goals.

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Empowering a circular future through upcycling technologies turning trash into immediate building blocks for our planet. http://miniwiz.com/

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MINIWIZ

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Empowering a circular future through upcycling technologies turning trash into immediate building blocks for our planet. http://miniwiz.com/

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