Design that Lasts Spring 22’ | Himani Auplish, Christina Ip, Max Stockdale
“Often, when objects become mundane, they lose some of their luster. But mirrors retain their ability to hold our attention, and they retain a certain amount of power over us. We’re still interested in seeing our reflections, and we still want to know what the future holds.”
- Katy Kelleher, The Ugly History of Beautiful Things
Mirror is taken from the latin word ‘mirari’ which means to wonder at or admire.. an action that we might do to our own reflections on days we feel good. A mirror’s design intends to reflect an object but it can do more. Some believe the mirror is a reflection of one’s soul and has the ability to capture it. There are various myths regarding mirrors such as trapped souls, bad luck, and more, depending on which culture you speak to.
The obsession with mirrors is not new or recent. Mirrors used to be a highly polished volcanic obsidian glass and owned by the wealthy. They were used for self-grooming practices and ceremonial/ritual purposes. It was not until the 2nd century that a transformation began and glass backed with convex/concave metal was used as a mirror. In the 12th century as glass blowing technology and metallurgy grew further, the modern day mirror began to take shape. Mirrors were backed with a coating of tin and mercury but it soon got replaced with a coating of liquid tin and silver. It became an object of aspiration for the lower and middle classes. Only until the industrial revolution grew world-wide, the geography of mirror making started to expand and it became more common.
Now commercially available, we use mirrors everyday for an assortment of reasons. They are used to maintain our visual appearance (brushing our teeth, skincare routine) or for assistance such as driving (looking at a rearview mirror). As a result, mirrors can be defined as a tool. They are used to check something — whether it be ourselves or other people/items. At the very core, they confirm existence. We look into the mirror to reflect what is there. From a psychological perspective, looking in the mirror can also reaffirm our sense of self. They confirm our identity and reflect back to us who we are, ground ourselves in our bodies.
Aside from vanity and utility reasons, mirrors are also commonly used as decor to enlarge and transform rooms by projecting a feeling of depth. Because of this, they may have a high price point. That being said, mirrors can be a timeless piece and are typically owned until they are broken. Because of these steep prices, mirrors are often thrifted as well and owned for a long time, especially when treated with care.
The primary reasons mirrors need to be replaced are when they break, crack, have dark spots, or become warped. Unfortunately, disposing of a mirror is quite difficult as they are not recyclable. Glass, what mirrors are made of, takes a very long time to break down. Glass bottles themselves can take one million years to decompose in the environment, possibly even more if it’s in a landfill. In addition to this, there are even more superstitions behind throwing away a mirror such as 7 years of bad luck. Some beliefs will instruct you to grind it into dust and scatter them in the wind.
However, if you are in need to rid a mirror without any rituals, the best option is to wrap old mirrors with paper and dump it in the trash or drop it off at a local landfill for sanitation officers to handle it. If the mirror is not broken, consider selling or gifting your mirror to a secondhand store, it could be valuable to someone else.
Mirrors serve a necessary purpose for an assortment of reasons and generally have a long shelf life, especially when they are expensive. This is a positive attribute, especially when the glass in mirrors is highly unrecyclable. Considering the input of energy and the inability to recycle, mirrors are not a product of efficient use of energy. There could be a way to reduce energy consumed during production or develop methods for materials to be more recyclable. So while mirrors may last long, their repurpose life is not as long.