“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” “Don’t purchase disposable items.” “Avoid single-use plastics.” We’re familiar with environmentalism at the individual level. Many people adjust their lifestyles to be more environmentally conscious. However, there’s an even bigger issue that exists at the societal level that must be resolved before we can live sustainably—how we design and manufacture items.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things proposes an innovative solution for environmental problems. Instead of designing processes that create waste or products that become trash, manufacturing should imitate the nutrient cycling that takes place in nature. Byproducts of one process should be precursors to another to seamlessly eliminate waste. Biological waste should decompose completely. Technical waste from manufactured items should be collected and separated by companies and used as nutrients for new products. Imagine what life would be like if industrial processes supported biodiversity and our products carried out bioremediation as we used them.
This book also examines the history of industrialization and the limitations of current environmental initiatives and approaches such as recycling. If you care about the environmental or work in manufacturing or product design, this title is a must-read for you.
Here are some of the most interesting take-aways from this book:
1. Most recycling is downcycling.
Downcycling reduces the quality of a material over time. When a metal or plastic is melted down to be recycled, it’s mixed with a variety of similar materials. The resulting amalgam is weaker and requires additives not designed for human contact to stabilize it. Composite materials made from recycling can’t be further recycled. Separating materials is critical to keeping them high-quality and reusable.
2. 90% of the materials that are made into durable goods become waste immediately.
Cradle-to-grave design prevails today and that has influenced consumer behavior. Items are designed to not last, be disposed of, and be replaced. We’re throwing away almost everything after we use it. It’s an easy choice to make because our infrastructure and waste disposal services remove unwanted items from our immediate surroundings. Out of sight, out of mind.
3. Making fabric from recycled soda bottles requires a lot of energy, generates as much waste as a conventional process for making new fabric, and off-gasses additives that stabilize the reused polyethylene (PET).
Antimony is used as a catalyst to make polyethylene. As part of a soda bottle, it’s stable. Once a bottle is melted down to make fabric, this toxin may be released.