I came across the concept of cradle-to-cradle recycling while doing research for our latest lens Recycling! Recycling!, now available for viewing at Squidoo.
It’s basically a gateway lens to all of our recycling lenses. If you’re doing some research on Plastic Recycling, or Cell Phone Recycling, or E-Waste Recycling, for example, this new lens is a good place to start.
So, what is cradle-to-cradle recycling?
Recycling, as we know and practice it today is based on two assumptions:
- That our modern day industrial society and the products we create all have a negative impact on the environment; and
- That we can mitigate this impact by practicing “reduce, reuse, recycle” or “doing more with less.”
While both of these assumptions are correct, within the current industrial arrangements, there is a new concept that questions this framework.
In their 2002 visionary book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things,” William McDonough and Michael Braungart present a new way of looking at industrial society and recycling. Recycling, the way it is practiced today, is actually “downcycling.” Or cradle-to-grave recycling. We try to practice “reduce, reuse, recycle” to lessen the negative effect of our wasteful lifestyle and consumerist products on the environment, but the products we create out of recycled materials are either inferior in quality (because of materials degradation or contamination) or use only a very small fraction of the original material (the rest ending up as toxic waste in our landfills).
Cradle-to-cradle recycling mirrors the SUSTAINABILITY of nature, itself. When a tree creates a thousand flowers to reproduce or replicate itself, it is a highly likely that only one of those flowers will actually result in a new tree. But, we don’t find the 999 other flowers wasted since these are all returned to the earth as nutrients to help begin the tree’s next reproduction cycle.
Cradle-to-cradle recycling is the incorporation of this very natural and beautiful concept of sustainability into our industrial production cycles right at the very start of the process – the design or conceptualization of the finished product. Architects, designers, and engineers will have to provide for the eventual disposition of their products from the very beginning, how these products (with ALL of its components) can be recycled or reintroduced into the production cycle as “technical nutrients.” Nothing wasted, everything reusable or recyclable – that is essence of cradle-to-cradle recycling.
In our current understanding, we tend to fall into “lesser of two evils” kind of choices. Plastic bags or paper bags for shopping? Coal or palm oil for energy generation? Clearly both options in either of these two sets have negative impacts on the environment, the difference being just a matter of degrees of severity. For the longest time, we’ve boxed ourselves into this environment of limited options.
Cradle-to-cradle recycling challenges this very notion of limited choices. When sustainability is introduced and incorporated in the very design of the product, the options become unlimited for us. The authors call cradle to cradle recycling as the “next industrial revolution” and this “thinking outside of the box” may just be the solution we all need to work towards.
Paper bag or plastic bag? Why not an “edible bag?”
The book “Cradle To Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart can be purchased from Amazon. Please visit our Recycling! Recycling! lens for the link.