Blog Post 9: Waste Reduction

Cradle to Cradle

For the longest time recycling has been the only means of reusing waste so that it does not biodegrade at an extremely slow rate in a landfill. This has been the only alternative to waste, but a new more efficient and ethical idea has broken onto the scene. The problem with recycling is that products are not designed so that they may be recycled after their use and most products, even if they are recyclable, are not recycled. A new design procedure, known as Cradle to Cradle design, might be the answer to the waste and recycling problem. This approach to product design fundamentally seeks to change the way things are made through biological engineering. In Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design, human made products are modeled after nature and its regenerative processes. Products will be made with “biological nutrients”, which can be decomposed, and “technical nutrients”, which can be put back in the manufacturing system to be remade. An example used in the book Cradle to Cradle (McDonough & Braungart), gives the example of a chair made from cloth and aluminum. The technical nutrients (aluminum) of the chair can be up-cycled back into the production sector of society and the biological nutrients (cloth) can be biodegraded so that nutrients are put back into the earth. “Some chemical companies say it is more profitable and environmentally beneficial to design and produce chemicals that may be readily recovered as raw materials once a product’s useful life has ended. (Scott)” This approach to design attempts to not only reduce waste, but to end waste all together so that our system of production is in a constant cycle; therefore there is no endpoint or garbage. The problem facing the C2C design concept is that it is in fact just a concept. As of right now, our industry does not try to act holistically with nature and until we as a society can change that we will keep producing costly amounts of waste. This innovative way of thinking is “gaining traction even beyond industry as some retailers and government officials advocate C2C as the basis for the next industrial revolution. (Scott)”

Alston, K. (2008). Cradle to Cradle design initiatives: Lessons and opportunities for prevention through design (PtD). Journal of Safety Research, 39(2), 135-136. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2008.02.017

McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press.

Braungart, M., McDonough, W., & Bollinger, A. (2007). Cradle-to-cradle design: creating healthy emissions – a strategy for eco-effective product and system design. Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(13/14), 1337-1348. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.08.003

Scott, A. (2009). Green Chemistry: Cradle-to-Cradle System Gains Momentum. (Cover story). Chemical Week, 171(4), 18-21. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

  1. Jeff,

    Thank you for your insightful description of the C2C concept. I’ve been meaning to pick up the book for quite a while now, and your post has only further piqued my interest.

    While it’s fairly easy to imagine (and witness) the phenomenal waste of plastics and other non-recyclable materials by the manufacturing sector, I am curious as to whether or not there are efforts to preserve the “purity” of raw materials. That is, in the cloth and aluminum chair, would it not be more readily reusable if the aluminum were relatively pure, instead of a complex alloy of other metals? In this sense, is there a concentrated effort to make the manufacture of non-edibles more “organic,” requiring fewer ingredients to achieve the desired result?

    It seems like this would be an integral part of making the C2C process more effective (and increase uptake).

    • Brandy O’Quinn
    • September 27th, 2011

    I liked what I read about ‘cradle to cradle’ albeit, cursory in our textbook. I believe it would take large product manufacturer, the one that comes to mind is IKEA, to begin integrating this process. I believe we as a society are slow to jump but if we keep seeing the product and becomes more common, then their would be a market. My question is also the cost of the product, using your chair as an example, does the cost inhibit the average consumer. A good example I can think of is that I would love to drive a Prius but can’t afford one.
    I would like to read that book as well, maybe after graduate school.
    Thanks for your blog.

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