Is Cradle to Cradle Recycling The Solution To The World's Trash Problem?

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Tree huggers are adept at identifying the destructive impact of industrialization on the environment. Technocrats, on the other hand, find conservation advocates to be insensitive to the social and economic justifications for industrialization. They assert that if every environmental protection advice is observed thoroughly, it will set us back for decades, technologically and economically. Both groups view industrial waste and the gadgets that we create, as harmful to the environment. The choice is between unchecked industrialization and narrow environmentalism.

Is there another option? As a matter of fact, there is a third alternative. Cradle to cradle recycling.

Ever come across a book called "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, published in 2002? In this ground-breaking book, they observe that recycling, as it is done today, is basically "downcycling" or "cradle to grave" recycling. We make floating buoys from styrofoam or produce news print out of white paper. The new products we fashion out of old materials are invariably lesser in quality to the original (due to materials degradation or contamination) or use very little of it (the remainder ending up in the dump sites as dangerous waste).

Compare this with the the process by which nature takes care of her excess. When a tree brings forth a thousand flowers to reproduce or replicate itself, it is highly likely that only one of those seeds will actually become a new tree. But, we don't find the 999 other flowers wasted since all these are returned to the ground to become compost to help begin the tree's next reproduction cycle. In nature, there is no such thing as waste. Waste equals food, everything goes back to the earth as sustenance. This is known as sustainability, every leaf or seed or flower contributes to "sustain" the cycle and the process is replicated infinitely without any unusable excess.

What if we can adopt nature's way of sustainability and zero waste in our industrial manufacturing processes? What if every gizmo that we make can be reused, recycled, or completely biodegraded to its organic components? Cradle to cradle is the way to transform "the way we make things" to adopt the highly efficient concept of sustainability in the natural world. How? Visualize incorporating sustainability into every product. Engineers, architects, and designers will have to provide for after-use product handling while the product is still in the drawing boards. Is the product reusable? Are all components recyclable? Are the parts, paints, and coatings biodegradable?

A woman who goes shopping chooses between plastic bags or paper bags for her groceries. A town council in Europe considers if their town should keep using coal or switch to palm oil for energy generation. In our day-to-day routines, we frequently fall into "lesser of two evils" type of choices. Plastic will remain for thousands of years and coal is the dirtiest of all the fuels we use. On the other hand, paper production kills trees, and palm oil production threatens extinction to orangutans. Lesser evils. Since the start of the industrial era, we've been focused into this idea of limited choices.

Cradle-to-cradle recycling proposes to overhaul this perception of limited choices. When sustainability is crucial 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 address the world's waste problems.

Paper bag or plastic bag? Why not an "edible bag?"

Michael Arms contributes articles to the Pacebutler Recycling and Environmental blog and maintains several Squidoo lenses on recycling and the environment. Pacebutler Corporation is one of several US trading companies which buy used cell phones directly from US cell phone users. You can also donate cell phones to your preferred charity or non-profit through Pacebutler.

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