RL Magazine
Edition 41
What Cradle To Cradle Recycling Can Do For Us
by Michael Arms, Pacebutler Recycling

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Environmentalists are skilled at identifying the disastrous impact of industrialization on the environment. Industrialists, on the other hand, find conservation advocates to be blind to the social and economic justifications for industrialization. They assert that if every environmental protection advice is observed thoroughly, it will lower living standards everywhere, technologically and economically. Both groups see industrial waste and the products that we create, as destructive to the environment. The choice is between rampant industrialization and narrow environmentalism.

Is there another way out of the box? As a matter of fact, there is a third alternative. Cradle to cradle recycling.

Recycling, as it is being done today, is in fact “downcycling” or “cradle to grave” recycling. This concept is explained clearly by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart in their 2002 seminal work, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things.” The stuff we improvise out of used objects are either inferior in quality (due to materials degradation or contamination) or use only very little of the old material (the remainder thrown away as poisonous waste in our dump sites).

Contrast this with how nature takes care of her waste. When a tree creates a thousand blooms to reproduce or replicate itself, it is highly likely that only one of those blooms will actually become a new tree. But, we don’t find the 999 other blooms wasted since all these fall down to the earth as nutrients to help begin the tree’s next reproduction cycle. In nature, nothing is ever wasted. Waste equals food, everything goes back to the earth as nutrient. This is known as sustainability, everything contributes to “sustain” the cycle and the process is replicated infinitely without any unusable excess.

What if we can adopt nature’s principle of sustainability and zero waste in our industrial production cycles? What if every machinery that we create can be reused, recycled, or totally reduced to its organic components? Cradle to cradle is the way to rebuild our industries to approximate the seamless process of sustainability in nature. How? Think of incorporating sustainability into every product. Engineers, architects, and designers will have to design in post-consumer product handling while the product is still in the drawing boards. Is the item reusable? Are all the parts recyclable? Are the parts, paints, and coatings biodegradable?

A lady who goes to the market considers using plastic bags or paper bags for her purchases. A town council in Europe considers if their town should keep using coal or switch to palm oil for power generation. In our daily routines, we frequently get trapped into “lesser of two evils” type of decisions. Plastic will not decompose for thousands of years and coal is the most polluting of all the fuels we burn. Conversely, paper production kills trees, and palm oil production decimates orangutans. Lesser evils. Since the start of the industrial revolution, we’ve been focused into this idea of limited options.

Cradle to cradle recycling, once it becomes widely accepted (and the opposition of vested interests is enormous) will probably be the “next industrial revolution.” It shatters the appearance of limited choices, because when sustainability is a basic consideration in the product design, we are not forced to make those constricting choices. Every machinery reaching the end of its life-cycle is either reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable. That is cradle-to-cradle recycling.

Michael Arms writes for the Pacebutler Recycling and Environmental blog and maintains several recycling (http://www.squidoo.com/recycling-recycling/) and other environmental lenses in Squidoo. Pacebutler Corporation (http://www.pacebutler.com/)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 at http://www.pacebutler.com/recycle_donate_cell_phones.cfm/.

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