The overarching principle for this month’s Issue in Focus is the insight that in nature there is no waste.
For centuries, human industry has ignored this simple lesson. But today, a convergence of environmental and resource concerns is driving the recovery of all sorts of valuable materials.
Material reutilization is one of the core concerns of the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Products program. We talk of optimizing the nutrient stream — what others might call the waste stream — into either biological or technical nutrients. There’s a third category of material — what authors McDonough and Braungart called “monstrous hybrids” — amalgams of materials that cannot be reclaimed into useful materials; their final destinations are either landfills or incinerators. At the Institute, we are working with product designers and manufacturers to create a world where everything humans make either returns safely to soil or back to industry forever.
A lot of people are talking about the same ideas — they are just using different language. Some of these memes include extended producer responsibility (EPR), take-back programs, reverse logistics, ewaste, urban mining and zero waste.
In San Francisco, where the Institute is based, the city diverts 80% of its waste from landfill and has a legitimate shot at getting to 100% diversion in the next few years. But is it really right to call it “zero waste” when, in reality, the city is going beyond zero — into positive production of millions of tons of compost and a steady stream of recovered plastics, metals, even fabrics for industry?
The articles this month present different perspectives and showcase a variety of variations, but they share a common hope — that clever humans can adopt the lessons of nature to contribute to a safe, abundant, flourishing future for humankind and the planet.