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UVa | A R C H 2013

Recycling or Downcycling?

William McDonough’s book, Cradle to Cradle,  discusses our world’s struggle with not necessarily consuming resources, but with the production of waste.  For example, when most people recycle a plastic bottle, they believe that their bottle is part of a continuous loop that looks like this:

In this system, the raw material is harvested and becomes the bottle, the bottle is used, and then is “recycled” and brought back to the same raw material.  However this is not the case.  The “recycling” of plastic is actually an extended cradle to grave system.  Each time plastic is “downcycled” it becomes a different, less desirable plastic, until it is eventually unusable.  The system looks more like this:

 

I believe that we need to reexamine our recycling systems and develop more of the cradle to cradle systems that McDonough discusses.  For example, companies could design their products so that they can constantly recycle and reuse new materials.  McDonough envisions a person buying a TV from a company and instead of throwing it away and exiting the system, he or she returns the TV to the company and returns it into the system.  This way, not as many raw materials are flowing into the system and there is little to no waste flowing out of the system.

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2 Comments»

  D. Skipper wrote @

I really liked reading your post. I am actually in a global sustainability class as well as the systems class where we speak alot about the systems in Meadows book, but also how it has to do with the sustainability of our world.

We recently talked about this deadly cycle of recycled goods and our professor showed us a video of citizens in South America using the recycled/low grade plastic bottles as sources of light when water and bleach was put in the bottle.

Here is the URL..it isnt in english but if you skip to 1:00 you will get the point.

Demi

  mr7uj wrote @

McDonough seems like an interesting person, intensely green! It’s great that he has a different approach to sustainability than most people. He believes in Eco-efficiency and that the three R’s (recycle, reuse and reduce) are not effective to reaching our goal to being sustainable and is not a strategy for success in the long run as it works within the system that causes the problem in the first place and just slows down the harmful process.
Here is a video that is very insightful


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