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.