The only concept I could identify with “sustainable design” at the beginning of this course was recycling. It turns out that, not only are there billions of other sustainable concepts related to design, but also, I didn’t actually understand recycling. After reading Cradle-to-Cradle: Waste Equals Food by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, I was introduced to looking at recycling as a closed loop – a system of reusing materials and resources in a way that ensures that their life is infinite. Recyling is not a one-step process. For example, the eating utensils you are using may be biodegradable, which sounds sustainable in itself, but you must dispose of the utensils properly for them to actually biodegrade. Another example is donating your tennis shoes to recycle the rubber soles to create a running track, but not being concerned about what happens to the rubber after the running track is bulldozed ten years later. This reading introduced a new way of thinking about recycling and the products I use in general. With so many innovative and diverse materials available in the industry, it may be difficult to know which materials are more likely to be recycled and part of a closed loop, than other materials. Fortunately, there is an app for that — just like everything else these days. I presented the MAKING app by Nike during class this past week. The app grants public access to designers, creators, and curious minds to data about the most commonly used apparel and interior materials in regards to sustainability–specifically in the following impact areas: chemistry, energy, water/land, and physical waste. Users of the app can explore, compare, contrast, and select these materials based on the scoring mechanism that scores each material out of 50 total points. Additionally, users have to option to see where materials rank in recycling abilities. For example, Rubber/natural latex ranks first in recycling. The app informs us of the most popular usage of materials as well, which can lead to ideas about how to ‘dispose’ of the original product for future products.
My epiphany is an innovative solution. When designers create a product, there should be some sort of requirement stating that at least 75% (for example) of the product must be recyclable. Additionally, the designer must state the intentions for the future use of the recyclable portion of the product. Although this could be limiting in the design world, it would make a huge impact on maximizing the idea of cradle-to-cradle, or close loop usage.
Why is everyone so interested in creating a product from scratch, when the materials they need are already readily available in a recycled form?
A loop is a circle, it is closed, and it has no end. THAT is the essence of true recycling.