2nd Green Revolution has written about the regenerative economy and cradle to cradle design numerous times. This morning NPR reported on a story that reiterated the need to move toward an economy that manufactures objects with the end of their life cycle in mind. Many of the cheap materials that go into houses, for example, are produced with only their price in mind and can actually be harmful. Apparently, toxic chemicals from drywall is making some people ill. The material believed to be responsible is imported Chinese drywall that contains sulfur — a chemical not found in the American version of the product. According to NPR, Chinese sheet rock was imported during the post-Katrina reconstruction boom, as American supplies dried up. As a result of the illnesses, the United States Congress is requesting an investigation into the impact of potentially toxic drywall on inhabitants throughout the gulf coast region as well as Rhode Island.
Often the most inexpensive materials carry hidden costs. In the case of the Chinese sheet rock, respiratory illnesses, nosebleeds, and headaches have been linked to the drywall. In conjunction with the health care costs resulting from these and other infirmities, there is an enormous cost to replace the sheet rock. Neither of these additional expenditures are reflected in the purchase price of such materials, but they increase the true cost of the products.
By using materials that occur in nature such as clay or straw, the introduction of toxic chemicals can be kept at a minimum. Low and no VOC (volatile organic compound) paints serve as an example of man made objects that have been designed to eliminate toxicity, which is a core principle of the Cradle to Cradle philosophy. After usage, many of these objects can be returned to nature. This approach to design is at the center of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). “Instead of designing cradle-to-grave products, dumped in landfills at the end of their ‘life,’ MBDC transforms industry by creating products for cradle-to-cradle cycles, whose materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops. Maintaining materials in closed loops maximizes material value without damaging ecosystems.” The time has come to look at the entire life cycle of a product. As resources diminish, it will be increasingly important to design objects to return their constituent parts to the earth for use as “nutrients”. Europe’s Extended Producer Responsibility serves as an example of how so-called “technical nutrients” are being returned to manufacturers where they can then re-enter the resource stream and serve as the foundation for future objects, instead of taking up space in a landfill.
- Eric Wilson
[image source: Florida Department of Health]