Despite the growth in environmental concern and sustainable practices in the last decade, modern human society still produces a lot of waste.
Most people think that we just need to recycle more and drive and fly less, but there is a growing band of people who feel we must do much, much more.
Any comprehensive solution to the problem of waste production in society is going to involve a radical and revolutionary overhaul in many of the things we take for granted.
One such potential answer is the burgeoning ‘Cradle to Cradle’ or regenerative design movement. But what does the phrase mean and what do these people suggest we do to solve the problem?
Waste is a Product of Bad Design
The core idea that underpins the idea of regenerative design is that true economic and environmental success involves insuring that our production processes are completely compatible with the natural environment.
Since the industrial revolution human productive technology has been based on the idea of a ‘cradle to grave’ idea that production necessarily equals waste. The people behind regenerative design argue that the use of fossil fuels and powerful chemicals to take and shape resources from the earth is completely unnecessary.
In this way regenerative design emphasises viewing the design and productive process holistically as one that is embedded in a complex, dynamic and varied ecosystem.
The Core Tenants of Regenerative Design
There are a number of key design principles that allow human design to take after the naturally occurring systems in the wider environment:
Waste = Food
The concept of waste as we know it (an essentially useless by-product of production) does not exist in the natural world. The processes of each organism contribute to the health of the system overall.
For example, a tree produces fruit which falls to the ground as food for animals. Bacteria and types of fungi will feed on the waste produced by both the tree and the animals that eat the fruit, which in turn places nutrients into the soil which help trees and plants to grow.
Designers should either select materials that will safely biodegrade completely or that can be recycled to the same quality a large amount of times.
Utilise the Sun
Nearly every living thing in the world makes use of the seemingly unlimited and free energy provided by the sun, apart from the productive processes devised by humans.
There are a wide variety of technologies which use the suns energy to provide power generation almost on the scale of other forms of electricity production. This is still very much a work in progress.
Diversity Should Be Celebrated
Nature is a carnival of diverse parts that all contribute to the health of the whole system. Designers need to take the local environment into consideration and fit their designs into this local ecosystem, by drawing on local energy sources and materials. This is much better than simply following the one size fits all logic and dumping concrete structures everywhere.
Too much of what is considered recycling at the moment is actually closer to ‘downsizing’, where a product can only be used to make products of lesser quality and still involve the use of chemicals.
True recycling should involve products that can be taken apart without having to add anything and can be used to make products of the same quality as the original product.
Some companies are now beginning to move towards this kind of process, such as Nike and their ReUSE A SHOE service where you can send in your old shoes and they will be turned into other Nike products. Many printer ink manufacturers will also now allow you to recycle your used cartridges at your nearest cartridge shop.
Regenerative design gives us some serious food for thought about the way we currently operate and how we might do so in the future. What do you guys think?
Elise Lévêqueis a freelance translator who moved to Bristol from Paris to find adventure and love. When not drinking tea and thinking about a full English breakfast, you will find her hunched over her laptop writing blogs for the Cartridge Shop or getting her hourly fix of social media.
- Cradle to Cradle Makes it Right (sprayfoamdirect.com)
- Cradle to Cradle Printing Solutions (aarhusblog.com)
- CRADLE to CRADLE Recycling Policy for LED Tube lights (greenandsave.com)