Sunday, May 3, 2009

Contains Recycled Material

Everything on this planet, with very few exceptions, has been here since the beginning, spinning around the sun for the last five billion years or so. Everything on this planet, with very few exceptions, will be here until the sun swallows us up in another five billion years or so.

The newsprint or computer you read this on, and the eyes you use to read it are both made of the earth. The patterns vary but the matter is the same. Everything is part of the cycle. Everything has already been recycled many times over.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart's book Cradle To Cradle explains how, in nature, "waste equals food". Our culture's approach to consumption and garbage breaks the cycle.

When manufacturers combine things that naturally break down - such as leather - with things that don't, like rubber (to make shoes, for instance), we make products that are fiendishly difficult to recycle. Moreover if we consume products that are destined for a landfill, (and really, who doesn't) then we're part of the problem. It's a problem best solved on the drawing board by designing things that are easy to recycle rather than by building bigger landfills.

This Waste=Food cycle that has continued as long as there have been mouths to feed is good for continued life on earth. Wasting resources isn't an economical strategy. Nature doesn't waste a drop, and it's been around a lot longer than we have. We can learn a lot from the way natural systems find balance.

One of the most direct examples of waste=food is composting. By tossing your banana peels in the composter you're feeding millions of microorganisms that want nothing better than to chow down on the feast you've blessed them with. They turn it back into the soil from whence it came. It perpetuates the cycle. Taking garbage to the landfill takes those resources and puts them out of reach of natural and technical cycles. 

Breaking eternal cycles, on the other hand, is not a good strategy. Your community will be more successful in the long term by working in harmony with natural forces rather than fighting them. 

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