Friday, May 29, 2015

Are our products designed to create waste?

What do you do with a product when you're done using it? 
On campus, 65.48% of all waste produced is thrown away, to a landfill. Let's consider, for a moment, what a landfill is in the context of a product's life. A landfill is essentially a product graveyard, where all the materials that make up and package our products go to "die." Currently, most products are designed to become obsolete, be disposed of, and be transported out of sight to a landfill. Please refer to Figure 1; the current system through which our products are generated is linear. Products are produced, used, and then disposed of, and the cycle stops there. 
Figure 1

Defining Product Life Cycle Analysis
Figure 2
This method through which we've been looking at a product's life is called a product lifecycle analysis. According to the Renewable Energy Corporation, a product lifecycle analysis (LCA) is "an assessment into the ‘cradle to grave’ environmental impact of a product from the beginnings of its manufacture to its eventual ‘retirement’ or recycling." A number of new approaches to the traditional product lifecycle analysis (shown in Figure 1have emerged. One of which is the life cycle assessed by the Renewable Energy Corporation (seen in Figure 2).We can already see that this is a more closed-loop system, recycling its waste from end-of-use right into the design and creation of a new product. This life cycle, however, still involves the disposal of some waste materials and the incorporation of some new raw materials. It would be ideal if each product were produced in an entirely closed-loop system, with all waste being utilized to generate new products.   

Examining the "Cradle to Cradle" approach
Figure 3
Another alternative approach to the traditional product life cycle is the biomimetic cradle-to-cradle approach. Cradle-to-cradle models human industry on nature's processes, viewing materials as nutrients circulating in sustainable, waste-less cycles. Interested in learning more about cradle-to-cradle? Michael Braungart and William McDonough wrote an entire book on it.

Companies popular on campus are leading the way 

Nike has set up the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program. The program grinds down used athletic shoes (28 million pairs of shoes have been placed into their shredder box) and turns them into new athletic centers and new products like a Nike jacket. Click here to find a store near campus.

Patagonia is closing the loop with their Ironclad Guarantee; any unsatisfied customer can return a product for repair. Many fraternities on campus purchase gear from Patagonia - next time your fracket tears, send it back for a repair!

Coca-Cola, like Patagonia, is encouraging their customer base to recycle their product. Coke's Reimagine Beverage Containers recycling centers provide interactive collection kiosks which encourage customers to recycle. More than 45 million containers have been recycled since the Reimagine program launched in the Dallas area in late 2010. 

"Cradle-to-cradle Design." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 May 2015. <>.

Delivering a Sustainable Railway. London: Stationery Office, 2007. Wind & Sun: Powering the Future. Renewable Energy Corporation. Web. 26 May 2015. <>.

"Municipal Solid Waste." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <>.

"Nike Better World." Nike. Nike, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <>.

"Patagonia - Repairs, Returns & Recycling." Patagonia - Repairs, Returns & Recycling. Patagonia, n.d. Web. 27 May 2015. <>.

Richardson, Alison L. "Building Recycling Rates | Recycling | Plant Operations, UofM." Building Recycling Rates | Recycling | Plant Operations, UofM. Plant Operations at the University of Michigan, 22 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 May 2015. <>.