DP3.- Cradle to Cradle: Recycling? Downcycling & Upcycling

If we don’t want to make our home a dump, we should…

Change the way we see “things”, so we will be able to reduce the consumption and therefore the attachment and dependence on material things. We must not forget that consumerism is irrational, we consume much more than we need because we think that  we really need all those things, but at the end of the day is not richer the one that needs lees to live than the one that has more things?

Spread this point of view that Buddhism practise, doesn’t seem very large scale doable;  it seems an easier solution to develop a “cradle to cradle” system of re-using materials in which waste doesn’t exist so we can continue our level of conspicuous consumption.  This way we can prevent the suffering of the environment by reducing emissions, the huge amount of garbage and the guilt to fill our lives with more and more things.

Nowadays most of the recycling it is done is what we can call downcycling. The original materials in downcycling have been designed thinking in a product with one single life, so when the materials of a product is recycled, they lose valuable properties such as quality and functionality in every recycling process.

Downcycling can also increase contamination due to the downcycling products materials are lower quality than the first life ones, so if we want to improve the quality we have to add some chemicals. At the end, recycled materials often contain more additives than the original materials. For example, recycled plastics bottles are less transparent and stronger than the originals, so they receive treatment with chemicals to achieve certain level of quality.

It would be desirable that all products resulting from recycling were better quality and less environmentally harmful than they are nowadays, so we should not “downcycling” but “upcycling”. Thinking back into plastic bottles, when they are downcycled they still have antimony that is a toxic product. In contrast, when they are upcycled, what we get is a new plastic bottle without antimony. Therefore, upcycling let as use the same materials for several product lifes because in each recycling process we get a better quality product.

The second, third, fourth or tenth life of the first plastic bottle materials does not have to be always a part of a new plastic bottle, they can “reincarnate” for example in a Patagonia jacket, thanks to the Common Threads initiative!

Patagonia: how to make a jacket with plastic bottles Feel good proudly wearing someone else’s waste! :)

Patagonia quality

The Cradle to Cradle model transform waste products into valuable resources that companies can use again and again. Companies know that materials are one of their assets and that’s why they want them back. For example in the production of aluminium it is estimated that about 80% of all the aluminium produced thoughout history is still in circulation.

Daniel Goleman in his book Ecological Intelligence says that everything we use today have been developed in an era when we didn’t know its effects. Nowadays and thanks to science we know what are the effects of the materials and chemicals we are using now. Therefore we have the opportunity to reinvent everything in order to reduce the negative impact not only on the planet but in ourselves.

Jeremy Rifkin is also a very interesting writer in this field. In his book The Third Industrial Revolution, he stresses the importance of public sector incentives to companies in order to make them incorporate clean and efficient production processes so we can involve them in the fight against the degradation of the planet.



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