“Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart 745.2 MC
McDonough is an American architect and Braungart is a German chemist. They are both concerned with human impact on the world–especially in the design of things that are then meant to be thrown away. Their ideas to correct this had me very excited. They could work! It has to do with original design–making things out of materials that can not only be reused for something, but that can be reused for the same thing. The authors call it “upcycling” as opposed to “downcycling” which is what commonly happens with paper and bottles and automobiles, etc. today. It means we would never run out and there would be no reason for landfills. It sounds so refreshing that the only thing I can imagine stopping more designers working on it is that someone’s making more money doing things the old more wasteful and dangerous way. Is that a conspiracy theory? Anyway, I am so, so glad that there are people out there thinking about and acting on new ways of designing everything from fabrics to running shoes to houses. The fabric, for example, is supposed to be so toxin-free that it is edible. Houses would fit into their environment aesthetically and culturally–no cookie-cutter houses. They also have this ingenious idea about customers buying the service of an appliance rather than the appliance themselves. When the service life is over or the owner tires of it, the owning company delivers a new (and presumably better) appliance and takes the old one back to be disassembled re-used in its entirety. Seems like that sort of thing would create jobs.
Braungart tells a charming story about his mother who had a freewheeling garden full of plants, vegetables, wildflowers. Neighbors complained. She was fined. She decided she loved her garden so much, she was willing to pay the fine year after year. After ten years, she won an award for having a garden that was a stellar example of bird and butterfly habitat. The garden had stayed the same, but opinions and trends had changed. I guess there’s hope for my own frontyard then.
What I can’t figure out is this book was published in 2002. What’s been going on for the past ten years? For one thing, a Davenport West High School instructor told me that he’s using “Cradle to Cradle” this school year (2011-2012) as a text for his advanced placement engineering students. They are partnering with the Scott County Waste Commission and one of their assignments will be to see what products people throw into the landfill and then try to design these products from the get-go using materials that can be upcycled instead. They’ll contact the companies that produce the items, offer them these alternatives, and see what happens. Terrific, huh!
The book itself uses some of the elements the authors champion. They want a book “that is not a tree. It is not even paper [but] polymers that are infinitely recyclable at the same level of quality….The inks are nontoxic and can be washed off the polymer with a simple and safe chemical process or an extremely hot water bath, from either of which they can be recovered and reused. The cover is made from a heavier grade of the same polymer as the rest of the book, and the glues are made of compatible ingredients….The pages are white and have a sensuous smoothness, and unlike recycled paper, they will not yellow with age….It’s even waterproof, so you can read it at the beach, even in the hot tub. You’d buy it, carry it, and read it not as a badge of austerity–and not only for its content–but for its sheer tactile pleasure. It celebrates its materials rather than apologizing for them.” They admit further down the page that the current “Cradle to Cradle” is not yet that book but is a step in that direction. One thing I noticed is: it’s heavy! The heaviness is greatly outweighed by hopeful ideas though.