Cradle to cradle: Living in a world without waste

People buy, consume and then discard. But can you imagine a reality where the concept of waste had no meaning? That's behind the growing "cradle to cradle" movement.

Second-hand furniture, repair cafes and clothing swaps are booming — and not just among those can't afford brand-new consumer goods. More and more people are looking for alternatives to built-in obsolescence and rampant consumption.

Nature and Environment | 08.05.2018

It's easy to see why. The more we consume, the more energy we burn, the more garbage we produce and the bigger our carbon footprint. And that’s before you even consider the extraction of resources and human rights abuses that go hand-in-hand with producing cheap, throwaway goods.

The under-30s, in particular, are increasingly into recycling and the sharing economy. Yet, vast quantities of resources are still used once before ending up in landfill or the blast furnaces of waste incineration plants.

"From cradle to cradle" refers to the ideal of an end to waste. Advocates want products to be part of a closed cycle. Nature itself is the model — where everything that dies is broken down into nutrients that feed new life.  

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Nature and Environment | 23.04.2018

Michael Braungart, a German chemist credited with coming up with the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) concept, says we too should reintroduce everything we use back into the biological cycle.

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The movement is slowly gaining attention. Hollywood star Brad Pitt promoted Braungart's book "Cradle to Cradle," which he co-wrote with US architect William McDonough.

Braungart believes we can only protect our environment if the whole lifecycle of a product is pre-planned, from the beginning of its development. There is no waste in Braungart's understanding, only biological or technical raw materials.

Products such as detergents, car tires and shoes, which break down and rot through use, should be composted. Electronic goods should be part of technical cycles, broken down into "technical nutrients" — materials such as metals and plastics that can be recovered and processed into new devices.

Within this system, the consumer pays for their use of a device or service and not for the product itself, which goes back to the manufacturer after use.

Consumers would pay for 10,000 washes or 10,000 hours of light, but not for the washing machine or the lightbulbs. The producer would then have an interest in producing durable products and recycling them.

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In the US, hundreds of products are already C2C-certified. Companies in Germany — mainly in the textile industry — are also investing in the circular economy.

Since 2013, sports giant Puma has been producing a biodegradable collection called InCycle. A shoe, jacket and backpack are made entirely from recyclable plastic. But other materials such as leather, cotton and rubber, as well as their production and transport, still have a high environmental impact.

Fashion house C&A was the first retailer to bring C2C-certified, fully compostable t-shirts to market. They are woven from organic cotton, and energy and water consumption is kept low in the manufacturing process.

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Theoretically, discarded C2C clothes could be used for garden compost, decomposed by microorganisms. In practice, such textiles can be handled by industrial composting, where they are exposed to constant temperatures over a long period of time. But for many organizations, this process is still considered too time-consuming.

There is an additional challenge to recycling C2C textiles, compared to glass or paper. Mixed plastics cannot be converted back into raw materials, so garments should be made of a single type of plastic, including buttons and zippers.

The German company Werner & Mertz manufactures detergent bottles from 100-percent recycled plastic, sourced from household waste.

Bringing C2C to the mainstream 

C2C is still a way off the mainstream. Braungart's daughter, Nora Sophie Griefahn is managing director of the non-profit Cradle to Cradle association and organizes events to promote the concept.

These bags of household waste have been sorted for recycling. But much of it will still end up in the incinerator

"We have to understand people as useful creatures in the world, and rethink our current notion of quality and the purpose of the economy,” Griefahn argues. “Economics and environmental protection must not compete, but pursue common goals."

"That won't work by just reducing our carbon footprint. We need a world in which producing according to C2C is taken for granted," she added.

Economist Tim Janssen, co-founder and second managing director of the Cradle to Cradle association, believes the main barrier to that is "that so many people don't understand what we're talking about." Even environmental groups have criticized the compostable t-shirts.

"They warned that T-shirts had to be long-lasting. Of course, they have to. They have to be harmless, so that we can use them for a long time and the fabric does not disintegrate on the body," Janssen said. "The shelf life and the subsequent usability do not exclude each other."

A clever use for your milk cartons

All you will need

You won't need too much for this one! Wait for your family to finish a carton of juice or milk, then swipe it. You'll also need some scrap material. We used two different kinds to mix it up: a scissors (promise to get an adult's permission for this one!), some glue, a hole punch and two paper-fasteners.

A clever use for your milk cartons

No more drink in this carton

First cut the top off your carton - don't throw it away, you'll need it later. Where you cut depends on how big you want your bag to be. It's totally up to you, just make sure it's definitely empty before you start - you don't want any spills ;) Once you've done that, give the part you'll use for your bag a wipe with a wet cloth and then dry it.

A clever use for your milk cartons

New clothes for the carton

Now it's time to give it a brand new look. Take a piece of cloth that's a bit longer and wider than your carton. We've chosen blue and white polka dots because we think its pretty, but you can use whatever pattern or color you want. You could even take some plain material and draw on some nice pictures on there. Glue the cloth onto the carton, leaving a bit of material on either end.

A clever use for your milk cartons

Taking shape

You're halfway there - yey! Just smear some glue inside the top of the carton and stick down the cloth that's still poking up.

A clever use for your milk cartons

A tidy bottom

Turn the carton upside down and glue down the material as shown in the photo above. It's kind of like wrapping a gift!

A clever use for your milk cartons

Don't forget the top bit

It's time to use the top of the carton that you didn't throw away to make a handle for your super cute bag. Cut out a long strip from the carton top ...

A clever use for your milk cartons

A colorful handle

... and lay it on your second piece of material. We've gone with something flowery. Cut along the strip of carton but make sure to leave enough material to cover it all when you're done.

A clever use for your milk cartons

Punch a hole

Once everything is dry, punch a hole on either end of the handle. Mind your fingers now ;)

A clever use for your milk cartons

Be careful with the scissors!!!

Then make a hole on each side of the bag with a scissors. Be careful though. Maybe even ask an adult to help or supervise.

A clever use for your milk cartons

Through the hole

Attach the handle to the bag with the paper fasteners - easy peasy.

A clever use for your milk cartons

Fit for a queen

And ... ta-da! You've got your own homemade and super-stylish bag that's ready to hold all your treasures.

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