Excessive production and consumption lead to enormous amounts of garbage. But what if this could be avoided from the start, or understood as a new raw material? Thinking in terms of cycles offers holistic approaches for designers, producers and consumers. Especially in the area of plastics based on valuable mineral oil, material cycles could also be promising in economic terms.
Life Cycle Assessment
The eco-balance sheet – also known as the life cycle assessment – is a method of estimating a product’s environmental impact. The entire lifespan of the product is taken into consideration «from cradle to grave». Depending on the questions put, not only ecological but also economic and social aspects of a product or business can be taken into account. The result of a life cycle assessment can reveal to designers and producers those areas where improvements could be made so that, as early as the design stage of a product, negative environmental influences can be prevented or reduced to the greatest possible extent. For consumers it can provide a basis on which to make decisions and, when considering a purchase, can help to distinguish a «good» product from a «bad» one. For example a long-life, regionally produced useful product that is low in harmful substances and makes economic use of material has a good life cycle assessment.
According to the ISO 14044 (2006) standards, a Life Cycle Assessment is carried out in four distinct phases:
Determining the goal and the framework of the assessment: Formulating the questions
Factual balance phase: collecting data
Estimating impact: contextualization, estimating the results
Evaluation: conclusions, recommendations, aids to decision-making)
Cradle to Cradle
The Cradle to Cradle Principle worked out by architect William McDonough and designer Michael Braungart is derived from the continuous cycles of nature. Products should be designed in such a way that they do not become waste but rather nutrients for new products. To achieve this the biological and technical cycles must be consistently separated from each other. Ideally, in a product made of different materials the respective parts can be dismantled, allowing them to be separately replaced or recycled.
Biological cycle: Products of consumption such as packaging or cleaning materials are conceived in such a way that they can be integrated in the biological cycle. They are free of pollutants, can be degraded by micro-organisms and after use provide nutrients for sustainable raw materials.
Technical cycle: Products of service such as mobile telephones are no longer bought but are simply borrowed from the producer. They are returned after use and then, through recycling, form the raw material for new technical products. Here, in contrast to the biological cycle, where it is absolutely necessary toxic materials can also be used.
Zero Waste is a visionary and holistic approach that aims at systematically avoiding the production of waste. The focus is shifted from isolated waste management to a wide set of measures in the areas of design, production, consumption and recycling. Building a bridge between the various protagonists is strategically important here, along with the regulation of responsibilities.
Thoughtless behavior by consumers and our throw-away culture are also questioned. In the long term environmentally acceptable consumption is possible only if society as a whole changes its behavior and, in some cases, is willing to do without. The appeal to the consumer is: reduce, reuse, repair! The designer is urged to rethink, redesign!