06 waste

Waste is of course a huge part of my life always, but waste processes have been made particularly visible to me this week given the readings but also a visit from a friend, who was on about wanting to start a cradle to cradle product design company. The concept of shifting the present pattern of consumption-without-consumption – one that entails vast wastelands like the Michigan landfill illustrated in Belanger’s photographic report ‘Airspace’, has toxic effects on users and makers, and that degrades countless landscapes – is certainly positive. But I think that the ethic of closed-loop biological and technical cycles that McDonough and Braungart discuss in chapter four of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things must be coupled with it’s directionality; that the process of remaking the way we make things and the presuppositions involved (that our consumptive practices simply are, that the idea of continuing to produce makes sense) are absolutely intertwined.

This is not to say that this intertwining should be cast in a totally negative way. I think that the ideas that packaging should biodegrade, and that, for example, the effluent of a textile factory should be cleaner than its influent are fantastic! However, a cradle to cradle approach to the problem of our current waste systems, which are tied to the way that we consume things, which is tied globalized economic webs that are often extremely exploitative, etc. only goes so far (which is to say, I do not think it goes far enough given a broader understanding of urban life and structure). Why optimize a shoddy machine? I tried to discuss something along these lines with my friend – this question of motivation and purpose behind creating anything else at all- and I don’t think we were able to get our modes of thinking to meet on any level. I think he thought it was a stupid question, and to a degree I agree with him, but I find that encountering these desires to remake making tugs at the way that I conceive of production and consumption more generally. It seemed to me that the reason we couldn’t get our trains of thought to cross paths was because he was approaching the issue of waste in a kind of entrepreneurial, well-meaning way and maybe I was just mystified by the idea of wanting to start a business, let alone one that makes things, without any understanding of why one would want to make things in the first place. I think that this conflict gets beyond the somewhat trite controversial position of ethical consumerism, but maybe it doesn’t…To be revisited…

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