Waste Accumulation


Photo Credit:  Gregg Segal ,California photographer

Industrialization granted humans with the extreme power to extract the resources to produce monstrous physical products, in which process fulfills the daily needs for us. On the other hand, massive production activities result in material leftovers on the supply side due to dominating “Cradle-to-Grave” design in modern manufacturing. i

To maximize the margin out of each product, globalized production processes usually compose low-cost, or low-quality per se, materials from all over the world, and not well prepared for efficient production. Thus, a large amount of material leftovers could not be used for production. A few years ago, I traveled to a city where specializes in leather products. I saw a lot of leather leftovers floating along the river which possibly came from the manufacturer when we sailed to the sea to catch fish, and large amount of the industrial waste were stuck on the steel chain by the loading deck. It created serious pollution for the river and put species under water in danger. And I think that was the reason we didn’t catch too much fish along the river.

Also, large amount of waste accumulates from the demand side. For instance, the smart phone we use. These high-tech products are usually composed of low-quality materials, that is, cheap plastics and dyes-globally sourced from the lowest-cost provider, which may be halfway around the world.  Thus, the products has very short life span, not just related to fast evolving technology that replaces them in a very short amount of time, also the low-quality production process reduces products’ durability. Moreover, low-quality electronic or interior products also seriously influence other aspect of our life, which could decrease indoor air quality and weaken our immune system. ii So specially for consumer orientated product, we should seek ways to recycle or reuse the waste, and I believe the recycle/reuse path is inevitable. Just like Japanese, they have very limited resource in the country, so they try to separate the waste and recycle as much as they can to sustain themselves on the island.

Engineers find temporary solutions for the accumulated waste, like the Airspace land fill project in Michigan, iii which is a great approach for the physical waste accumulation. The project took the advantage of the geo-conditions of Michigan State, and used its Great Lakes central location to serve several part of North America. However, if we not changing the production/design mode for the global industries to a “Cradle-to-Cradle” approach, we would still live on the waste we produce someday.

i. William McDonough & Michael Braugart, Cradle to Cradle, Chapter One. 
ii.William McDonough & Michael Braugart, Cradle to Cradle, Chapter One. 
iii. Pierre Belanger, 2006,  Airspace Trash

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