Composting and industrial recycling


[no author]
Penguin, March 2009, $19.95

Composting is a brief but very practical, hands-dirty, guide to turning garden waste, food scraps and waste paper into the kind of soil that will have your plants moaning in ecstasy as they grow a mile a minute. As the authors say, it isn’t rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules. Anything organic will rot if you leave it long enough, and learning about composting is simply learning how to make the process work better for you and your garden.

If you just want to put lawn clippings on the garden beds, fine. If you want to buy a bokashi bucket to keep in the kitchen, fine. If you want to make a worm farm, fine. If you want to establish a hot-compost heap and turn it every week, that’s fine too. Composting points out that many people evolve a mixed system for dealing with waste and when I looked at our own household to check, I counted nine different paths we use to convert green stuff into good soil or dispose of what we can’t use. Our system makes the most of our resources with the least possible time and effort but it was never planned, it just grew. The garden does, too.

cradle-to-cradleCradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Random House, April 2009, $24.95

Cradle to Cradle applies the composting model to industrial design. The authors, high-powered environmental engineering and architectural consultants, argue that we need to move beyond the one-way trip that our raw materials usually take, to the model of traditional farming practices which return nutrients that have been taken out so that the land remains productive.

They acknowledge that the ‘cradle-to-grave’ eco-efficiency model is already better for the planet and its inhabitants than the old habit of treating resources, and rubbish dumps, as effectively infinite. But, as they say, merely slowing down the rate of resource depletion and environmental degradation will still leave us with no resources and a polluted environment: it will just take longer.

They want us to plan ahead so that industrial products can re-enter the resource cycle as ‘technical nutrients’ alongside the biological nutrients and they give diverse examples of how this philosophy can be applied. They do over-sell their idea somewhat and are a bit too dismissive of the benefits of eco-efficiency but their concept is sound and timely and their book should be a source of inspiration for engineers, architects and industrial designers.

These reviews were originally published in the Townsville Bulletin in April 2009 and have been lurking on my older website ever since. The impetus to republish them on Green Path was the recent article excerpted below, which is a wonderful case study in cradle-to-cradle industrial design and management. I have quoted the key points with enough context to make them comprehensible, but the whole article and its links are well worth exploring.

Inside Interface’s bold new mission to achieve ‘Climate Take Back’

Joel Makower June 6, 2016 via The Story of Stuff

Next week at the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings, better known as NeoCon, Interface, the Atlanta-based carpet company, plans to roll out its next corporate mission. In the process it plans to set a new marker for what it means to be a sustainable business.

“Climate Take Back,” as the new mission has been named, is the successor to Mission Zero, the name given to a vision articulated in 1997 that, for most outside the company, seemed audacious at the time: “To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.”

… Such bold goals are more common now — albeit, not common enough — and with Interface on a trajectory to achieve many of its 2020 commitments ahead of schedule, the company has been on a quest to formulate a new vision that seems as audacious today as Mission Zero did 20 years ago.

Specifically, Climate Take Back includes four key commitments:

  • We will bring carbon home and reverse climate change.
  • We will create supply chains that benefit all life.
  • We will make factories that are like forests.
  • We will transform dispersed materials into products and goodness.

… Today, the company forecasts that by 2020 it will halve its energy use, power 87 percent of its operations with renewable energy, cut water intake by 90 percent, reduce greenhouse gas emissions 95 percent (and its overall carbon footprint by 80 percent), send nothing to landfills, and source 95 percent of its materials from recycled or biobased resources.

Given the fact that the company was within striking distance of many of its 2020 goals, it decided last year to build a framework for what would happen next.

… “It starts with changing how people think of what they’re capable of doing,” says Green Team member Janine Benyus, co-founder of the consultancy Biomimicry 3.8. “How they think about themselves and what power and agency they have that changes the world. They realize that climate change is the looming thing and that we all need to take a piece of reversing it, not just mitigating it or adapting to it.”

Factories as forests

Benyus provided the inspiration and intellectual firepower for another of Climate Take Back’s commitments: creating factories that operate like forests.

The notion is something Benyus has been talking about, and working on, for a while: to build human development that functions like the ecosystem it replaces. That means providing such ecosystem services to its surroundings as water storage and purification, carbon sequestration, nitrogen cycling, temperature cooling and wildlife habitat. And do so at the same levels as were once provided before humans came along.

…and beyond

This kind of ambition for industrial processes is essential if we are ever to have a truly sustainable industrial society. It may not be our highest priority right now (decarbonising is arguably more urgent) but it is something we should be beginning to think about now so that we can do it as quickly and intelligently as possible when that time comes. 

5 thoughts on “Composting and industrial recycling”

  1. Costa, from the ABC’s gardening show, gives good advice on composting:
    “…If you cover the top of your compost you will not end up with vinegar flies, and if you get the balance of your compost right and avoid meat products, you will eliminate smells and rats and mice will stay away.
    “You can also place a piece of chicken wire on the ground and put your bin on top of it so all of the liquids and any microbial activity can still move up and down through the earth, but vermin won’t be able to burrow their way up,” Costa explained.
    Another thing to consider, especially if you live in an apartment, is a small, indoor composting system like a bokashi bin…”

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