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Regenerative design solves the large-scale trash problem

I have written about my husband before and his penchant for dumpster diving. I kid him about his motivations for taking other’s trash and his frustration over the quantity and quality of trash that people discard. But truthfully, he makes a valid point about the amount of stuff we throw away.
 
Many times we are faced with throwing away large items or appliances. We are completely stymied as to where we can recycle or dispose of these in a “green manner.” I have watched my hubby painstakingly take apart a metal office chair to save screws, recycle steel and salvage foam. He could have easily thrown it into the trash, but the thought of all those wasted resources was not acceptable to him.
 
Several years ago we had to get rid of our upholstered couch. We had it for many years, and it had been used thoroughly by our cats. It was not in good enough condition to give away to an agency like the Salvation Army.
 
What did we do with it? Well, we tore it apart. We salvaged the steel from the springs and ripped off the upholstery and padding. We then used the wood frame for a camp fire that week. My sister jokes about us burning our couch in the driveway.
 
The couch we have now is outdoor furniture that can be washed. It’s made of coated wicker so the cats can’t scratch it, and it has washable cushions.
 
Some forward-thinking designers have been considering this large-scale trash problem for several years and have come up with a solution. It’s called regenerative design. This is a process that “restores, renews or revitalizes its own source of energy and materials, creating sustainable systems that integrate the needs of society with the integrity of nature.”
 
Simply put, it relies on biomimicry; it imitates nature. Nature wastes nothing, nature recycles everything and nature uses renewable energy. This idea is being used to design buildings, create landscapes and manufacture consumer products. It seeks to parallel nature and attempts to be waste free.
 
Natural building design emphasizes the use of natural materials such as cork and bamboo. It takes into account the location of a building to use passive solar, wind turbines and rainwater collection for drinking and washing.
 
Permaculture heavily relies on using patterns and features observed in nature. One crop’s waste becomes another crop’s fertilizer. The grower works with nature rather than against nature and plants a permanent agricultural system that is sustainable.
 
This approach to design has caught on in many industries and has become known as cradle-to-cradle designing. These products are made up of materials that can perpetually be recycled. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has recently given awards to students and professionals who design unique products that follow this principle.
 
A student at Virginia Tech won an award for his backpack, which was made of 70 recycled plastic bags, a yard of organic canvas and biodegradable dye. It greatly reduces plastics in the environment and helps reduce carbon emissions by reusing bags.
 
A professional designer won an award for his bike helmet, which used recycled aluminum and sustainably grown cork. The aluminum can be reused in other products, and the cork can be composted when the life of the helmet is over.
 
You might wonder why this idea has been slow to catch on in the United States. Part of the problem with this idea is that our economy thrives on us throwing away old stuff to buy new stuff. Though Christmas is six months away, retailers are counting on the crazy buying of shoppers to help them meet their projected profit margins.
 
Manufacturers don’t make things that last a long time because frankly, they want us to buy new ones. I have heard sales people say many times that older appliances outlast most newer ones built today.
 
There are some other options we can consider while we wait for this new technology to take hold in the USA. Repurposing items, especially furniture, is becoming quite popular.
 
My sister made a coffee table from four wooden crates, a piece of plywood and recycled casters. My brother-in-law used the wood from a bowling alley to make hardwood floors for his home.
 
A little bit of elbow grease, paint, stain and some imagination can turn a discarded item into a usable piece of furniture. We are at the height of garage sale season. It can be said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Instead of rushing out to buy a new piece of furniture, try finding one to repurpose and save some money while saving resources.
 

Published: July 12, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170719989