The annual World Economic Forum meeting brings together economists, environmental activists, business leaders, humanitarians and technologists. Just concluded at the end of January, world think tank gurus and cutting edge 21st century mind magicians spent five days discussing, planning, problem solving and developing theories to help the earth’s economy, environment, financial stability, social development and population health.
An article from The Daily Good addressed this. One idea discussed to help reduce man’s carbon footprint and environmental damage is the development of more products based on green material science. One self-acclaimed unorthodox company, Ecovative, is looking more and more at framing economic and ecological challenges around recycling materials that use no energy and generate no waste.
Less than half of all recyclable materials are actually recycled. When they are recycled, this process takes a large amount of energy, and generally yields lower and lower grade materials. To borrow a term from Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book Cradle to Cradle, these recycling systems are generally “downcycling”. As an example, a plastic soda bottle tossed into the recycling bin is likely to become part of a park bench rather than another food grade bottle.
Industry experts say recycling should not be abandoned. It i still a positive and worthwhile thing to do. But what if there was a recycling system that requires no electricity and runs forever? Such a system already exists. Some people call it composting, some people call it nutrient cycling; and Ecovative is looking at is as “nature’s recycling system”.
In nature, everything is food for something else. Without burning any oil or coal, the molecules in your banana peel might one day soon be part of a tree. Nature’s recycling system gets us very close to a thermodynamically optimized system.
Experts are starting to talk about the circular economy; the Ellen MacArthur foundation just launched a report on this at Davos. The recycling and upcycling of nutrients in nature can be the gold standard for how industries should design their own systems to behave. Two methods are either by directly leveraging biotechnology, and making complex products that are compostable, or by mimicking biology in the way they design goods for re-use and re-manufacture.
Ecovative is focused on making renewable materials that fit the human time scales. These materials are literally grown by fungi, and can replace plastic foams, particleboard, and more. The materials grown are “ultra-rapid” renewables; they grow in about a week. Your next purchase might come protected by grown packaging. When you’re done with it, you can compost it and return those nutrients to nature.
According to experts, Industry needs thousands of new biological solutions to displace man’s extreme dependence on synthetic materials borrowed from the bank of time. And for those products that can’t be replicated using cellular technology, they must be designed for re-usability, so that the technical nutrients aren't squandered in landfills or incinerators.
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