We Treehuggers love recycling, but all too often it involves expending energy to break down perfectly good materials, only to reform them into very similar materials or products later. This is something that McDonough & Braungart refer to as downcycling, after the inevitable loss of quality each time a material is broken down and then reformed. It's much better, then, to either reuse a product for as long as possible, or to find another use for it that doesn't involve breaking it down any more than necessary. Of course, once these options are exhausted, the product should still be suitable for more traditional recycling, which certainly beats throwing it in a big hole in the ground. Ultimately, all products should be designed for reuse and/or intelligent upcycling (another McDonough and Braungart term), but in the meantime we sometimes have to get creative with products that already exist.The picture above was snapped during a recent cycling holiday in Germany. Fields and fields of grapevines could be seen, their stems cradled by what appeared to be juice cartons, rather than traditional plastic crop-protection tubes. When asked whether this was a green initiative, the farmer whose field this was shrugged. "It's cheaper," he replied. Unfortunately we don't have any details of where the tubes come from, whether they were pre- or post-consumer waste etc. but it does illustrate how efforts to economise can often lead to sensible and efficient use of materials.
Special thanks to Mike and Marjukka Grover for the photo.
[Written by: Sami Grover]