Growing up in a dutch community, I often heard the joke asking “how is copper wire made?” and the answer “by two Dutchmen finding over a penny!” In my travels, I’ve heard the same joke said about various communities who are perceived to be cheap/frugal and it is usually good for a laugh. Those of us who are cheap or frugal are often trying to get as much use out of something or trying to figure out new uses for things when the first use is no longer viable. The 3 R movement about Reduce, Re-use, Recycle has some of the same premise, but it’s not quite the same. Additionally, the 3 R movement in reality became all about the third R – recycle – even though recycling was to be seen as the last resort, now it is really the only resort. The only thing that seems to cause us to reduce our consumption is financial crises when we no longer have the cash to purchase. Re-use – well that’s rare too, just think of the amazement of the media over the fact that Princess Kate has been seen wearing the same dress twice! shock, horror. And recycle, well, I’ve heard many arguments against it and we only seem to do it if we don’t have a choice and it is made incredibly easy for us to do (don’t make me sort my trash, don’t make me walk down the street to recycle, etc. etc.).
The cradle to cradle concept was developed by a couple of Americans, but has gained significant popularity in the Netherlands. In essence, the concept is about creating products with their next use in mind, which takes recycling and re-using to a whole other level. It requires us to think about how our products can be made in a way that allows for something new to be made (without reducing the quality) from them when their useful life is finished. There is a Guardian article that can be found here with a bunch of examples from baby clothing to laptop sleeves to carpets to shoes. It is clear from reading the article that a broad definition of Cradle to Cradle is being used as sometimes there the items being reference are more about sustainable sourcing models, than pure C2C.
That being said there are also eco-industrial parks in operation where a number of companies co-exist in the same park and each company uses the waste produced by another company to make its products. There is also a Dutch town where a factory uses water to cool its machinery, the water heats up and then is transported into the surrounding homes to heat the homes, when it cools, it flows back to the factory to cool the machines again. And this is not new, it’s been going on for years – a simple closed loop system.
And I’m sure you know of others – share them as we need more inspiration and ideas to reduce our consumption.