Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Where built to have a life cycle

Where are you right now? Sitting on a plaid sofa, maybe worn in a couple places, a cushion flipped over to hide a stain from spilled coffee or dirty paws? Or maybe you’re in an office chair – sleek, with a leather cushion and metallic arms, plastic wheels that you use to gently push yourself from one side of your glass desk to the other. Maybe you’re reading this on your smartphone, your free hand holding the metro pole, your body swaying to the rhythm of the bright, bustling train car. Wherever you are, consider the materials surrounding you – the foam inside the cushions, the insulation between the walls, even the soles of your shoes or the coffee cup beside you. All these objects have one thing in common: all of them are made from blended materials – plastic, rubber, petroleum-based fabrics and foams, lacquered woods – which have been cobbled together to supposedly enrich our lives. But have you ever considered where these materials come from? And moreover, what happens to these things when they break? Sure, you can throw it away, but where is “away”? Where does it really end up?Regardless of where you live in the world, you are part of a linear economy. That is, the things you purchase and consume are built to have a life cycle – beginning in a factory, living out its days in your home or office, and then being relegated to the dumpster. Even if you donate these things to a thrift store and their lives are extended for a few years, eventually, it all ends up in a landfill. Our landfills are bursting with microwaves, chairs, shoes, tires – unrecyclable mixed materials, petroleum-based products that populate our homes and offices and restaurants, continuing a consumption-to-landfill life cycle that, in our growing planet and economy, is unsustainable.What if there were another way? What if these materials were compostable? What if that chair, your insulation, your shoes, could be returned to nature? We living things are born of the earth, nourished by the earth, and return to the earth, nourishing the earth the way it nourished us. What if our packaging, our buildings, our furniture, acted in the same way?If it seems like a pipe dream, it’s not. With the rise of commercial composting nationwide, single use items made from non-GMO corn or sugar cane are becoming easier to find. We are also seeing objects made of rice bran, old water bottles, hemp, and sugar cane making their ways into our homes in the form of toilet paper, lunch boxes, clothing, and shower curtains, to name just a few.Cradle to Cradle, a revolutionary book written by a chemist and an architect, spurred a movement to combat the modern world’s attachment to a linear economy, and instead advocates a circular economy – one where our goods go from cradle to cradle, not cradle to grave. The movement discusses the idea of the chemicals in our home that we’re exposed to daily – paints and glues and insulation that expand and contract with shifting temperatures, releasing problematic volatile compounds into our home’s air. What if, instead, we were surrounded by only natural building materials? In Taos, New Mexico, Earthship Biotecture has been creating homes made of sustainable and recycled materials for decades. These homes save tires from the landfill and pack them with dirt to make sturdy, fireproof, insulated walls. This idea is revolutionary, utilizing only natural materials and those rescued from eternity in a landfill. Switching to structures like these, and other traditional methods like adobe, empowers us to fight for a viable future where humans can thrive alongside nature and combat climate change in their daily choices.But it’s not just in the big things. Right now, there’s a growing movement toward sustainable materials, against the planned obsolescence that so many manufacturers are guilty of. From things like shoes made from wool and castor bean-based polyurethane to the growing popularity of cloth diapers, people are recognizing the need for sustainability. It’s easy to make the shift in your own home. Start with the basics. Refuse BPA-lined coffee cups by washing out that old glass peanut butter jar, putting a coozy on it, and asking the barista to put your to-go coffee in there. Refuse the straw – 500 million of which are put in the landfill daily in the US alone – and bring your own steel one (they’re small enough to pop in your bag or pocket). Buy in bulk from your grocery store, and bring your own bags – even old bread bags can be used to stock up on pantry basics. When we commit en masse to sustainable change, we’re sending a message to manufacturers that petroleum-based products have no place in our homes, and that we demand a sustainable, renewable future. Start today. Show your local community, government, and retailers that the future is renewable.

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