“With the exception of some high-flying migrant species, nature doesn't commute to work.” - Janine Benyus, Biomimicry

Aquinas College

Recycling and Composting


Photo Courtesy of the Energy Information Administration

Recycling plays an integral role in a sustainable society. We simply cannot continue the extraction of virgin materials for the manufacture of products at the present rate, especially considering the incredibly short lifespan of most consumer goods. This current system is truly cradle to grave, as goods are sent to landfills shortly after they are purchased. Even current recycling efforts, despite coming from the best intentions, do not truly maintain closed loop product lifecycles; it is essentially a detour before ultimately arriving at their final resting place.

Products today just aren't made to be recycled, so when they are forced into a lifecyle they were not designed for, the end result is usually a lower quality product than originally intended. A more appropriate term for this process is really downcycling. Surprising to most is the fact that the downcycling of plastics and metals often emit toxic chemicals into our air and water, and recycled paper requires heavy application of chemicals. It is not to say that current recycling efforts are invaluable. They certainly allow products to enter into secondary or even tertiary product lifecycles. However, the true goal of sustainability is to design products for upcycling, where the inherent value is maintained or even improved.

Although this design scheme does not exist in the mainstream yet, it needs to be our goal. There is a finite amount of the resources we use everyday, and throwing them all into a landfill will not be a viable option forever. In the meantime, we as consumers and business professionals should be doing our part by recognizing our responsibility to do more with less!


Funded by the Steelcase Foundation of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Header photo by Carol Y. Swinehart, courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant Extension
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