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

Aquinas College

True Recycling and Products of Service


Photo Courtesy of the Energy Information Administration

Our current system of recycling is often energy intensive, polluting, and ineffective. Typically, only one additional use of the "recycled" material is achieved and because products are forced into lifecyles they were not designed for, the resulting product is of lesser quality. The term downcycling is more descriptive of our current system.

The rising cost of raw materials derived from non-renewable resources becomes more apparent every day in our global economy due to ever-increasing global consumption. From the recognition of this problem, a sustainable concept is emerging that will turn downcyling into true re-cycling of material flows. A sustainable business will make products that can be recycled an infinite number of times without compromising quality.

Instead of purchasing durable goods (like refrigerators and air conditioners), a manufacturer may even retain ownership of their products, and customers lease the service the product provides. This systemic concept is called "extended product liability", "extended producer responsibility", or simply "products of service". Much like how we lease vehicles, when the customer no longer desires the service, the product is returned to the manufacturer who utilizes all of the technical nutrients again. Technical nutrients are those materials that cannot be broken down in the natural environment, but are essential to industry. Technical nutrients are kept within a closed loop cycle, separate from biological nutrients (biodegradable materials that can be safely returned to the earth). These two nutrient flows must be kept separate in a "cradle to cradle" system where a product is truly "re-cycled" (MBDC).

A "product of service" system can create a competitive advantage in the market for business. Expenses can be dramatically reduced with the elimination of the concept of waste. In a system where companies do not have to purchase the manufacturing materials every time a new widget is produced, they can begin to maintain more revenues as profit. The bottom line is that it's smart design and smart business to make products that can be easily disassembled and recycled rather than buried or incinerated when the product is no longer of service to the customer.


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Header photo by Carol Y. Swinehart, courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant Extension
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