Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Design Is the Problem,” the latest book by Nathan Shedroff, chair of the MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Contrary to the book’s title, Shedroff presents practical, specific and executable solutions to designing for sustainability, covering topics from biomimicry and life cycle analysis to dematerialization.
Recycling is an important tenant of sustainability, but in order to be effective, products need to be easily disassembled into component parts and separated by material. If this is difficult, these products simply end up in the landfill instead.
The worst parts, in terms of recycling, are those made from two different materials bonded together, because they can’t be easily separated. The Cradle to Cradle framework designates these as “monstrous hybrids.” A good example of this type of hybrid would be milk and juice cartons that come with circular pour spouts and caps built into the side. The plastic cap and spout can’t be recycled with the waxed cardboard, and yet there are no easy ways for recyclers to separate these quickly. While this design is particularly convenient for some users, it makes recycling nearly impossible (a good example of opposing goals). The only way to recycle these is for users to cut the plastic spout from the rest of the container before placing them both in a recycling bin.