Yes, but it’s going to take imagination and innovation. Right now, we are taking what we want from the planet, using it, and throwing it away. It’s a one-way street from resource to landfill. But if we think there can’t be any other way, we are lacking imagination. Once a thing can be imagined, it can be engineered.
Look around you. The microwave oven, the cell phone, the car, clothing, furniture—imagine that when you’re done with them, you give them to a collector, possibly through curb-side pick-up, and they go back into the system for 100% reuse in new products. We are beginning to work toward this.
Why aren’t more things recycled?
It’s simple—they haven’t been designed for it.
The challenge for designing recyclable products is mainly in materials and product design. Of these two things, materials is the greatest challenge. The materials used to make things are not currently engineered to be recycled and reused. However, we believe they can be. Scientists are designing such things as programmable matter and artificial atoms, so we believe it is possible to design materials for 100% reuse.
Products also have to be designed to be disassembled and all the parts recovered for reuse or reprocessed into materials for new products. Some companies are already doing this.
There also has to be a system for manufacturing products, leasing them to consumers, collecting them after use and disassembling them, and remanufacturing them. We call this a system for material sustainability (s4ms).
Please explore the pages of this website to find out more about these ideas.
Develop Perpetually Reusable Materials
The first goal is to work with materials and chemical engineers in public and private institutions to develop perpetually reusable materials. Through collaboration with engineers and industry, the institute will define the projects, funding resources, and timelines for completion. The materials created through these projects will be put to use in test products.
Examples of projects:
- Rigid plastics – used for TVs, stereos, laptops, office furniture
- Paint – used on metal, glass, plastic
- Non-stick coatings – used in cookware
- Rubber – used in tires
- Paper – used for business, publishing and personal needs – eliminate the need for new supplies of wood or replace with plastic
- Ink – used on paper – create a type of ink that can be removed and recovered
- Soft plastics – used for shopping bags, toys, sheet plastic, shrink-wrap
- Steel – used in construction, vehicles, cookware
- Cement – used in construction, streets and sidewalks
Develop New Products and Processes
When the materials have been developed, the next phase is to design products that use these new, perpetually reusable materials. Product design must adapt to new materials, new approaches to fulfilling requirements and new processes for material recovery. Product designers and manufacturing engineers will collaborate with disassemblers and materials processors to create test plans, disassembly plans and materials processing plans and design equipment and facilities for disassembling products and reprocessing materials.
Before a physical working model can be constructed, a system simulation is needed to optimize processes and revenue earnings. We will use Lean/Six Sigma principles to optimize systems for material sustainability. Computer models will be developed to enable the institute’s experts to experiment with modifications. After this, the simulations will be moved to the real world.
Once perpetually reusable materials are available and products and processes have been established, systems for material sustainability will be set up with all the roles playing active parts for a full system test. Some producers may be interested in collaborating with the institute on the test. We plan to perform full system tests in collaboration with industry for all types of products.