by Flemming Funch, 28 November 1994.

Global and environmental concerns have become really mainstream the last few years. There has been a considerable shift towards awareness of the impact of various types of behavior on the planet.

One of the things that has become really popular is recycling. And it has even become commercialized and turned into a big selling point for products that they are "recycled" or "recyclable".

That is all fine and is certainly moving us in the right direction. But in themselves I can't really see the current schemes of recycling as much more than symbolic gestures.

For one thing, it takes a lot of resources to re-cycle most materials. Often more resources than it takes to take them out of the ground or wherever they come from. It is probably preferable to take as little as possible out of the ground, but what about the fuel needed to run the recycling processes. That will be oil and plutonium taken out of the ground, and producing polution, and there will be dirty water and other waste products.

Seems like we have to go a lot further in taking responsibility for the whole cycle of any kind of product.

I might enjoy drinking from a plastic cup for 5 minutes. Economics of scale has made that cup very cheap to produce. But nevertheless, some resouces have been taken out of the ground, some fuel has been burned, some machines had to be constructed to make it, and some people have spent time working on it. So, I then use the cup for 5 minutes. Now, it is probably better that the cup goes in a bin that will be recycled than it goes in the trash and is dumped somewhere in a landfill. But still, there is a big system there to handle the problem that I have a cup to get rid of. I spend time sorting the different kinds of plastic, there needs to be a place to put it, a truck will pick it up, there will be some kind of big plant that after using some resources will produce something out of my cup that can be used for something. It might not become a cup again, but it might become packaging materials or something.

What I am saying is that, from a whole systems view, it is absurd to have that many things to throw away, even if "throw away" means "be a good person and spend the effort to get it sent to a recycling plant somehow".

Recycling still involves a fair amount of blindness to the whole process. A few years ago when recycling started to become popular, the argument I most commonly heard mentioned for recycling was that "we were running out of landfill space".

That seemed absurd to me. To me it inherently makes sense to put things back where we found them, or to make sure that resources are always replenished, or to make sure the whole system is workable for everybody concerned, indefinitely. But to recycle just because the garbage dump is full is kind of the wrong reason, or at least very short-sighted.

Part of the problem is that we are used to having a flow of consumable goods going into our households and a flow of the wasteproducts going out. We've all gotten so used to that as to take it for granted.

Water, electricity and gas are flowing directly into our houses and the wasteproducts disappear without us seeing them, so that usually all we worry about is the bill. But food and mail and new toys are arriving in all sorts of packaging materials. And all of it is stuff that we "use up" sooner or later and then need to get rid of.

Sorting the plastic from the metal is not all that different from keeping the sewers and the electricity lines separate. It keeps more order in things, but it doesn't get around the fact that resources are continually being used up and passed on.

I'd say that the sheer fact that we need recycling buckets is a symptom that our households are NOT recycling systems.

I am personally not particularly interested in "going back to nature" and just farm the land like our forefathers. I like technology. But I do have the idea that it is possible to use technology within a whole system.

Throw-Away technology continually creates problems that need to be buried or recycled somewhere else with resulting waste and inefficiency.

I am not totally sure what I am asking for, or how it would be done. But I do have the idea that technological products could be more self-contained and complete and that they could be taken apart in a more 100% fashion when no longer needed.

Like, why do we need to lead water both into and out of a house? It is making the household dependent on resources that need to be procured elsewhere which makes the system fragile, and it passes on the problem of the dirty water to be partially solved elsewhere. I'd rather see that each house recycles water in itself.

I'd almost go as far as saying that technology is deliberately being kept in a state where nobody is self-sufficient, so that we always need to buy new resources and so that we always have a problem with waste products.

Why do we have cars that only can drive a few hours before they need resources? Many years ago Tesla made an electrical car that ran by itself for months, as far as I remember.

That should be the norm, I'd say, that each product is designed as much as possible as a whole system.

An electrical system should be something that you set up in your backyard and wire up and it should be complete in itself.

Food containers should likewise be some kind of system that is complete within itself. It should fulfill the purpose of protecting and serving food, but should be re-used. And I don't mean an old sack I carry on my back and wash in the sink after each use, I mean some kind of technological solution.

This has become a junkyard planet where most products are short-lived junk that gets worn out really quickly and then get thrown in the recycling heap and re-mined.

Let's rather make this a planet of quality complete systems that are made right and thought all the way through in the first place.

- Flemming