What does cradle to cradle mean?
Updated: May 27
When you are curious about living sustainably and start to read into it, you soon read about the cradle to cradle principle but what does this mean?
Cradle-to-cradle / cradle-to-grave
Cradle to cradle is the opposite of the cradle to grave process. Cradle to grave is a linear model in which resources are extracted and used to manufacture a product that will end up in a grave aka landfill. Contrary to cradle to grave, cradle to cradle ultimately does not create waste as all the materials are reused and repurposed.
The industry behind the cradle-to-cradle processes designs systems in such a way that the materials remain in a closed loop meaning minimal waste is created. They go further than dealing with the waste once it has been created by redefining problems by focussing on the design of the product. The cradle-to-cradle system is sustainable and considerate to life and future generations. It is a strongly evolving industry and more and more theories are being put to practice. This is similar to what is going on in the natural world, in which one organism's "waste", goes through an ecosystem to provide nourishment for other organisms. In the cradle-to-cradle system, materials circulate in closed-loop cycles, providing nutrients for nature or industry.
The zero waste movement promotes not only reuse and repurposing of ‘waste’ but, more importantly, it promotes prevention and product designs that consider the entire product life cycle. Zero waste designs strive for minimal material use and use of recycled materials They aim to create products that last longer, are repairable, and are easy to disassemble at the end of their life.
In this case, an item is designed in a way that it can be repaired or reused without any loss of value. This is often confused with recycling. However, recycling is simply prolonging the entire process of creation, use, and throwing away. Meaning that the product, in the end, will still end up in landfills.
This type of cycle makes sure all the resources and chemicals used to create a product are biodegradable or harmless. They aim to be accepted by nature and be a resource for other natural processes.
The cradle-to-cradle system has several benefits, not only for nature but also to us as consumers.
Lower costs as waste creation is a sign of inefficiency.
Faster products as a zero waste strategy improve production processes to more local locations reducing the requirement to import materials
Improved material flows. Fewer raw materials are needed as any waste materials would either end up returned and reused or would be composted.
It supports sustainability by economic well-being, environmental protection, and social well-being.
Less hydrogen sulfide is released into the atmosphere. This is released with the natural decay of waste. Studies have shown a positive association between increased lung cancer mortality rates and increased morbidity and mortality related to respiratory disease and exposure to this chemical. These studies also showed that the closer you are to a landfill, the higher the exposure to hydrogen sulfide exposure.
With landfills reducing in size the chemicals that leachate from landfills will be reduced. These chemicals end up in our groundwater and surrounding environment.
Cradle to Cradle certification
When does a product receive the cradle-to-cradle certification? Several aspects need to be met to be certified for cradle to cradle.
Healthy materials: All materials need to be harmless for man and the environment.
Reusability: All materials need to be reusable after the product's lifecycle in either the technical circulation or the organic circulation.
Renewable energy: Only renewable energy may be used for the production process.
Water: Proof must be shown that cradle to cradle companies use their water efficiently and that their wastewater is clean.
Social responsibility: Companies need to prove that they value their employees and other potential stakeholders.