Friday, 17 September 2010

More ways towards a better world

A little while ago, I wrote a blog where I talked about three exciting innovations that promised to provide positive answers to some of the problems we face as a population living in a world with very finite natural resources vastly over used its finite resources. The three technologies I reported on seem to me to be examples of what is needed if we are to stand any hope of surviving on this planet in sustainable manner, which no longer does damage to the earths eco systems

The three examples excited me tremendously, I reported on a treatment plant that is turning sewage water into fresh drinkable water, a company who are talking waste of all sorts and recycling it into items such as garden compost and timber substitutes. And a company who are making a thin plastic film which turns sunlight into electricity that will heat a home or power electrical equipment.

With this blog, my intention is to explore many of the possibilities open to us, once we have let go of our blinkered and conditioned ways of seeing. Once we have let go of the nonsense that is fostered onto us from all sides, in society, and once, we have truly liberated our minds from the clutter and junk that normally resides in it, we are open to the many wonderful ways opportunities that are there waiting to be tapped into. The blogs title Beyond Materialism, reflects that my way is as much about the inner religious process as it is about the outer way. Of course, in reality there is no distinction between inside and outside, these two dualities being artificially created by our minds in the first place.

I’ve now come across more individuals who are working to transform the way we live. People who are no driven by the profit motive and who care enough about the environment to want to make a positive difference to the way it is nourished

These people by their foresight and vision are offering us opportunities to move away from the usual conditions that govern our lives.

Michael Reynolds: Architect extraordinaire!
If you were to think of a house built entirely out of waste products, the chances are that you would visualise a rickety, contraption help together with bits of rusting metal. However, the homes that Michael Reynolds constructs couldn’t be further from that nightmare scenario. His homes which he calles Earthships, look like and are, state of the art places anyone would be delighted to live in. These houses are fully integrated sustainable structures that look fantastic and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye

What is amazing is that Reynolds builds houses out of what other people call junk; tyres, cans and plastic bottles and clay are all features. And each house only uses renewable energy. Water is collected from the roof and used four times. Electricity is produced with by a photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets. And the houses reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells resulting in food production and landscaping with no pollution of aquifers. Toilets flush with greywater that does not smell.

Michael Reynolds is a self-described "guy who's trying to do some sustainable housing for the future." He is a passionate advocate for sustainable living. He believes our consumerist society is destroying our natural resources and eco-systems and that the only "logical" thing to do is to use the discards of our currently unsustainable lifestyle to create sustainable housing. When asked about the common misconceptions of his work, he replied, "When we started, some people just thought we were building out of recycled materials. Then others began to see we were building sustainable buildings out of recycled materials." It is this "logical" paradigm for building that Reynolds has been advocating for more than thirty years. "We need to live in an entirely different way and that is what we are hoping to find and present to people.

He created the alternative word Biotecture to describe "the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. A combination of biology and architecture." Michael Reynolds builds Earthships and teaches anyone who wants to learn how to build them, too. He describes an Earthship as "a fully sustainable building made with biproducts of our society. It is a building that will take care of you in every way: food (year round green house), heating, water, air and sewage disposal. "Earthships are the living model of the future that goes far beyond house and architecture."
His earth ships can be built anywhere in the world and won’t cost a lot to make either. The homes use totally sustainable methods to generate energy.

Tyres are the foundations stones
“Everything we are doing is a response to the mess we find ourselves in. We know that we were running out of fuel and water. I was inspired to create a way of life that responds to those problems. There are mountains of tyres around the world, and no one knows what to do with them. Hawaii actually ships its used tires to California." Michael's Earthship designs use discarded tyres to create incredibly strong foundations. After filling the tires with earth and stacking them like bricks, the resulting walls are so thick, they aid in temperature retention. Coupling this feature with year-round greenhouses allows each earthship to maintain a temperature of 72 degrees, regardless of where it's located. "Once I added the concept of thermal mass by beating dirt into a tyre I created a low-tech, readily available and easy-to-learn method of building. I couldn't have conceived of a better material than tires to build with."

Cradle to Cradle

I watched a fascinating documentary film recently called Waste = Food, which dealt with our insane throwaway culture. Humans are the only creatures that produce landfills. Natural resources are being depleted on a rapid scale while production and consumption are rising in nations like China and India. The waste production world wide is enormous and if we do not do anything we will soon have turned all our resources into one big messy landfill. But there is hope. The film showed how two men with a shared vision came together, to create one of the most exciting and promising ways we may find to produce and reuse the endless items that fill our lives, items which up to now, have mostly ended up laying in landfill after use. The German chemist, Michael Braungart, and the American designer-architect William McDonough are fundamentally changing the way we produce and build. If waste would become food for the biosphere or the technosphere (all the technical products we make), production and consumption could become beneficial for the planet.

A design and production concept that they call Cradle to Cradle. A concept that is seen as the next industrial revolution. Design every product in such a way that at the end of its lifecycle the component materials become a new resource. Design buildings in such a way that they produce energy and become a friend to the environment.

Large companies like Ford and Nike are working with McDonough and Braungart to change their production facilities and their products. They realise that economically seen, waste is destruction of capital. You make something with no value. Based on their ideas the Chinese government is working towards a circular economy where Waste = Food. An amazing story that will definitely change your way of thinking about production and consumption.

In the Cradle to Cradle model, all materials used in industrial or commercial processes—such as metals, fibers, dyes--are seen to fall into one of two categories: "technical" or "biological" nutrients. Technical nutrients are strictly limited to non-toxic, non-harmful synthetic materials that have no negative effects on the natural environment; they can be used in continuous cycles as the same product without losing their integrity or quality. In this manner these materials can be used over and over again instead of being "downcycled" into lesser products, ultimately becoming waste. Biological Nutrients are organic materials that, once used, can be disposed of in any natural environment and decompose into the soil, providing food for small life forms without affecting the natural environment. This is dependent on the ecology of the region; for example, organic material from one country or landmass may be harmful to the ecology of another country or landmass.

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