Waste: Who Needs It!
If you ever got to watch a video about how blue jeans, or shoes, or stamped metal pots were made, you've seen the piles of waste fabric, leather, and steal that are left after the production of each piece. Often, as in the case of metal scrap, the bits can be recycled back into the original item's raw material stream. Or, in the case of fabrics, wood, paper, and plastics, the cutoffs can be "downcycled" into lower grade manufactured items like plastic lumber and cotton home insulation.
But the sad truth is that a good portion of the waste, like leather and fiberglass cutoffs, is just not usable for anything. And even the recycled materials are degraded in quality, and require considerable energy to process. Couldn't there be a better way to do this manufacture? Believe it or not, Nike thinks they have an answer.
Shoes are notoriously bad polluters. Many different types of rubber and polymers make up the soles, so they are impossible to recycle for shoes. Leather tanning is bad business to begin with, since the most cost-effective methods use heavy metal dyes and curing agents, so the resulting leather scrap is laced with chromium. And the adhesives used to make the shoes bring their own bevy of problems.
Nike's newest line, called Nike Considered, tries to eliminate all these issues, with a number of ingenious manufacturing tricks. The sole snaps together, and is sewn to the upper, to reduce the need for adhesives, and allow for disassembly at the end of life for better recycling. Of course, recycled rubber, and vegetable-died leathers are used. But the most innovative idea is their incorporation of a woven hemp-polyester upper.
This basket-like tongue, based on one of their earlier Presto technologies, the Air Woven, allows material to be used as it is needed, rather than creating scrap leather by cutting out complicated patterns. As an added bonus, the shoes have a very forgiving fit, so people with high arches, or non-so-average bones won't be uncomfortable. And even better, when varying color lacing is used, the shoes can take on a one of a kind patchwork look that is unique to each pair.
Take a look at the products you are designing right now; Are there places where you can eliminate bulk non-recyclable materials in favor of small-sized easily custom fit materials like wicker, cord, molded paper-pulp, or metal wire? Many 1960s fiberglass furniture designs have been adapted for more enviro-conscious manufacturing methods by converting to roto-molded polyethylene, or re-creating the same forms in woven rattan or wicker.
It's inevitable that consumers will throw your products away at the end of their useful lives. Extending those useful lives through products which are repairable, or recyclable is very important. But eliminating waste that piles up even before the product gets to the consumer is as, if not more, important. And we have the power and opportunity to do it everyday. All it takes is the guts to take the leap.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team