Sometimes I grow fond of the most peculiar things. When I got back to Wisconsin last August, I missed quite a few things about Sweden. But one thing I was reminded of every day: toilet paper. Everywhere I went in Sweden, the TP was gray in color – a lovely, pale, recycled paper gray. When I got home, all the bright white toilet paper seemed just a little too garish.
Does this relate to my learning about the efforts to create sustainable communities? Oh, my, yes.
For those of us on the tour, Torbjörn Lahti explained a central concept of sustainability that they strive to apply to every product that people use, a concept of the next best use. The idea of “waste” is essentially redefined. In this model, waste is always considered an input for the next stage.
Torbjörn used the example of products from the forest industry, a giant industry in Sweden. The parts of the harvested trees left over from building material manufacture becomes input for writing papers; those leftovers are put into newspaper production; newspaper becomes endearing gray toilet paper. And all along the way, energy is extracted from the materials that cannot be cycled into the next product. .
We made a tour stop at a plant that many of us might consider the last use. But in nature, there is no last; there is just the next.
We visited the sewage treatment plant (that’s avloppsreningsverk for those of us boning up on our Swedish) for the community of Halleförs. We can picture how this closes the loop in this way: the sewage sludge (in its essence, organic matter and nutrients) becomes food for the next generation of trees, the next round of forest products, and the water becomes clean enough to return to the environment.
It all comes back around. Some cycles take longer than others, so they are hard for us to see because the experience may bridge generations, or even eons.
A change in awareness can reshape our relationship with the environment, upon which we depend for our existence, from a TAKE > MAKE > WASTE mentality to a BORROW > USE > RETURN attitude.
(For a long – 49 minutes – but extremely informative video that covers this in more detail, consider viewing Waste=Food. )
Where do you see people closing the loop in the world where you work?
Where do you see people missing opportunities to close the loop?
How does this affect our ability to create sustainable systems?