Cradle to Cradle design – modelling products on nature’s processes

Cradle to cradle (C2C), otherwise known as regenerative design, is a design approach that views materials as nutrients circulating in healthy and safe metabolisms.

08 May 2020

recycle sign on brown cardboard paper texture background

By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

Each element of a product is carefully designed to be recycled, reused, composted or consumed. C2C is therefore a perfect example of biomimetics – the imitation of the models, systems and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems.

In opposition to cradle-to-grave design, which inevitably leads to waste production, this engineering proposal calls for a radical change to industrial design. Regenerative design proposes to create products from biodegradable or completely reusable resources. This is achieved by dividing C2C design into two categories: technical nutrients and biological nutrients.

Technical nutrients encompass non-toxic, non-harmful synthetic materials that can be reused in their current form as the same product without loosing their integrity or quality.

Biological nutrients include purely organic materials that can be disposed in a natural environment and decomposed into the soils, at the same time serving as food for other organic materials.

Think of a simple t-shirt. Depending on the type of fabric, t-shirts can be recycled only a finite amount of times, producing a non-recyclable waste at the very end of the process. The C2C approach proposes to utilize completely biological and biodegradable materials in production of textiles. Once a garment has reached the end of its lifecycle, it can be safely put back into the soils and, in doing so, will provide fuel for future production.

Cradle to cradle can be applied to virtually all products and design processes. Examples range from 100% recyclable glass and ceramic tiles to solar panels and even plant-based cleaning products and compostable diapers.

But C2C is much more than that. It is a philosophy encompassing economic, industrial and social frameworks, to create an efficient holistic system eliminating waste entirely. Regenerative design philosophy is about keeping all material in continuous cycles. This way of thinking is applicable to a broad range of disciplines such as urbanism, construction, economics or even social systems.

Cradle to cradle design demonstrates how natural cycles can be applied to social and economic systems. Only when we realise that waste should be considered as food and fuel, can we truly embrace the circle of life!