Let’s talk about thrift. Thrift is a concept where you
reduce, reuse and recycle, but yet with an economic aspect
I think has a real potential for change. My grandmother, she knew about thrift. This is her string jar. She never bought any string. Basically, she would collect string. It would come from the butcher’s,
it would come from presents. She would put it in the jar
and then use it when it was needed. When it was finished,
whether it was tying up the roses or a part of my bike, once finished with that,
it’d go back into the jar. This is a perfect idea of thrift;
you use what you need, you don’t actually purchase anything,
so you save money. Kids also inherently know this idea. When you want to throw out
a cardboard box, the average kid will say, “Don’t!
I want to use it for a robot head or for a canoe to paddle down a river.” They understand the value
of the second life of products. So, I think thrift is
a perfect counterpoint to the current age which we live in. All of our current products
are replaceable. When we get that bright, new, shiny toy, it’s because, basically,
we got rid of the old one. The idea of that is, of course,
it’s great in the moment, but the challenge is,
as we keep doing this, we’re going to cause a problem. That problem is that
there is really no way. When you throw something away,
it typically goes into a landfill. Now, a landfill is basically something
which is not going to go away, and it’s increasing. At the moment, we have about
1.3 billion tons of material every year going into landfills. By 2100, it’s going to be
about four billion tons. See, instead, I’d prefer
if we started thrifting. What that means is, we consider materials
when they go into products and also when they get used, and, at the end of their life:
When can they be used again? It’s the idea of completely changing
the way we think about waste, so waste is no longer a dirty word — we almost remove
the word “waste” completely. All we’re looking to is resources. Resource goes into a product and then can basically go
into another product. We used to be good at thrifting. My grandmother, again,
used to use old seed packets to paper the bathroom walls. I think, though, there are companies
out there who understand this value and are promoting it. And a lot of the technologies
that have been developed for the smart age can also be adapted to reduce,
reuse and also thrift more proficiently. And as a materials scientist, what I’ve been tracking
over the last couple of decades is how companies
are getting smart at thrifting, how they’re able
to understand this concept and profit from it. I’m going to give you two examples. The first one, a good one;
the second one, not so good. The first is the automotive industry. Not always known as the most
innovative or creative of industries, but it turns out, they’re really,
really good at recycling their products. Ninety-five percent of every single car
that goes on the road gets recycled here. And of that car, about
75 percent of the entire car actually gets used again. That includes, of course,
the old steel and aluminum but then also the plastics
from the fender and the interiors, glass from the windows and the windshield and also the tires. There’s a mature and successful industry
that deals with these old cars and basically recycles them
and puts them back into use as new cars or other new products. Even as we move towards
battery-powered cars, there are companies that claim
they can recycle up to 90 percent of the 11 million tons of batteries
that are going to be with us in 2020. That, I think, is not perfect, but it’s certainly good,
and it’s getting better. The industry that’s not doing so well
is the architecture industry. One of the challenges
with architecture has always been when we build up, we don’t think
about taking down. We don’t dismantle,
we don’t disassemble, we demolish. That’s a challenge, because it ends up that about a third
of all landfill waste in the US is architecture. We need to think differently about this. There are programs that can actually
reduce some of this material. A good example is this. These are actually bricks that are made
from old demolition waste, which includes the glass,
the rubble, the concrete. You put up a grinder,
put it all together, heat it up and make these bricks we can
basically build more buildings from. But it’s only a fraction of what we need. My hope is that with big data
and geotagging, we can actually change that, and be more thrifty
when it comes to buildings. If there’s a building down the block
which is being demolished, are there materials there that the new building
being built here can use? Can we use that, the ability to understand that all the materials available
in that building are still usable? Can we then basically put them
into a new building, without actually losing
any value in the process? So now let’s think about other industries. What are other industries doing
to create thrift? Well, it turns out
that there are plenty of industries that are also thinking
about their own waste and what we can do with it. A simple example is the waste
that they basically belch out as part of industrial processes. Most metal smelters give off
an awful lot of carbon dioxide. Turns out, there’s a company
called Land Detector that’s actually working in China
and also soon in South Africa, that’s able to take that waste gas — about 700,000 tons per smelter — and then turn it into
about 400,000 tons of ethanol, which is equivalent to basically powering
250,000, or quarter of a million, cars for a year. That’s a very effective use of waste. How about products more close to home? This is a simple solution. And it, again, takes the idea
of reducing, reusing, but then also with economic advantage. So it’s a simple process
of changing from a cut and sew, where typically between
20 and 30 materials are used which are cut from a large cloth and then
sewn together or even sometimes glued, they changed it and said
that they just knitted the shoe. The advantage with this is not just
a simplification of the process, it’s also, “I’ve got one material.
I have zero waste,” and then also, “I’m able to potentially
recycle that at the end of its life.” Digital manufacturing is also allowing us
to do this more effectively. In this case, it’s actually creating
the theoretical limit of strength for a material: you cannot get any stronger
for the amount of material than this shape. So it’s a basic simple block, but the idea is, I can extrapolate this,
I can make it into large formats, I can make it into buildings, bridges, but also airplane wings and shoes. The idea here is, I’m minimizing
the amount of material. Here’s a good example from architecture. Typically, these sorts of metal nodes
are used to hold up large tent structures. In this case, it in was in the Hague,
along a shopping center. They used 1600
of the materials on the left. The difference is, by using
the solution on the right, they cut down the number of steps
from seven to one, because the one on the left
is currently welded, the one on the right
is simply just printed. And it was able to reduce waste to zero, cost less money and also, because it’s made out of steel, can be eventually recycled
at the end of its life. Nature also is very effective at thrift. Think about it: nature has zero waste. Everything is useful for another process. So, in this case, nanocellulose, which is basically one of the very fine
building blocks of cellulose, which is one of the materials
that makes trees strong, you can isolate it, and it works
very much like carbon fiber. So, take that from a tree,
form it into fibers, and then those fibers
can strengthen things, such as airplanes, buildings, cars. The advantage of this, though,
is it’s not just bioderived, comes from a renewable resource, but also that it is transparent, so it can be used in consumer electronics,
as well as food packaging. Not bad for something that basically
comes from the backyard. Another one from the biosource
is synthetic spider silk. Now, it’s very hard to actually
create spider silk naturally. You can basically get it from spiders, but in large numbers, they tend
to kill each other, eat each other, so you’ve got a problem with creating it, in the same way you do with regular silk. So what you can do is instead
take the DNA from the spider, and put it into various different things. You can put it into bacteria,
you can put it into yeast, you can put it into milk. And what you can do then is, the milk or the bacteria produce
in much larger volumes and then from that, spin a yarn
and then create a fabric or a rope. Again, bioderived, has incredible
strength — about the same as Kevlar — so they’re using it in things like
bulletproof vests and helmets and outdoor jackets. It has a great performance. But again, it’s bioderived,
and at the end of its life, it potentially can go back
into the soil and get composted to again be potentially used
as a new material. I’d like to leave you with one
last form which is biobased, but this, I think,
is like the ultimate thrift. Think about the poster child
for conspicuous consumption. It’s the water bottle. We have too many of them,
they’re basically going everywhere, they’re a problem in the ocean. What do we do with them? This process is able
not just to recycle them, but to recycle them infinitely. Why is that interesting? Because when we think
about reusing and recycling, metals, glass, things like that,
can be recycled as many times as you like. There’s metal in your car that may well have come
from a 1950s Oldsmobile, because you can recycle it infinitely
with no loss of performance. Plastics offer about
once or twice of recycling, whether it’s a bottle,
whether it’s a chair — whatever it is, if it’s carpet — after two times of recycling, whether
it goes back into another chair, etc, it tends to lose strength,
it’s no longer of any use. This, though, just using a few enzymes,
is able to recycle it infinitely. I take a bottle or a chair
or some other plastic product, I basically put it in with a few enzymes,
they break it apart, they basically put it back
into its original molecules. And then from those molecules, you can build another chair
or carpet or bottle. So, the cycle is infinite. The advantage with that, of course, is that you have potentially
zero loss of material resources. Again, the perfect idea of thrift. So in conclusion, I just want to have
you think about — if you make anything, if you’re any part of a design firm, if you basically
are refurbishing your house — any aspect where you make something, think about how that product
could potentially be used as a second life, or third life
or fourth life. Design in the ability for it
to be taken apart. That, to me, is the ultimate thrift, and I think that’s basically
what my grandmother would love. (Applause)

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Dennis Veasley

60 thoughts on “To eliminate waste, we need to rediscover thrift | Andrew Dent”

  1. we are penalized for not being thrifty, yet we are penalized for being thrifty. Conflicting results. I love being thrifty.

  2. Yes, try to buy 2nd hand OR try not buying at all. Do you really NEED that item? How long will it make you happy, how long will you use it?

  3. My parents were children of the depression, the rule in our house was "use it up, wear it out, make do with what you have and don't buy what you do not need." I find it sad that this talk even needs to exist.

  4. "Can you take parts from old buildings without losing value. "

    No, it makes the old part more expensive by hiring someone to remove the old piece by piece.

  5. Reminds me of a lot of the points Michael Braungart and William McDonough made in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle. They wrote a newer book The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability–Designing for Abundance (which I wouldnt have found without this vid….thanks 🙂

  6. The question Mr Dent leaves out is energy and difficulty. Recycling requires a practical methodology and energy to power it. You don't get anything for free. Recycling is sometimes more energy intensive than new production. Other times it isn't. Aluminum is very easy to recycle. Just melt it down. Pulling CO2 out of the air isn't easy. It's why plants specialize in doing it and animals don't bother with it.

    Don't get me wrong. We WANT to recycle whatever we can wherever we can. But some kinds or recycling will be too complicated or energy-intensive, which is why car companies aren't recycling 100% of the cars they make.

  7. The Messenger of Allah, "Muhammad" peace and blessings be upon him, said "Even if the end of time is upon you and you have a seedling in your hand, plant it."
    Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]. (Surah Ar-Rum Verse 41)
    Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. (Surah Al A'raf Verse 31)

  8. Too bad we live in a capitalist society. Which is based on buying more, buying new, and using things only once.

  9. I think this is great and all, as far as it goes, but ultimately what we need to do is make it so our waste doesn't matter. Either because it's perfectly recycled into new items, or it's completely biodegradable. We need materials science here more than we need thrift.

  10. Nice try. The majority of not recycled waste is in: yogurt containers, plastic bags, electronic casings, bagged salad, canned tuna fish, strawberry cartons. See any patterns? Right, most of them are recyclable and or has to deal with food. Instead of proposing to make grandma's new tiara with cardboard when she's worth 30million dollars, take away the fucking yogurt container somehow? Thank You.

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  12. Baloney. Being thrifty is keeping and using the same things over and over again and reducing the number of things we need in life. If you truly were thrifty, you’d realize how little you really need to live. It’s not a very sexy lifestyle, however, very necessary before we make our beautiful planet a huge garbage dump due to our greed.

  13. While it's important to promote thriftiness on a personal level, it's also necessary to establish bigger recycling systems on a national level. Some countries are already way ahead in this. For example, Finns have been recycling paper, cardboard, metal and glass for decades. We even have a separate system for recycling drink bottles and cans, where you get a little bit of money back for bringing them to a collection point! Recently, we've also started recycling plastic, fabric and compostables on a larger scale. Systems like these can be built everywhere, and they already exist in several countries. 🙂

  14. Design for disassembly helps with recovering recyclables, but is done very seldom. Watch the Germans demolish a building sometime. They remove the windows, remove everything that can be used elsewhere, then the walls are collapsed in a way that makes the bricks relatively easy to recover.

  15. It's likely that at some stage in the future, landfill sites will be excavated for the potentially useful material they contain.
    it will seem astonishing to those in the future that we were so wasteful with our resources.

  16. My son literally asked me to keep a box yesterday so he could play with it! Thousands of dollars worth of plastic toys around him, and he wants a box…

  17. Wow!Materials products for to reused and recycled into another products,that great could saved a couple billions of earth rare materials.

  18. we need to rediscover thrift in the age of oligarchical corporations trying to sell us a new iPhone every year the World was best explained in a movie called "They Live"

  19. as the speaker told about put the dna of spider into milk,bacteria;but in cross species genetics it has mentioned that only 93% matched dna strands can fused with one another?

  20. Good in theory. If you keep old stuff in your house it creates a lot of psychological pressure at you. But throwing away old products you are rejuvenating and moving forward in life. Contrary to that, if keep old nick-nacks in your house you are aging rapidly with then, and becoming your grandmother. My wife is constantly throwing away everything and I understand why.

  21. the commercial world trains people to get you to buy stuff you do'nt need,..and your country's economy loves it!…go shop!

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