By Zafrir Rinat

On his travels around the world German chemist Michael Braungart carries a bag whose contents he demonstrates at any opportunity. They include such unlikely items as T-shirts and upholstery samples. None of them will ever see the inside of a trash can, he explains. “Take this T-shirt, for instance: It’s 100%-cotton, without any chemicals. Once you’re done with it you can just toss it onto your compost pile, and it turns into fertilizer.”

Braungart is visiting Israel this week as a guest of the conference Environment 2020 – Challenges, Innovations and Corporate Social Responsibility.

According to Braungart, two of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s flagship initiatives – recycling and promoting “green” homes – may not be all that beneficial after all. “Much of the stuff we send for recycling was never made to be recycled and contains a lot of toxic material that goes on damaging the environment,” Braungart said.

“In ‘green’ houses, too, nothing inside the homes is designed to prevent environmental damage. They contain hazardous substances such as glues and paints that end up causing more pollution inside the house than outside. Green houses are based on improving insulation, so you just keep a lot more polluted air inside the building.”

‘Cradle to Cradle’

Braungart calls his alternative approach Cradle to Cradle. It is based on redesigning products to eliminate environmentally hazardous materials. Instead of being buried in a landfill, the products will be a source of new life and environmental renewal.

Cradle to Cradle holds that anything manmade can become fertilizer and return to the ground. Furniture and electrical appliances, Braungart says, can be provided as a service rather than as a product to be owned and returned to the manufacturer for further use. “You don’t buy a window and throw it out after a while, you just rent a window service,” he explains. “Incidentally, this is already being done by a large Dutch company.”

Cotton clothing manufactured without the use of irritating chemical dyes can be safely composted. Braungart claims that these are the first post-industrial-era shirt that is completely safe for human skin.

Braungart is scheduled to meet with Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan during his visit. This is far from the first time his ideas will be presented in the corridors of power.

Arnie on board

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently informed Braungart that a research institute based on his method is planned, and several leading companies have already began developing Cradle to Cradle clothing and furniture. The Standards Institutions of Israel has also shown significant interest in Braungart’s approach.

Braungart says that Israel could be a pioneer in the area of alternative product design. “The government can be a lot of help,” he said. “It could announce, for instance, that it wants only chlorine-free paper on the market within five years. Such paper doesn’t release pollution when burned and the ashes can be safely used as fertilizer.”