Reading Bill McDonough’s books, you get the sense that the well-known sustainable architect thinks in broad strokes—he imagines a world where products are created using closed-loop manufacturing processes and upcycling helps save us all, but doesn’t lay out specific steps to get there. That’s for his other initiatives: The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (a nonprofit to "provide a continuous improvement quality program" for sustainable manufacturers), William McDonough + Partners (an architecture firm), and McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (a consultancy for Cradle-to-Cradle design innovation).
McDonough announced this month that he’s bringing his idealism down to Earth in yet another initiative: the Waste Management McDonough Sustainable Innovation Collaborative, a partnership between McDonough and Waste Management, which processes recycling, trash, and compost on a massive scale. The newly formed consultancy will work with companies—even those who aren’t ready to go all the way for rigorous Cradle to Cradle design certification—to design their packaging for recyclability and disassembly.
"It could involve Cradle to Cradle. It could be as simple as looking at material types, and being that advisor, that partner—looking at tweaking design and closing the loop as we look," says Tom Carpenter, director of sustainability services at Waste Management.
The initiative might help one company figure out how to reduce packaging material, and then make the remaining material suitable for recycling. It could help another switch from difficult-to-recycle plastic to a kind of plastic that’s more recycling-friendly. And it might help yet another move from using multiple types of material in product packaging to a single type.
"If you’re looking at some of the flex packaging, the multi-layer packaging with multiple types of material, that ends up being difficult," says Carpenter. "But there’s been quite a bit of innovation." Not everything will be a quick fix, either. Carpenter explains: "Right out of the gate, we’ll have some good success stories and others will be a process as it goes down the road."
Since announcing the initiative on June 5, the Waste Management McDonough Sustainable Innovation Collaborative has received a number of inquiries from companies who are interested in getting some packaging design assistance. "There’s just this general excitement about it," says Carpenter. That, and many companies are no doubt excited to get some help from McDonough and his crew.