Waste as a Signal of Design Failure

The title of this post is a great quote from an NPR Marketplace segment titled Zapping trash with man made lightning. Here's the core of the story: A group of MIT researchers are dealing with waste by dumping it into a plasma furnace. In the article they turn a sneaker into a glass bead and some "four gallons of gas" -- in the current prototype they can't do anything with the gas.

Critics say plasma technology uses too much energy and is too expensive. And Steve Boton with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry says the technology could send the message that trash is OK -- kind of the opposite of reduce, reuse, recycle.

Indeed, that is the criticism I have of many theoretically green projects: The cost/benefit analysis is overlooked or simply ignored in favor of a claim to be doing something. It is like the data centers that claim to be green because they augment their power intake with solar power. The fact is that if you haven't done the analysis you have no real story to talk about.

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