During the last 50 years humans have developed thousands of products
for which no environmentally sound method of disposal exists. To help
set "acceptable limits" on the damage we do, government developed "risk
assessment." Unfortunately, risk assessment fails because (1) it is
focused on damage to the "most exposed individual," not the general
environment; (2) we will forever lack key information; and (3) science
can never provide the needed analytic techniques (for example, health
effects from exposure to multiple chemicals are too complex to
analyze). As a result, we are now faced with the steady buildup of
poisons planet-wide in places and ways that are poorly documented and
even more poorly understood.
It is time we turned our attention to re-designing the way things are
made. Dr. Michael Braungart at the Environmental Protection
Encouragement Agency (EPEA) Environmental Institute has developed
criteria for sustainable manufacturing. [EPEA's address: Feldstrasse
36, D-20357 Hamburg, Germany; fax from the U.S.: 011 49 40 4382085.]
EPEA sees 3 categories of products: CONSUMPTION PRODUCTS, SERVICE
PRODUCTS and UNMARKETABLE PRODUCTS.
CONSUMPTION PRODUCTS are purchased, then converted by chemical reaction
into energy or by-products; examples are soap and food. They are
normally used once, then released into the environment. To be
compatible with a sustainable civilization, they must be biodegradable
(or degradable by non-living systems); they must not bioaccumulate
(build up in food chains); they must not cause cancer or birth defects
or developmental disorders or changes in the genetic makeup of living
things, and they must not exhibit toxicity. Finally, they must be
analyzed at the picogram level. (A picogram is a millionth of a
millionth of a gram [10-12]; there are 28 grams in an ounce.)
SERVICE PRODUCTS are goods that provide services, such as automobiles,
TV sets, etc. Consumers should not own such products, but should lease
them from the manufacturer, who would remain responsible for their
ultimate destiny. An alternative would be purchase with a refundable
deposit on the item, just as many states now require a nickel deposit
on bottles to assure their return. After the product has served its
function and has to be renewed, the consumer returns it to the
producer, who is responsible for disassembly and recycling.
Return can be achieved via "waste supermarkets" which would accept
service products (packaging materials, TV sets, washing machines,
etc.). A waste supermarket is not a dump but a compartmentalized
source-separation warehouse for various used products. Interim storage
would be needed for items for which no recycling technology has yet
UNMARKETABLE PRODUCTS are those that cannot be consumed or used in an
environmentally sound way; an example is waste from aluminum
production. These are products (or by-products) for which no recycling
technology exists because they are dangerous and because the market
provides no financial incentives.
EPEA advocates a "parking lot" storage building for interim,
retrievable storage, similar to the above-ground concrete buildings we
have described previously. (See RHWN #260.) EPEA emphasizes that the
"parking lot" only makes sense if the entire "intelligent products"
system is established; otherwise the amount of waste will grow to be
Criteria for safe storage include: no spontaneous combustion; no
release of gas; no release of liquids. To simplify retrieval, different
kinds of wastes and substances would be stored separately in the
building until a satisfactory treatment method was developed. The user
of the building has to prove every 3 to 5 years that no treatment
method has yet been developed to prevent, reduce or dispose of the
waste in an environmentally sound way. Ownership of the building
remains under public control. The owner of the waste remains
responsible for the waste (and rents space in the building) and has to
guarantee safety and solve any problems arising from the waste. THIS
MEANS THAT LOCAL COMMUNITIES WOULD ONLY HANDLE BIODEGRADABLE WASTES.
Advantages of the "parking lot" (above-ground concrete building)
concept are: It enforces the "polluter pays" principle; splits
responsibility between the owner of the waste and the owner of the
building; encourages development of new technologies for specific waste
problems; avoids over-capacity of waste treatment facilities; promotes
re-thinking of products that now produce unmanageable wastes;
discourages waste export and false labeling of waste; puts the market
to work minimizing unmanageable waste; encourages re-use of waste
because wastes are not mixed together; puts the burden of proof for
environmentally sound management on the producer; guarantees zero
discharge from the facility.
EPEA has developed five key goals and 25 detailed criteria for all
1. Producers must establish long term environmental goals for worldwide
operations, plus dates for achieving these.
2. Chemicals or products released into the environment must be
biodegradable and not accumulate in environmental media or food chains.
They must not be teratogenic, mutagenic or carcinogenic and they must
not be acutely toxic to human beings in the concentrations occurring
under field conditions. These chemicals must not disrupt ecological
3. Producers must not produce organisms which disrupt ecological
systems. It is the responsibility of the company to prove that this
goal is being met.
4. Producers must only use renewable energy resources and must minimize
5. Producers must actively protect the existence of animals and plants
in their natural habitats.
Twenty-Five Detailed Criteria
Further criteria are necessary to evaluate fulfillment of those goals.
Twenty-five criteria for environmentally sustainable production are
listed below. They require from producers:
1. LONG TERM GOALS: Acknowledge long term environmental goals as
priorities. The company will make training and education available to
the management and staff in order to translate long term goals into
2. GLOBAL STANDARDS: Apply the same environmental standards for
products and production and provide enforcement possibilities by
independent authorities globally.
3. DECLARATIONS: Make complete declarations of the contents of all
products publicly available.
4. ANALYZABLE SUBSTANCES: Produce only analyzable chemicals, so that
each substance can be traced to concentrations of parts per billion.
5. DEGRADATION KNOWLEDGE: Have full knowledge of the degradation
processes of each product. The degradation should not produce any
unknown or potentially harmful interim products.
6. LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS OF PRODUCTS: Conduct life cycle assessments
for each product. Production processes for newly developed or
persistent, bio-accumulative and highly toxic substances are top
7. LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS OF FACILITIES: Conduct life cycle assessments
for production plants and waste/sewage treatment equipment. The basic
elements to include in these analyses are energy, raw material and
8. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Make all environmentally relevant data and
information on the toxicological hazards of its products publicly
9. TECHNICAL ADVICE: Ensure that individuals or citizens' groups
opposing specific technical processes or facilities can receive
technical advice similar to the project's proponents.
10. CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENT PREVENTION: Ensure that production processes
and facilities eliminate the possibility of catastrophic accident.
11. PROLIFERATION PREVENTION: Drastically reduce the variety of
chemicals produced and only put substances on the market which can be
completely defined in chemical and degradation terms.
12. HAZARDOUS WASTE RETENTION: Retain possession of all unmarketable
products until an environmentally sound use or elimination is possible.
13. REDUCTION OF NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCES USE: Drastically reduce
consumption of non-renewable energy and raw material resources, as well
as the production of hazardous wastes.
14. WATER CONSERVATION: Establish closed-loop systems for water used in
cooling and production. The quality of the used resources --air, water
and soil --will not be diminished during the production process.
15. GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION ELIMINATION: Avoid contaminating any
groundwater either by production processes or by the use of the
16. BIOTECHNOLOGIES GUIDELINES: Establish publicly analyzable
guidelines on the use of biotechnologies, especially genetic
engineering, and translate them into action plans.
17. COMPETITION IN ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES: Promote environmental
protection in order to encourage environmental activities in competing
18. SPECIES PROTECTION: Acquire an appropriate plot of land to reduce
the extinction of animal and plant species.
19. PHASE OUT ANIMAL TESTS: Strive to abolish animal tests and set up a
phase-out schedule for this purpose.
20. ELIMINATE WEAPONS: Not produce any biological or chemical weapons.
21. OLD PRODUCT RESPONSIBILITY: Take responsibility for all substances
it has produced in the past.
22. LIABILITY ACCEPTANCE: Accept liability for its products.
23. RETURN POLICY: Take back products which cannot be disposed of in an
environmentally sound manner. Provide clear instructions to consumers
for this procedure, e.g. environmental passport, background
24. PHASE OUT UNSUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGIES: The company will set a time
limit and phase-out schedule for the use of environmentally
unsustainable technologies which it now uses.
25. SUPPORT ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS: Actively support international
environmental groups and international committees in establishing
standardized global environmental regulations and a qualified
independent supervisory agency.
Evaluation of production activities according to these criteria
eliminates the need for "environmental auditing" which is currently
based on non-standardized conditions and conducted by companies
voluntarily. Life cycle assessment represents a practical tool for the
investigation of production activities only if these criteria are
Descriptor terms: manufacturing; hazardous waste; risk assessment;
michael braungart; environmental protection encouragement agency; waste
avoidance; pollution prevention; above-ground storage buildings;
standards; regulation; accidents; prevention; cbw; waste disposal
technologies; environmental audits; auditing; life cycle assessment;