Waste has traditionally been studied only in isolation. For example, we might think of recycling first or remembering to not litter. However, waste should involve looking at the entire product chain of a given material — from consumption to use to disposal. Remember to this motto in mind: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink.
In the landmark treatise on green product design Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote:
“When plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump… Aluminum is another valuable but constantly downcycled material. The typical soda can consists of two kinds of aluminum: the walls are composed of aluminum, manganese alloy with some magnesium, plus coatings and paint, while the harder top is aluminum magnesium alloy. In conventional recycling these materials are melted together, resulting in a weaker—and less useful—product.” (Cradle to Cradle, 56-57)