Why I’m Allergic To ‘Cradle To Cradle’

I’m reading McDonough & Braungart’s book Cradle To Cradle, and it makes me sneeze.

Not that the content is to be sneezed at — it’s a very sensible treatise on a zero-waste, EPR-based society. It’s not the polymer that the book is made from, either. It’s the fact that the a previous borrower of the book from the Toronto Public Library was the owner of a probably very attractive grey cat.

I’m allergic to most cats. And this isn’t usually a problem with library books, as paper doesn’t attract hair. But the polypropylene pages of Cradle To Cradle do, and so reading this book makes me itch. I guess this wouldn’t be a problem if I’d bought my own copy, but it’s a deal more environmentally responsible to share a few copies amongst the thousands of library patrons than keep one for myself.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of the arguments made about the upcyclability (that is, a product that can be recycled into something of an equal or higher quality) of the book. Basic entropy tells you that you can’t reform a product without losing something of the original. Some of the material will evaporate, or the filler will degrade somewhat, or some additional colourant will be required to restore the original tone.

Some other things that don’t jibe:

  • The book is a surprisingly dense chunk of polypropylene. Polypropylene is made from non-sustainable fossil resources. This is a case of doing less damage than the status quo, which Cradle To Cradle decries as being insufficient.
  • The ‘paper’, while very smooth, isn’t fully opaque, so the text from the other side of the page is distracting. That, and the cat-hair attracting static issue …
  • The book’s printed in China. At the very least, it has been shipped half way around the world, again using a wad of fossil resources. Knowing a little of the publishing industry, it wouldn’t surprise me if the raw materials were shipped to China, printed and bound, and then shipped back for the North American market. And this is a good thing how?

In fairness, mad props for McDonough’s work on green roofs, and to Melcher Media for giving the plastic book a try. But thinking that a few polymer pages will change the world is pushing credibility to its limits.

[And I really should temper the madness of my props to Melcher, as it would appear that they’re trying to patent the plastic book. I’m sure there’s some iota of novelty in replacing the form-factor and access methods of a cellulose polymer book with a hydrocarbon polymer, but for the life of me, I can’t find it.]