Anyone who reads this blog regularly has probably already heard the phrase "cradle to cradle," or C2C for short. In a nutshell, it's the idea that when you design any new product, you should think about its entire life cycle, including how all the materials that go into it will eventually become part of new products. Composting is an example of a cradle-to-cradle process; we harvest vegetables from our garden, eat them, put the waste parts into the compost bin, where they break down into compost that will eventually go onto our garden to grow more vegetables. It's not a perfect closed system, of course, because the digested remains of the veggies go into our town's sewage system rather than our compost bin (some people have systems that can handle human waste, but we're not that advanced) and some of the compost that goes in our garden comes from the store, but still, every bit of the vegetables we grow goes to some useful purpose.
Last weekend, however, I thought of an even more efficient variant on this idea: "curb to curb."
A little background: back when I lived in Princeton, about, oh, 12 or 15 years ago, my apartment was furnished with a mixture of odds and ends: hand-me-downs from friends and family, yard-sale finds, a few cheap new items from IKEA, and a couple of pieces that were scavenged off the curb. Among these was an old wicker rocking chair. One of its arms had obviously sustained some damage, most likely at the paws of a cat or cats, and one of its rockers wasn't very well secured - so either the chair was off its rocker, or I was off mine for picking it up off the curb in the first place. But I just disguised the damaged arm with a throw and positioned it in a spot where the rocker couldn't easily come loose, and with the random hodge-podge of furnishings I had in my apartment, it fit in just fine.
This curbside find ended up following me and Brian from my Princeton apartment to our first apartment in Highland Park and, eventually, to this house, where it settled in the playroom (as we're now calling the big room in the basement, since that's how our cats like to use it). Every so often we thought about replacing it, particularly since a rocker wasn't the ideal type of chair for a room almost entirely surrounded with baseboard heaters, but we never quite got around to it because it wasn't a big priority.
However, once our new kitties took up residence last spring, we noticed that the damaged area of the rocker was gradually expanding. We also started finding fragments of it strewn about the room. And while we weren't that worried about the chair itself being destroyed, given that it was technically trash when I found it, we were a little concerned about the possibility that the cats would ingest parts of it, which we assumed wouldn't be good for them.
So we waited for the first Thursday of the month, which is bulk trash pickup day, and put the chair out at the curb. In fact, we put it out bright and early on Wednesday evening, since we know items that go out for bulk pickup often get snatched up by scavengers before the official trash collectors come for them, and we thought the the chair had a good chance of going to a new home and continuing to live a useful life. And I guess we were right, because when we stepped out to door after dinner to do a little treasure hunting of our own along the curb, the chair was gone.
I would say that's pretty much the ultimate in recycling. The chair came to me off the curb in the first place, got more than ten years of use, and then went back to the curb—and on from there to a new home. So I've now saved this same chair from the landfill not once, but twice. Cradle to cradle is pretty good, but curb to curb—taking something that was waste to begin with, giving it a useful life, and then giving it another useful life after that one is finished—is about as green as it gets.
It would be the perfect end to this story to say we scavenged a replacement for the chair from one of our neighbors' bulk trash heaps, but sadly, it didn't work out that way. So instead we ended up with a Poang chair from IKEA, which I've always wanted just for the sake of the onomatopoeia (bounce, bounce, poang, poang!). And while our cats have not wasted any time taking possession of the new chair, we think they'll at least find this one a little harder to dismantle.