Closing cycles: there is just 1 cycle…

(About resource racism… )

Closing cycles is at the hart of decreasing environmental impact: at the same time resources are the foundation of societal development ( water- food-materials-energy). So to maintain a certain level of welfare , the resources are fundamental, as well as their regeneration. If not, depletion of resources is the consequence. Inevitable. Sooner or later.

logo ribuilt gr ring 2This is generally recognized nowadays, and can be found in many new strategies, policies or theories, aiming at closing cycles. Mostly recognizable by the addition “Circular” .

A important element, as eye catcher for many strategies, is the illustration with two parallel cycles: a bio-cycle and a techno-cycle, or biotic and abiotic resources , organic and inorganic. Which is typical. Why are there two cycles? Is it two different worlds? What is the difference anyhow?

In fact there is no difference. The only distinction between the two cycles is the time by which resources go through the cycle, the time in which the resource regenerates. For organic resources it is short and recognizable. And the time and space ( land use ) for organics is included in many evaluations. . For minerals and metals that same cycle does exist as well. Only the cycle time is very large, sometimes millions, sometimes billions of years. But it certainly is part of a cycle flow: Sand erodes from rock , and passes society via via wind and rivers, going back to the ocean and subduction. By tectonic movement new rock formations grow, that erode , and the cycle continues .

Iron erodes and rusts, dissolves in soil and water, ultimately ends in the ocean, binds in manganese nodules, (that can be harvested, as the Japanese are trying now in deep sea) . Or these disappear again via plate tectonics, with new deposits occurring at other places, via rock formations or volcanic eruptions. ( The Swedish iron industry is based on volcanic deposits)

Waiting for the mineral and metal processes to regenerate is not feasible for mankind, but is does not mean the cycles don’t exist. The process is closed. It even could be accelerated, for instance by harvesting metal ions directly from ocean water. By this process, the disruption of the cycle flow could be slowed down or even closed again.

Ergo, there is just one cycle, with different time and space relations for different resources.

Then why two cycles presented? One reason could be that human kind is not capable of overseeing these long term effects. Renewable or organic resources, are understood by everyone: you can see them grow in most cases. For non-renewables, inorganic resources, its invisible. And only recycling is seen as an option to slow down the depletion of metals somewhat: As a holy grail that supposedly could solve most problems. But with every recycling step resources are lost, the process is not stopped. And its no different from organic resources, it’s the same : recycling is not distinctive for renewable or non renewable.

Another reason to pose minerals and metals in a different cycle is that If we don’t see it or show it, we don’t have to act upon it: ts suggested there is no regeneration, route, so we can’t act upon it , what can we do? But it’s a very limited view of resource cycles, and misleading.

We should accept that there is just one cycle, and all resources are renewable and go through a similar cycle process, with different speeds and volumes. What you could say is , is that there is a difference in routes to close cycles: for renewable, or better regrowable resources, evolution has already developed a kind of “fast tracks” in cycling: evolution of a short cyclic process, in a combination of nutrients , Solar energy , worm activities and soil .

But a similar short track is possible for metals ad minerals: direct regeneration from filtering ocean water for instance. Which in fact is speeding up the regeneration process by human interference: but what is different from the role of worms in such a cycle? Mankind is physically just a subset of nature, and can act as such. The next evolutionary step.

In both cases, regrow from land, or recollection from oceans, solar energy can give the major input into the cycle: directly to photosynthesis, or indirectly, via food for man ( from the land) and providing solar process energy for filtering ocean water. Solar energy, since it is the only source entering net quality to the earth system.

What I want to say and to prove by this , and most importantly : all resource are part of a similar cycle, and should be treated accordingly. If with regrowable resources a regeneration route is included in evaluations (as in land occupation’ use and time) , it should also be applied with non regrowables, a-biotics or techno resources. ( for which the ocean filtering for metals is a given example)1 The energy in for instance a ocean filtering process route ( the energy required) can be the valuing measure.

Or , on the other hand, we could leave out the regeneration route for regrowables as well, to become even between the two: Use trees, but not re-plant them. That’s ridiculous of course, as everyone can see. So its either both in or both out. If not the two flows are treated differently. Something I would call resource racism.

Treat equally and use solar energy and time-space for that as the nominator to bring all resources equally into 1 cycle.

For the moment thats not practiced , which is given for minerals and metals a uneven profit in material evaluations, and often even get preference before regrowables. While their impact in fact is many times more. For instance the transition for biobased materials is greatly disadvantaged by this practice, since for these regeneration is included. That’s their strength . Now metals are used in places where a alternative with a much lower impact could have served similar functions, and without depletion ( regardless of recycling, that’s the same for all as argued) . An example I used earlier , are the aluminum facade panels for a office renovation in Utrecht. Its really an enormous waste to use aluminum for such a simple service . Which was the reason I introduced the term Carbon Bomb buildings for such cases at a recent conference)

With current CO2 ambitions in climate change , materials are into the equation, and its about time to value the effects of cycles objectively, and include regeneration of non organic, a-biotic resources. Otherwise we are just fooling ourselves.


1 not accidentally: since in thermodynamic approaches this is the highest entropy-reference environment)

Author: ronald rovers