ASI W9900762r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#34 April 1990

Section the Artemis Data Book


By Peter Kokh

[This outline of materials-management systems appropriate for Space Frontier settlements ALSO addresses some persistent Earth-side problems.]

RECYCLING is an integral and essential aspect of our "tenancy" of whatever corner of the universe we occupy. It is "custodial common sense". And if it is becoming sound economics here on Earth, it will be an absolutely vital corner-stone of economics on the Space Frontier.

First we will need to recycle ORGANIC and SYNTHETIC materials derived from such volatile elements as hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon which will not exist in the all-surrounding abundance to which we are accustomed on Earth, even after we are able to supplement the vanishingly meager lunar sources with supplies from volatile-rich asteroids and comets. This self-discipline will be indispensable for Lunar Settlements, and highly advised for Space Colonies in near-Earth space.

Keeping the ratio of native lunar vs. exotic imported content as low as possib le, will alone allow any chance for a favorable trade balance and economic self-reliance. Thus priority must be given to our food and clothing needs in using these precious elements. The purpose of such effort is to provide the lowest cost of living by stretching the service life of any volatiles imported at great expense and by reserving them for uses for which there are no substitutes. Whereas on Earth hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon are "free", given their abundance, on the Moon and in lunar resource dependent space settlements these same elements must be viewed as "rented" or "leased".

Contrary to intuitive expectations, it will also be salutary to recycle processed INORGANIC materials since they embody considerable energy expense already invested in extracting and processing them from raw regolith soils. The more energy-intensive a refined material is, the more to be gained from recycling it. Proper pricing of virgin materials will guarantee this outcome.

Tailings to embody energy investment of their by-production, and using them to make secondary building products would capitalize on this investment. [See TAILINGS in MMM # 25 May ‘89 p5.] Even glass cullet and ceramic shards can be used, e.g. embedded in glass matrix decorative panels, covers, fronts, handles, and knobs. In the case of inorganic materials, the purpose of all this effort will first be to reduce total energy generation requirements, a strongly economic motive. Secondly, it will help settlers to minimize the acreage of surrounding moonscape that will need to be disturbed to maintain there a population of a given size, an aesthetic goal. This "discipline" will allow us to tread softly and caringly on the magnificent desolation of an adopted virgin world.

Our strategy for realizing this authentic way of life will have many sub-targets. Appropriate product design, easy sortability, convenience, collection nodes, routing and route servicing, division of responsibility, supply versus demand volume-matching, entrepreneurial opportunities, youth and school involvement, contests, public discipline, tax incentives, and backup systems must all be given special attention.

Recycling follows one of FOUR BASIC PATHWAYS:

  1. REUSING of refillable bottles and containers is the most obvious and the most economic.
  2. RECASTING by crushing, shredding, melting, and then recasting fresh items is another. We do this with paper, aluminum, and plastics for example. This method is commonly greatly hampered by unnecessary cross-contamination with durably-bonded unlike materials. As to markets for such recycled temporary-use items, building products and furnishings best match volume of demand to volume of supply.
  3. RETASKING or use-reassignment is a greatly underutilized third avenue. Timid examples are jelly jars designed for long reuse as drinking glasses, and margarine tubs designed to be reused as refrigerator ware. There have been at least three abortive attempts to design what has been termed a "world bottle", a glass beverage bottle ingeniously shaped to serve anew as a brick or building block. That is one task worth taking up afresh! Designing smaller high-fashion glass bottles for less frequently sold items such as medicines, fragrances, spices, etc., with a female-threaded punt on the bottom to match the male-threaded neck would allow combining these into stylish decorator spindles for any number of imaginative uses. Formulating packaging and packing materials so that they can subsequently serve as craft stuffs for artists, or even as fertilizer for gardeners is a promising, if uninvestigated, possibility. In any such dual purpose design effort, it will be critically important to find reassignment uses with adequate demand-potential to match, and use up, the full volume of supply. Otherwise any such efforts will be but futile and distracting gestures.
  4. REPAIRING is one avenue increasingly being abandoned because of high labor costs. These costs, however, could be greatly reduced by more careful Product Design with greatly increased attention to assembly sequences and methods that are take-apart-friendly.

The present quest for seamless sophistication in appearance is one of several sirens luring manufacturers and their product designers in just the opposite direction. The importance of easy repairability of items imported from Earth at great transportation expense should be self evident. As should the ease of cannibalizing what cannot be repaired for parts made of elements scarce on the Moon (e.g. copper, lead, silver, etc.)

To repairing, we might add REFINISHING and totally fresh MAKE-OVERS. Even where repair or refurbishing is impractical, if the item in question cannot be economically disassembled, then the sundry parts that would need separate recycling will end up being irretrievably trashed. Only the adoption of design and manufacturing methods not now in favor will make all this viable. Not only will Lunar manufacturers need to sing this new tune, but space frontier settlements cannot in the long run afford to import Earth-made items that are not knock-down(KD)-friendly. The extra cost of meeting these new requirements will be minor in comparison with Earth to Moon up-the-well freight charges for avoidable replacements.

No amount of recycling discipline on the part of our hardy pioneers will work without such a wholesale revolution in the industrial design philosophy for consumer goods. For this reason, we really do need to start now by establishing an institute of moon- (space frontier-) appropriate industrial design. While aimed at meeting demanding frontier requirements, the very constrictiveness of this challenge should make such an Institute the prestige alma mater of choice for industrial design students the world over, regardless of whether they had any intentions of ever leaving their soft Earth lives behind.

The significant up-front role of industrial enterprises in creating a material culture in which much more extensive and thorough recycling is possible than in our current American experience, is not limited to proper product design. It should also be the highest priority of Frontier Governments, to provide encouragement and incentives sufficient to ensure that the principal avenue of industrial diversification involve new enterprises using the by-product materials of those industries already in place. Again, this compounds the productivity of energy already spent.

Properly integrated industrial parks will involve suites of industries in an ecosystem of traded by-products. In one highly successful entrepreneurial effort in Texas a few years ago, an enterprising computer buff went from plant to plant, asking for data on any unwanted supplies, scrap, and by-products to put in his data bank. Within the first year, he was able to generate enough networking between sources of previously unadvertised supply and potential customers to take in a cool $5 million for himself in "match-maker" fees.

"With a good system, even those who do not care, will do the right thing. without a good system, even those who do care, are not able to do the right thing."

Given goods that are separable, sortable, and economically recyclable, the consuming citizen will at last have an honest chance to do his/her part. But it is not enough to know what should be done. Both citizens and government must also realize that without proper organization, on several levels, it isn’t going to happen.

"A place for everything and everything in its place" is not only an unbeatable philosophy for managing one’s basement, attic, closets, and desk. It also applies to the home and business recycling corners. Instantly - and universally! - identifiable bins or baskets must be conveniently arranged for every category to be sorted separately.. There is no reason that home recycling centers have to look untidy, a hodgepodge of Rubber Maid baskets and paper bags. A top priority household product should be some sort of bin-susan or bin-rack setup. A few entrepreneurs have begun turning such things out very recently, but much of the need is unaddressed.

On the Space Frontier we’ll need a greater number of different bins than we do here, where the economy is only organized to take in some kinds of paper, some kinds of glass, aluminum, and a very few plastics, dooming everything else to the landfill. Glass and ‘glax’ (our earlier coinage for glass-glass composites), ceramic shards, and the various metals; refillables and tradables, used cotton cloth, fiberglass fabrics, thermoplastics, paper stuffs, dye stuffs, plus various compost categories all need separate bins.

A collection system with convenient nodes to see that all these items find their way back to the industries that can use the, is the next equally critical and indispensable element in the recycling triangle. Perhaps the electric delivery vans of the settlement could belong not to individual merchants but to materials circulation enterprises. They would pick up appropriate categories of disowned goods even AS they deliver, a prerequisite for a license.

But there must be many alternative routings to make a system work. if containers and packages in which shoppers brought things home were designed to collapse or nest compactly, they could be reused conveniently. It might even be bad taste to leave home empty handed! Drop-off Centers could be conveniently central to each shopping area. Properly arranged and managed (a place for everything, remember?) they need not be unsightly. Featuring lockers, public toilets, cafes, they could include floral gardens, stalls for artists and craftsmen, repair and make-over shops, etc. And why not arts and crafts classes featuring used materials, street music, dress-up fashion and bauble shows for the youngsters, and even a "soap box" for those eager to share their concerns and enlist fellow travelers?

"Scavenge and Trade" licenses could be given preferentially to those with cottage industries based on giving new life to cast-off materials and items. Art du Jour, serendipitous temporary sculptures made from collected items, could be a major draw. Such creations might feature those items and sortation categories for which the supply exceeds demand, in the hope of stimulating would-be entrepreneurs and artisans to discover fresh unsuspected and unexplored possibilities in such over-available stuffs. In the pioneer towns of the Space Frontier, "recycling" may finally "come out of the alley".

Farm-mart centers, wherever grocery shopping is done, should not only take in the appropriate refillable containers, but also buy/sell sundry categories of compost and composting accessories such as paper stuffs (e.g. corn husks) and garden and kitchen scrap dye stuffs, bone, and fat could be handled separately from any general compost that exceeds home garden needs. Properly packaged and handled (universal home economics courses?) the stuff would be a respected resource, not a stinking, abhorrent unmentionable.

Jailed inmates could do the heavy duty labor-intensive disassembly work. Pardons might be in order for those demonstrating their capacity to function as useful citizens by entrepreneurial development of markets for orphaned and high surplus sortation categories clogging the network.

Primary and Secondary School involvement will be crucial in making the system work. This is the subject of the companion article: "The 4th R".

Finally, the frontier university, not government bureaucracy, would best assess how well the system is working, and develop improvements. The University office would maintain the computerized current inventory of various depositories with a disciplined materials accounting system, monitoring supply/demand imbalances, and circulation efficiency, assign identifying sortation logos and routings for new classes, and maintain updated guidelines on a utility cable video channel.

The University should supervise and assist entrepreneurial experimentation in its labs and shops to develop new materials and products that will take advantage of discard stuffs in excess supply. As such it will be a principal incubator of new businesses and a primary wellspring of economic diversification.

The University’s Institute of Industrial Design would work to find new ways to implement such philosophies as "whole sheet" or "scrapless" design of product/accessory combos, "kosher" assembly of unlike materials for later ease of separate recycling, "honest surfacing" that utilizes the design advantage and character of materials undisguised by surface treatments that make proper sorting identification anything but easy - an end to deliberate attempts to make (usually plastic) surface materials look like wood when they are not wood, like metal when they are not metal, etc.

Not only must we provide for proper sorting and routing of items to be recycled, we must take care that the system is not overwhelmed. "Volume Reduction Strategies" are in order. In the USA, 40% of trash is packaging materials. In MMM #4 APR ‘87 "PAPER CHASE", we pointed out that paper, wood, plastics will be prohibitively expensive. This whole fascinating topic of how to service the diverse packaging, labeling, and even the advertising needs of the settlement with minimum reliance on precious volatile-rich materials that should be reserved to increasing the mass of the biosphere "flywheel" is the topic for another article [still in the works as of 4/92].

CONCLUSION: We must not allow either Lunar or Space Settlements to be "born addicted" to a technology and culture of abundance and waste. All those elements needed to make this ambitious program work must be developed beforehand, pretested and pre-debugged before lunar settlement begins in earnest. it would be best if as much of this as is appropriate could even be ready to go for the first NASA/International lunar outpost. Those of us interested in off-planet settlement must begin the cooperative addiction-treatment program that will enable such a propitious fresh start, as well as create for-profit jump-the-gun spinoffs (or "spin ups"!) that will aid in Earth’s own environmental struggles. Beating this addiction, from which we all suffer, will require a "wartime" dedication and inventiveness. Only to the degree we succeed will we prove ourselves worthy citizens of Earth’s consolar [circling the same sun] hinterland.

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