#34 April 1990
Section 126.96.36.199.034.of the Artemis Data Book
[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:
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
"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
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
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.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto