An engineer explains how to make products less toxic and more sustainable.
In this debut science book, Goldstein takes readers into the realms of manufacturing and recycling to explore how things—particularly consumer goods—are made, how the process can be improved, and what happens when they move into the recycling system. Capsule portraits of entrepreneurs involved in different aspects of sustainable manufacturing (a project manager who maintains a database of construction materials and their ingredients, a distributor of compostable flatware and packaging) appear throughout. These are woven into a narrative that includes a concise history of plastics from Bakelite to the present; Nike’s shift toward corporate social responsibility; and a visit to a steel plant. The book does a particularly good job explaining the complicated world of recycling, where both economics and feasibility limit the materials that can be productively broken down and reused. That section concludes with examples of cutting-edge techniques that offer new recycling possibilities. Goldstein frequently refers to earlier works on the subject, showing how sustainable manufacturing has evolved over the past decade. And she makes a compelling case for its eventual mainstream viability, drawing connections between lean manufacturing strategies and a more efficient use of raw materials, for instance. The book is well-written, with enough detailed information to engage knowledgeable readers but without technical jargon or minutiae that might overwhelm a novice. The tone is casual and intimate (“It’s great to have flatware that composts, but not if it falls apart when we’re using it”), and the author often uses her own experiences as a source of examples and anecdotes. While the volume maintains an upbeat perspective, Goldstein acknowledges the challenges of bringing sustainability to the manufacturing process and offers a candid evaluation of the effectiveness of each technology discussed. Readers will be left with the sense that although sustainability is not an easy feature to add to the manufacturing process, it is indeed possible to do so with both ecological and financial benefits.
An engrossing, comprehensive overview of sustainable manufacturing and recycling and the challenges to expanding their adoption.