Editor’s Comments: Food for Thought

April 16, 2015

“Hi honey, what’s for dinner?” asks Joe, shaking off his homemade shoes by the door.

“How does filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and succulent green peas sound, sweetie? replies Clare, from the depths of her personalized home gym.

“Terrific,” he says, sitting down at his computer and popping up, then sizing the 3D images of delicious cuts of beef. “I’ll load the ingredients to the printer, and they’ll be ready by the time the broiler’s up to temperature.”

For some time now, I’ve regarded 3D printing as the centerpiece of what might be termed a technological perfect storm. Why I picked it as the focal point for revolutions taking place in nearly every area of our lives may be difficult to justify, but now something pops up to give new life to my vision.

Take, for example, a news release I recently received explaining how 3D printing could impact the donor organ shortage. According to Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the ability to print complex organs, such as the liver and kidneys, is still decades away, but immense strides are being made daily in a variety of fields necessary to the achievement of successful implant practices.

“Our team has successfully engineered bladders, cartilage, skin, urine tubes, and vaginas that have been implanted in patients,” says Dr. Atala, continuing on to explain that the timeframe required to routinely print and implant complex organs is perhaps decades, rather than years, down the line.

A little far out there? Perhaps, but the promise of 3D printing holds us all in its thrall, and few argue against its introducing huge changes to our lives before long. But, what’s it got to do with waste, you ask?

Seemingly little except for what the waste hierarchy calls “avoidance,” since in the foregoing example Joe and Clare can select what they want in the amounts they want. Not only does this eliminate the need to stockpile lots of different foodstuffs, but also the wastages that routinely occur today in the transit from grocery store to the dinner plate.

A similar situation is already occurring with “things” that can be produced, repaired, or brought up to the latest spec, if not in the home, then at merchant print shops, or (if Amazon’s vision comes to pass) in printer-configured delivery vehicles.

You might want to consider NASA’s purpose in sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station this past year. Far from a toy, the system is there not just to repair failed parts, but to make new ones designed from the git-go to operate in a zero-g environment. Consider what advantages such a practice offers over the heretofore requirement of shipping something designed and packaged to endure the 5-g acceleration of surface launch. Talk about product and packaging reduction…wow! And cost reduction…double wow!

As these thoughts sink in, consider the material possibilities 3D printing brings to the table. As the practices becomes mainstream, types and structure of materials suited to the task will almost certainly guaranty their recyclability, perhaps right down to the nano level…and that, my friends, is the beginning of a whole new universe of opportunities for sustainability.

Hail and Farewell

All of us involved in management will feel the departure of two of its leading citizens: John Skinner and William Merry, none more deeply than we at MSW Management where both have given freely of their time and experience as members of our Editorial Advisory Board.

John H. Skinner, Ph.D. has been the Executive Director and CEO of SWANA, the Solid Waste Association of North America, since 1996, and is retiring from SWANA at the end of April. He is also Past President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and a current member of the ISWA Board of Directors. (SWANA is the National Member of ISWA for Canada and the United States.)

William Merry, General Manager of the Monterey Regional Waste Management District, announced his retirement effective May 28, 2015. During his 28-year tenure with the district, William served as District Engineer, Assistant General Manager, and General Manager. William was responsible for a host of innovative programs, most recently the first dry anaerobic digestion compost project in California that has served as a model for others to emulate.

About the Author

John Trotti

John Trotti is the former Group Editor for Forester Media.