According to Heather Rogers' Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, 80 percent of products sold in the United States are designed to be used once and then thrown away.
Now, this is a leap of logic, but for the sake of a thought experiment, let's assume that 80 percent of the energy and raw materials used by manufacturing industry are used to make products designed to be used only once.
There is so much talk about shifting away from the cradle to grave and towards a cradle to cradle paradigm so that materials, once thrown away, can be truly reused to make new products. That's a great and important idea.
But returning to my admittedly-naive thought experiment, if 80 percent of the manufacturing sector's energy and materials are used to produce single-use products, doesn't that mean that designing those products to be used, say, twice would automatically save 40 percent of the sector's energy and materials?
Suppose, in addition to cradle to cradle design, we made product durability and ease of repair an issue? Suppose we simply designed all our products to last twice as long? In many cases, that's not, by the way, so technically difficult.
The real difficulty is that durability undermines business models that depend on consumers buying the same products over and over again--repetitive consumption. So maybe the holy grail is to figure out how to manufacture durable, repairable products and still turn a profit.
Read a lot more about this in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.