Basic Materials Definitions
Biological & Technical Materials
A circular built environment requires a complete rethinking of the materials and their flows. To make things explicit, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has adopted the distinction between biological and technical materials and has conceptualized their respective flows in the -by now famous- Butterfly Diagram. The key difference between these cycles is the relation between the service-lives of products manufactured out of them, and the time it takes for the materials in these products to break down and be reabsorbed by the planet’s natural cycles. In the case of materials in the technical cycle, reabsorption is either too slow or carries with it other negative consequences such as air, water, and/or earth pollution, so more direct reuse and reclaim strategies must be pursued.
In the following video, Juan discusses ways of identifying whether a material is biological or technical.
- Biological materials are products of plants, animals, and other microorganisms and therefore are regenerative materials with renewable potential.
- Technical materials require significant processing to become useful, biodegrade over a timeframe much longer than their service life, or produce pollution in the degradation process.