Let’s think of carbon on its own terms. Let’s define the circumstance the carbon finds itself in. Okay, if I burn carbon and I release it into the atmosphere, I call it fugitive. It’s escaped. You don’t want to do more of that. In the case of plastic, it’s a form of carbon that’s often in the ocean. It’s fugitive carbon. It’s escaped. It’s where we don’t want it. It’s causing a problem.
Then, if we look at carbon that is sitting still or being recycled across generations, we can call that durable carbon. It lasts. Limestone Mountain is calcium carbonate. It’s sitting there quietly, the clustered carbon. Carbon at the bottom of the ocean’s forming limestone. It’s stable. It’s raw. That is durable.
Then, within that, you have things like a plastic bottle made from oil or a wood beam in a ceiling or a book in a library. These are carbon. The beam in the ceiling, if it’s there for 500 years, that is durable carbon. It is a form of carbon sitting there quietly for 500 years, durable. A plastic bottle is holding water. If I burn that bottle, then it becomes fugitive. If I throw that bottle in the ocean, it becomes fugitive. Different forms, you see?
The third kind I call living carbon. That is carbon in soil. Carbon comes from the atmosphere and nitrogen comes from the atmosphere to the earth’s surface and combines with water and the sun and minerals and guess what? Magic happens. Life. Physics meets chemistry and voila, biology, us. This is life itself. It accrues in the earth as soil. This is what I call living carbon.
With these terms, you can quickly ask yourself: is it living carbon? Then it must be safe for soil. Is it durable carbon? Then we should be recycling it or let it sit there. Is it escaping and causing problems? That’s fugitive carbon.
source: William McDonough interviewed by Susan Szenasy (ArchDaily)