Zero Waste

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Effective and Efficient

The Necessity for Material Lifecycle to Mimic Ecosystems

In an ecosystem, the waste product of one species or element becomes the input of another. Bears poop in the woods. Micro-organisms break down the poop and they release waste products which plants take in. Those plants may produce fruit and the bears eat the fruit. The bears then poop and the cycle repeats. This example shows the way in which nutrient cycles work in ecosystems, re-using and re-cycling all components and over time building quality soils and very efficient ways of transforming current solar energy into biological energy.

Sustainability requires, among other things, that we stop polluting our environment with things which cannot readily be re-used in the biological context. For this reason, it is very important to develop a lifecycle closed material lifecycle. Our current factory-to-landfill must eventually be replaced with a closed cycle where very little if anything ends up in landfills because everything is re-used in some context or another. Doing this requires in essence having the output or waste of one system becoming the input of another. Recycling is one way this can happen (re-use is another), but either way waste must be re-purposed as an asset. An example might be privatizing sewage treatment, not as a waste disposal service, but as a series of cooking gas and fertilizer factories. Waste products which cannot be recycled can be re-used in unexpected ways, such as building things out of “urbanite.”

The shift in thinking from a factory to landfill pipeline to a series of interconnected and infinitely continuous series of material lifecycles (akin to the water cycle, or to nutrient cycles in ecosystems), is absolutely necessary to achieving sustainability, and Permaculture teaches this quite a bit. This is a reason why I am such of a fan of urban Permaculture. While the idea of feeding a family of 4 on a city lot is probably unrealistic, the lessons learned about sustainability and the increase in free time from doing so (instead of high maintenance flower gardens)! Is well worth it. Most of my “flower gardens” also produce fruits and veggies, they look nice, and they require very, very little maintenance.