Within permaculture, one of the major goals is to find solutions in problems, to turn that which causes us, or the planet, hardships into something that provides benefits. Perhaps the major destructive force on the planet today is waste: Waste from factories and industry, waste from our enormous array of consumables and the simple everyday waste that the average modern home produces.
We know our landfills are overflowing. We know our water systems are drying up. We know lawns of grass consume ridiculous amounts of resources and occupy areas of potential productivity We know we use far too much plastic, paper and packaging, and it’s all got to go somewhere. But, is all this waste necessary? Of course it isn’t.
Finding real uses and usefulness for our supposed waste is exactly how the world can become more sustainable. The idea is that everything that is produced in a system can serve its intended purpose and then be disposed of to serve another, rather than create a pollutant or problem. By developing cyclical systems, we make sustainable solutions for the planet and our existence on it.
1. Kitchen and Home Composting
By now, most of us are well aware that we should be composting and that it is amongst the greenest of things we can do. But, it’s still not being done enough. To continually throw food and other organic items into the garbage rather than utilize them is borderline criminal, especially knowing the state of planet.
In addition to food scraps, we can and should be composting all sorts of household waste, including cardboard, paper, cotton clothing, dust bunnies, napkins, newspapers, and more. This isn’t garbage! It’s composting material, perfect for making rich soil to grow more trees (for cardboard, paper, napkins and newspapers), cotton or hemp (for clothes), and healthy, organic food.
Recognizing this “waste” as the valuable asset it is helps us create a healthy cycle for the planet, providing both our needs while ultimately, through compost and soil production, fulfilling the needs for the food, paper and clothing system to repeat itself. That’s sustainability.
2. Mulching the Garden
Heart Windows Art/ Flickr
It’s all well and fine to create all that awesome compost at home, but if there is no use for it, what’s the point? That’s why we should be growing gardens, food producing as well as aesthetic, to utilize the compost we are making. It’s part of the cycle: The things we don’t eat can go back to the garden to feed it so that it can feed us again.
Mulching is yet another ecologically responsible, logical and cyclical ways to build a garden. Use all that fallen leaves, grass clipping, weeds, branches, dead plants, and similar matter to mulch garden beds. The organic “waste” will break down to feed the soil, as well as protect it from drying out in the sun, safeguard microorganisms and soil life, and preserve and conserve water (watering is reduced by more than 50 percent when a garden is mulched).
All of the garden/yard waste is not waste at all but actually another precious resource for building a healthy environment. It seems absurd that people send leaves and grass clippings to the landfill and buy bags of mulch for decorative gardens. Instead, there is a potentially sustainable cycle happening right outside the front doors.
3. Graywater Irrigation
If it wasn’t on people’s radar before, with California’s ongoing debacle, water is now a topic that’s garnering more attention. Sources are steadily depleting, yet in many corners of the country and world, people are failing to find ways to lessen the burden. But, the possibility to use less water and reuse what we do does exist.
With our lawns becoming gardens, full of beneficial trees and plants, their roots set in organic, homemade compost protected by mulch, we could be watering with secondhand pickings from the house. Graywater, stuff from the sinks and showers, can be filtered into the earth and used again by plants, instead of the status quo which mixes it with truly contaminated water making a much bigger mess.
Instead, the water we use, especially those of us making the effort to be green and biodegradable with our soaps and detergents, can be cycled right back into the environment, that garden around the house, so that our little self-contained home system benefits from us taking a shower. Some people up the ante and collect rainwater to complete the cycle by supplying their own household water needs.
4. Composting Toilets
Ironically, the bulk of the contaminants that go into our water sources could also be a great advantage rather than a planetary detriment. It makes a lot of people giggle, it makes others gag, but the truth of the matter is that human waste, put into the right system, can be used to feed the garden, namely the giant trees providing us with timber, oxygen, fruit, paper, cardboard and all those things we have taken to composting.
Composting toilets are not disgusting, and they are absolutely no joke. As opposed to flush toilets, which consume much of our household water allotment, as well as render the water then too dangerous to use for anything without chemical cleaning, a composting toilet takes human waste and converts it into completely safe fertilizer.
Of course, there isn’t much we can do about reducing this sort of waste, but we can certainly learn to use it cyclically, making sensible compost and not toxic sludge. One boosts the planet’s ecological systems, and the other is poised to destroy it. Is there really a viable reason not to check into composting toilets?
The not-so-secret secret to sustainability is the cycle. When we find ways to eliminate our waste, to make it a commodity and not a problem, then we’re not foisting it upon a planet that is quickly reaching its tipping point. In fact, cycles like these aren’t just finding ways to reduce and use our garbage but actually rebuilding some of what has been destroyed. That’s permaculture, and that’s sustainable living.
Lead image source: Creative Commons