The permaculture chapter: principle 6 – produce no waste

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Produce no waste

Produce no waste – a very straightforward permaculture principle that has to a considerable extent already featured in the discussion of previous principles. For example, in the discussion of principle number two, Mollison was quoted regarding the emphasis in permaculture of recycling nutrients and energy, illustrated by the researcher in this chapter already by his use of a compost toilet and his actively-chosen lack of a sewer system that would otherwise literally flush fertility and water down the toilet. All organic waste in the household can be recycled, returned as fertility to the gardens, thereby directly dealing with the massive problem common to Promethean ‘man’ of externalities, as explained by Eisenstein in Chapter 5. The Permaculture Association[1], as can be seen in the following extract from its website, focuses similarly on organic household wastes, and elaborates on the principle of producing no waste using the concepts of outputs and inputs: “Waste is just an unused output. If the output is unusable, or downright dangerous, we probably shouldn’t be producing it in the first place (plutonium for example).” The example of plutonium as a substance that should not be produced in the first place is relevant in light of what was explored in Chapter 1 regarding the conundrum of nuclear waste, and therefore nuclear energy as a whole – as well as all the other industries that similarly produce waste products that have dire consequences for ecologies. Furthermore, the Permaculture association (ibid) states that permaculture

aims to connect inputs and outputs so that different elements meet each other’s needs. For example, if I save my kitchen waste and put it into a compost bin, I can make compost that can then be used to grow crops which I can then eat. I have saved waste (kitchen scraps that produce methane in landfill sites, and need transport to get it there), reduced external inputs (I don’t need to buy compost) and increased yields (better soil, more crops, more worms.)

This is clearly a proactive and healthy use of a substance – kitchen waste, which so often thrown away in ACID. Mollison (1998: 12) goes further and provides an example of a process where, in permaculture, designers consider what the optimal process is for dealing with wastes; here Mollison uses the example of cow manure as a waste product that can be incorporated into a designed system in differing ways:

For example, if we have a “waste” such as manure, we can leave it on a field. Although this is of productive use, we have only achieved one function. Alternatively, we can route it through a series of transformations that give us a variety of resources. First we can ferment it, and distil it to alcohol, and secondly route the waste through a biogas digester, where anaerobic organisms convert it to methane, of use as a cooking or heating gas, or as fuel for vehicles. Thirdly, the liquid effluent can be sent to fields, and the solid sludge fed to worms, which convert it to rich horticultural soil. Fourthly, the worms themselves can be used to feed fish or poultry.

This way of thinking about waste can be applied to various aspects of the household. An excellent example that the researcher has encountered is the ‘eco-brick’[2], a plastic bottle filled with bits of throw away materials like cellophane wrapping and polystyrene packaging – indeed, any throw-away material that would otherwise be heaped into a landfill site can be incorporated as a filling for an eco-brick – so long as the material can be squeezed into the neck of the plastic bottle. The bottles are packed until hard, and then used as a replacement for a traditional brick. Once the structure is finished, no sign of the eco-bricks remain, because they are plastered over, as is often the case with regular brick building methods. This example demonstrates how one of the problems for ecology explored in Chapter 1, namely landfill waste, can be proactively mitigated using a permaculture principle.

This is an appropriate sub-section to introduce two important permaculture ‘rules’, “the rule of necessitous use” and the “rules of conservative use” (Mollison 1988: 3). Reducing waste, as will be seen in the following extract from The Designer’s Manual, is mentioned in explanation of the rules, hence the direct relevance to this sub-section. Less obvious may be the attempt to produce no waste by deliberately abstaining from use of resources in the first place: the rule of necessitous use says that

we leave any natural system alone until we are, of strict necessity, forced to use it. We may then follow up with rules of conservative use – having found it necessary to use a natural resource, we may insist on every attempt to: – Reduce waste, hence pollution; – Thoroughly replace lost minerals; – Do a careful energy accounting; and – Make an assessment of the long-term, negative, biosocial effects on society, and to act to buffer or eliminate these.” (Ibid)

These rules are clearly Orphic: they demand of human beings considered, ecologically-sensitive action that circumvents various prominent problems with the Promethean paradigms and industries encountered in early chapters of this study.

Turning now to overlaps between this permaculture principle – produce no waste – and content that featured in Chapter 5. First, in the exploration of specific ‘older cultures’, it was seen in the context of hunting that the “major principle is that everything caught is consumed and there is no waste,” (Vetlesen 2012:38). Then it was seen in the overview of Blessed Unrest that one example of an endeavour that constitutes participation in the ‘unnamed movement’ spoken about by Hawken (2007: 11) is this: “Clayton Thomas-Muller speaks to a community gathering of the Cree nation about waste sites on their native land in Northern Alberta, toxic lakes so big you can see them from outer space.” Eisenstein’s ‘law of return’ is also clearly relevant and provides clearer elaboration on the idea of producing no waste: Eisenstein (.pdf pg. 124) says that in

an ecology, no species creates waste that other species cannot use – hence the maxim, “Waste is food.” No other species creates growing amounts of substances that are toxic to the rest of life, such as dioxin, PCBs, and radioactive waste. Our linear/exponential growth economy manifestly violates nature’s law of return, the cycling of resources.

There may be a substance left-over from an activity associated with people and/or animals, but the by-product is one that is incorporated into a given system in ways that are good for all components of the given system; this is all obviously a radical detour from the modus operandi of Promethean industries (something to which Eisenstein alludes in the above quote, where again radioactive waste is brought to the forefront) that directly cause the ecological destruction highlighted in Chapter 1. Finally, in the exploration of the Zeitgeist Movement, the important concept of ‘technical efficiency’ was introduced; technical efficiency “seeks to maintain the environment, maintain human health and essentially keep balance in the natural world. The reduction of waste, resolution of problems and the maintaining of alignment with natural law is the common sense logic embodied.” (TZM Defined .pdf pg. 112)

[1] accessed 11 February 2016

[2] accessed 11 February 2016

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