Category Permaculture Principles
“Waste not, want not”, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
Today I drove through the aftermath of what has been referred to already as a five-hundred year event. While this country’s West coast is in the midst of drought conditions, here in the Southeast, this winter has brought unprecedented severe cold weather in areas completely unprepared for freezing snow and ice. All along route 95 heading North of Savannah the shoulders were littered with tree limbs downed by icy winds. The first words that occurred to me, of course, were “mulch!” and “hugelkultur”, but I highly doubt that this is what the average motorist in the region might be thinking. This is, however, the permaculture mindset: “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”…and then compost the remaining lemon rind, or soak in vinegar for cleaning solution.
If there were one quintessential concept I feel is most important for those who wish to embrace permaculture, it is this one: “produce no waste”. Seems simple, yet, as we saw in “Use and value renewable resources and services,” these concepts have not exactly been adopted by the masses, yet. ‘Frugality’ does appear to be something of a dirty word in our culture, where the entire economy is driven by waste and consumerism, and yet I believe this one principle is the fast track to getting the whole of systems theory. Start small.
For me, it began with water—Florida being in such dire straits with our sensitive and easily depleted aquifer (because, you know, it’s so much more important to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into strip mining for phosphates which we don’t even use here), I personally feel that this is THE issue to address—hopefully before salt water begins to infiltrate. As I embarked upon my first experiments with graywater and gardening, I wanted to ensure that the impact of growing food onsite would not be to deepen my water footprint, leaving behind a muddier mess. So, I looked into all kinds of retrofit systems—for toilet flushing, for diverting graywater—and ended up with the simplest solution: rather than going to the trouble and expense of installing something which may or may not have an impact, why not simply experiment with one simple step at a time? In this case, it was flushing the toilet with clean, fresh water—I mean, whoever thought that one up was simply insane anyway! The easiest way to do this, for me, was to stopper the tub while showering, and use a small bucket to transfer the water to the toilet. Soon, I developed a system around this, saving ice tea bottles which I filled and left at the ready—the remainder I carried out to the garden for hand-watering. For two years I did this—literally practicing Zen-like “Chop Wood, Carry Water”. I think two years is a solid time frame to calculate impact, and indeed it was quite the impression. Even though I had also installed an array of perennial trees and bushes in this same time frame, as well as a few annual food sources—my water consumption and thus the bill dove to a fraction of my former near-average usage. The real ‘tells’ were my bills after having guests in the house—a stay of less than one week for two family members tripled the bill for the entire two-month period over one holiday!
Just. One. Thing.
Pick it—whether it’s water, or plastic, or maybe starting a compost pile or worm bin—choose ONE thing to focus on, and do it—give it at least a month, preferably six weeks, and see what happens. Play mad scientist and keep a log, formulate a hypothesis, have fun with it—just be certain to look at all of the potential impacts—did removing or adding this one thing cause you undue stress? Did it lighten the load, did you find yourself overwhelmed? In the first year or so of my water experiment I did find myself frustrated from time to time, particularly when I’d left a tub full of water and needed to take a shower in a hurry. Over time, I learned to plan ahead and redistributing the liquid immediately became part of the routine. There is one essential component, by the way: routine. It takes six weeks to form a habit, so just imagine–after practicing so many habits which have negative impacts on our planet—only six weeks to completely turn it around and make a better choice. Imagine if just two people stopped using fresh water to flush the toilet after reading this post, and they each told two of their friends, who told two of their friends, who told…
The moral of this story, if there is one, is that it does not take a total mind-shift to make a huge impact. I can be a tad bit obsessive, it’s true, but I choose my obsessions carefully, for greatest impact. It actually bothers me now to flush a toilet the ‘normal’ way, and I did simplify the process a year or so ago, by purchasing a simple sump pump to run the leftovers outside to the garden—no more ‘chop wood, carry water’…well, I take that back, there is the wood story—but that’s for another post.
So, if you come to visit me one day, you won’t need to ask why the water to the toilet tank is turned off, or what those jugs of water on the floor are for!
Read the Series:
- Observe and Interact
- Catch and Store Energy
- Obtain a Yield
- Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
- Use and value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges and value the marginal
- Creatively use and respond to change
© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here
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