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Produce No Waste

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.

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by '500 year' freezing weather

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by ‘500 year’ freezing weather


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:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Let nature take its course”


Mister Thompson calls the waiter, orders steak and baked potato
Then he leaves the bone and gristle and he never eats the skins;
The busboy comes and takes it, with a cough contaminates it
And puts it in a can with coffee grinds and sardine tins;
The truck comes by on Friday and carts it all away; And a thousand trucks just like it are converging on the Bay, oh,

Garbage (garbage, garbage, garbage) Garbage!
We’re filling up the sea with garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do when there’s no place left
To put all the garbage? (garbage. . .)

Mr. Thompson starts his Cadillac and winds it down the freeway track
Leaving friends and neighbors in a hydro-carbon haze;
He’s joined by lots of smaller cars all sending gases to the stars.
There they form a seething cloud that hangs for thirty days.
And the sun licks down into it with an ultraviolet tongue.
Till it turns to smog and settles down and ends up in our lungs, oh,

Garbage (garbage. . .) Garbage!
We’re filling up the sky with garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do
When there’s nothing left to breathe but garbage (garbage. . .)

Getting home and taking off his shoes he settles down with the evening news,
While the kids do homework with the TV in one ear
While Superman for the thousandth time sells talking dolls and conquers crime
Dutifully they  learn the date of birth of Paul Revere.
In the paper there’s a piece about the mayor’s middle name,
And he gets it done in time to watch the all-star bingo game, oh,

Garbage (garbage. . .)
We’re filling up our minds with garbage
Garbage (garbage. . .)
What will we do when there’s nothing left to read
And there’s nothing left to need
And there’s nothing left to watch
And there’s nothing left to touch
And there’s nothing left to walk upon
And there’s nothing left to talk upon
Nothing left to see
And there’s nothing left to be but
Garbage (garbage. . .)

In Mister Thompson’s factory, they’re making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?
It’s absolutely needed for the economy,” oh,

Oh, Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
There stocks and their bonds — all garbage!
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
What will they do when their system goes to smash
There’s no value to their cash
There’s no money to be made
But there’s a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history books
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism, and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history’s dustbin they’re consigned
Along with many other kinds of garbage.
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

Words and Music by Bill Steele; 4th verse by Pete Seeger and Mike Agranoff (1977)
(c) William Steele. Copyright assigned 1992 to the Rainbow Collection, Ltd.


Perhaps you have not heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trapped in the North Pacific Gyre—this is the over 2 Million square mile vortex of waste plastic particles floating just under the surface of the water—this is an area of 75% of the Continental U.S.  There have been a number of well-publicized efforts to call attention to this floating island of debris, including sailing ventures aboard flotsam, such as JUNK Raft, not to mention the Earthships which have been built from the wastestream.

“Plastic is Forever” was the subject of Robyn Francis’ talk at IPCC11 in Cuba.

If there is only one takeaway that the student of permaculture should take from the study of natural systems it is this one:  no sustainable system will persist where the waste product exceeds the (re)usable yield.  More simply put:  “Don’t sh*t where you eat.”  Our throwaway society has come to the breaking point, because:

There Is No ‘Away’.

If there is one, single, most pervasive example of insanity on this planet, it is this simple fact—we know that we create more garbage than the planet is capable of remediating, and yet we just keep on making more.  Plastic does not break down.  Period.  Don’t buy stuff made with it or stored in it.  This is a consumer driven economy—your dollar and how you spend it is how you vote, so each and every time you buy a 2 liter bottle of soda or a case of individual water bottles you tell the manufacturer to make more.  Perhaps you think that if you recycle your behavior is redeemed, but don’t fool yourself—the problem is far too great for the 15% of us who do recycle properly.  “Overall, U.S. post-consumer plastic waste for 2008 was estimated at 33.6 million tons; 2.2 million tons (6.5%) were recycled and 2.6 million tons (7.7%) were burned for energy; 28.9 million tons, or 85.5%, were discarded in landfills.  We cannot continue, as responsible people, to silently witness our planet choke on polymer—it is not enough to do to right thing, we must also convince others before it is too late.

“The American way of life is not sustainable. It doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America. ” 
― Arundhati Roy


To this situation, I like to apply a simple principle of my own, which I call “Good, Better, Best” –sort of a PC (that’s PermaCulture, btw, not ‘politically correct’) ‘rule of thumb’.  It goes like this:

  • Water--You know there are sustainability issues with your local aquifer (as in Florida, where the contingency plan is that salt water will infiltrate within the next 5-10 years), so, you:
    • GOOD:  adopt some form a graywater system, whether it be as simple as using a bucket in your shower for use in flushing the toilet or watering plants, or more complex, such as the sump-pump assisted system I have.  You absolutely DO NOT water the lawn, or any other non-edible landscaping.
    • BETTER:  All of the above, with the addition of rainbarrels and/or other water catchment for use in the garden.
    • BEST:  Installed a full-scale ‘off-grid’ rain catchment system, including a composting toilet, so that you could exist entirely free of the local municipal system, whether or not you have formally dis-connected.
  • Energy—You recognize that not only is your local power company non-environmentally-friendly, but you’d also like to save a little money, so, you:
    • GOOD:  Use you’re A/C and heat only when absolutely necessary—perhaps when temperatures are under 65 degrees or over 85 degrees for 24 hours or more.  You employ non-HVAC passive solar methods of cooling and heating (insulation, windows, windbreaks, shade trees, fireplace, etc.).
    • BETTER:  You have installed some form of solar panel augmentation to your home energy system, and/or lighting, such as LED or skylights (in addition to the above).  You use a solar or some other alternative-powered efficient water heater.
    • BEST:  Fully off-grid, passive solar designed home, or one which has enough solar panels to sell power back to local utilities.
  • Earth—You realize that food independence is the only way to truly maintain a quality nutritional diet for you and you family, so, you:
    • GOOD:  Buy the majority of your food from a local fruit stand, much of which is supplied by local growers.  You have a small garden plot which you supplement with, or some fruit trees, perhaps.
    • BETTER:  You belong to a local food co-op, where the food is sourced from no more than 100 miles away.  You pick up your weekly share by bicycle or on foot.
    • BEST:  All of your food comes from onsite or a local farm no more than 50 miles away.  You pick it up by walking, biking, or bending over.

Getting the idea?  Not everyone has the time or resources to go for the “BEST” option—we all do what we can, the best that we can—the point is to do sOMething, and DO IT NOW.  Begin with yourself and your home, your lifestyle, your choices—once you feel that all of these are within the ‘Good, Better, Best” scale, move on to Make Friends and Influence Others.  Because, it’s really best to walk the walk, before asking others to join you, now, isn’t it?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao-tzuThe Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leave a comment

Mulch Ado About Mulching, or: Making Molehills out of Mountains

There is an argument, in Permie circles, about whether it is ‘permissible’ to use powered machinery to get the job done.

Highest and best would, no doubt, be 100% petroleum free…but, my back would beg to differ here. See, I’ve got eight 15 cubic yard loads of mulch to spread, and while it’s great exercise and all, this is a pretty daunting task. Yoga has taught me great patience, that is so—and yet, this part of the job is preventing progress on everything else, or so it seems.

Enter (Timebank) friend, who offers a gas-powered mulcher. Oh, “heck ya!”, she thinks: this noisy creature will make short work of those piles, maybe even two tasks at once, moving AND grinding into useful dirt! Well, not so much—not without a few clever modifications, anyway—I’m all about removing steps, particularly those which require repetitive bending or loading and unloading. I do have extensive experience in the field of “back-breaking”—thus, the daily yoga practice.

So, gas-powered: not ideal, however (here’s where she’ll justify her heart out), the amount of gas required to munch up all of those mountains will be far less than the amount it takes to drive to the other end of the county and back, once. I know some people who do that every day, to go to jobs they despise! (Not that I am condoning it—I am not.) I think that the formula should be something to the effect of: “If the time and effort (including bed rest required post-back-breaking) required to complete a task without the use of machinery is greater than the sum total of time, gas (including the gas it takes to bring the machine to the job), and other inputs: Use the Machine. This, by the way, is an example of “true cost accounting”—if you are unfamiliar with the term, it is something we use in permaculture, and which the corporate machine avoids like the plague it is—plague, that is, to their business model. Try calculating in the cost of countless lives wasted in filthy factories, of working conditions so bad that in this country we wouldn’t (knowingly) subject them to our animals. Ah, but we do—this is the true cost of shopping, for instance, at Wal-Mart. It may save you gas, because it’s so conveniently located at every major intersection, it may seem to save you money, if you are the disciplined sort of individual who can walk past the endless end-caps of enticement—but the true cost is factored on everything which has gone into every single item in the store, as well as the people who work and shop there.

Another one of my favorites to run through the “true cost” calculator is garbage pickup. In my neighborhood, no less than five days a week you can get stuck behind a monstrous gas-guzzling, soul-crunching beast picking up mounds of household discards. What do you suppose the true cost of this practice might be? Factor in the inconvenience of the time and space they consume on our roads and in our neighborhoods, the noise pollution and visual insult of having these nasty trucks near our homes and children on a daily basis. Factor the gas they use, not only on the pickup runs, but all the way to the county landfill, where these trucks are lined up by the dozens to dump the waste—most of which is in the form of excess packaging no one could be bothered to attempt to recycle. Now factor in the humans—those who were forced into this line of work, of picking up other people’s garbage, because there was nothing else available and at least it’s a paycheck. Now what is the true cost of your sheer laziness—those who can’t be bothered to separate the recyclable plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper items—that many don’t even know which these are? I’ve considered starting my own recycle/compost pickup—to encourage those who don’t to start—everything begins with awareness, after all. Imagine a world where the piles of garbage in a landfill were actually piles of compost, turning into beautiful, viable dirt.

Maybe that’s just me—dreaming of soil, dirty girl that I am—but this is how it is done, turning mountains of garbage into molehills—through awareness.

01-26-13 7:02AM