In Permaculture Principles: Part I, the need to create a yield within the system that we design was outlined. In this section, the focus will turn to the subject of waste.
And let’s be honest, we are extremely wasteful creatures!
According to a DEFR (2015) report, in the UK alone, households produce close to 30 million tonnes of waste per year, commercial and industrial waste, although significantly lower than in 2004 (this figure could be due to methodological differences in data collection, as opposed to a downward trend in the production of waste), creates approximately 45 million tonnes, and the construction industry, 100 million tonnes of waste.
Whilst landfill is only one of many means for dealing with waste, it continues to have significant environmental effects. Landfill involves the creation of contained spaces. Waste materials are progressively compressed with soil and eventually enclosed with a permanent cap. Biodegradable materials subsequently decay releasing landfill gas. This comprises methane and carbon dioxide. Potentially toxic elements could be exposed to neighbouring areas if the gas isn’t fully collected. Landfills are especially susceptible to leeching from rainfall which affects surrounding soils (but modern landfill linings do minimise this potential). Finally, despite recycling efforts, potentially hazardous materials do enter landfill sites.
Waste, in short, is a problem. Hence the fifth of our permacultural principles is:
To produce no waste – If we were to consider that all systems require inputs, this will necessarily create outputs. In a system designed using permaculture principles, obtaining a yield is an output from a good system. Waste is also an output. In a carefully designed system, waste does not need to be toxic. It is instead an unused product. This output can be regenerated as an input. Composting is the best illustrative example of how inputs and outputs can be connected to create a sustainable system. Composting household waste means less expenditure on materials needed for soil building, and good compost increases yields. Similarly, the need for reliance on external sources (such as refuse collection services) is eliminated, and as the process is entirely localised, the need for transport is removed.
A related principle is:
To use and value renewable resources and services – Another form of dependency in industrial culture is that of the need for
water purification services. According to Thames Water, ‘In-between it (water) falling from the sky and coming
out of your taps, there is a whole process that involved hundreds of treatment sites ….. 20,000 miles of pipes..” The process of water purification entails screening (capturing large debris like leaves), flocculation (adding a solution to make other particles larger and easier to remove), filtering (through various grades of sand) and finally, chlorination.
Chlorine is a paradoxical chemical. It is added to water to decrease the risk of waterborne diseases, and does significantly reduce the mortality rate from drinking unclean water. However, a number of epidemiological studies have found that the by-products of chlorination are associated with cancer risk. Chlorine reacts with organic matter in the water and produces the carcinogenic Trihalomethanes. A news report by the BBC last week stated that 50% of the population are now likely to contract cancer within their lifetime. It was suggested this is due to increased longevity. So the longer we live, the more likely we will experience cancer. However, longevity is not the cause of cancer. Artificial purification of water, however, is suspected to increase the risk of developing colon and bladder cancers. What is more, chlorine is designed to kill all microbial life, thereby upsetting the delicate balance of natural ecosystems.
Natural water purification services are often overlooked. However, with some ingenuity, can be utilised to good effect. For example, Joule’s Brewery makes use of natural aquifers to create entirely natural ales. In fact, natural purification is seen as essential to the character and flavour of craft beers. (I have come across a brewery in the UK that has created several layers of natural filtration enclosed within a beautiful green space – will report back when I find it again).
Using and valuing the renewable services of the sun and wind and natural life cycles of plants and animals will additionally help to reduce external dependency and toxicity within the environments we inhabit.