Waste Not Want Not

Scrap Cardboard from Watts Up

As a child, I was discouraged from creating waste.  I was told not to waste food; I should not to take any more food than I would eat.  I shouldn’t  cook more than I would eat. I was told to turn out lights when I left a room. I was encouraged not to waste paper, not to buy a lot of clothes, not to use a lot of resources. I brought that thinking to my permaculture practice.

But I’ve reflected on these teachings after seeing the film Temple Grandin on video last weekend.  The film which I’d encourage you to watch, explores the life of Temple Grandin, a young woman with autism who, with the support of her family and community, learns to work through the difficulties of autism to ultimately complete her PhD. Her autism, while presenting a number of challenges, also gives her access to an extremely powerful  visual memory and empathy which prove to be assets her in pursuing her life’s work, designing facilities for cattle.

What struck me in the film was how she would experiment and the waste she created in the process of experimentation. There’s a scene in the film where she is trying to build an exhibit to demonstrate perspective. As she tries again and again, she creates a pile of waste boards and paper.  As I watched it I thought, “I would never have created so much waste”. But them, maybe I’ve been missing the point.

I think our culture is obsessed with efficiency, eliminating waste.   We typically judge companies based on their productivity.  At every moment  we believe we should be doing something “productive”, making money even when you sleep.

Though permaculture say produce no waste, I don’t think we are  aiming to maximize production efficiency in the same sense that our culture typically does. In an ecological sense, waste to one is food to someone else.  Permaculture is about consciously completing the cycle, bringing in new elements to use up every bit of waste. Many organisms try to survive in each particular environment; some succeed and some fail. Those that succeed, over time, thrive.  Over time, the ecosystem as whole become more efficient.

Yes it is important to not use resources at an unsustainable rate but many trials are necessary for success. An equally important strategy in producing no waste is to bring in the new elements that will beneficially use the waste that I create.