Principle Six: Produce No Waste
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle: A stitch in time saves nine, and Waste not, want not.
This may be one of my favorite Principles of Permaculture. Why? Because it is kind of like figuring out a big puzzle. Basically, all this principle is saying is that everything can be a positive resource if we know how to utilize it. Almost every by-product can have a use if we think hard enough about it. That is the fun part!
Another aspect of this principle, and one that we need to think about just as hard, is unless we know how to utilize a by-product maybe we shouldn't be producing the primary product in the first place. The classic example of this is a nuclear energy power plant with the by-product of spent nuclear fuel. I am not saying that we should not use nuclear energy, but we do have a very dangerous "waste" product that is not being used as a resource for anything yet.
When discussing this principle, someone always says, "Yeah, but what about..." It doesn't matter. There should always be a use for every by-product. Bill Mollison often said, "The problem is the solution." The first few times I read this quote, it was always as a stand alone statement. Once put in context of multiple interconnected systems, I realized how simple and brilliant this statement really is. Another way of saying this is, "The problem, or by-product, of one system, is often the solution, or answer, for another system."
The classic "waste" product most people think of is manure. Whether this is animal or human manure, many people see this as disgusting filth that needs to be buried in a deep hole (where it pollutes ground water), diluted with so much water that it is almost non-existant (depleting too much water and still maintaining risk of pathogen spread), or treated with chemicals that kill everything in it (polluting our environment with caustic substances). If we viewed manure as a great resource for organic matter and fertility for the land, we realize that this "waste" is actually a resource. Granted, most farmers already understand this to an extent with some animal manures, but are still terrified of human manure. I'll get into humanure more in a future post, but suffice it to say there are very safe and easy ways to deal with humanure that results in us having a great resource instead of "waste".
The key with this principle is to always keep your eyes and mind open. You never know when a great solution will come, but if you are not looking for it, you will never see it.
"A stitch in time saves nine" reminds us that we need care for the things we have. This quote comes from the idea that a timely effort to repair an item will often prevent more work later. So a stitch in time saves nine stitches (why nine? because it rhymes with time). It also reminds us to steer clear of the consumer mentality of buy it, use it, dump it. As I have said in previous posts, spend a bit more money and buy a higher quality item. It will last longer, and if it starts to break, it is often much more easily repaired.
"Waste not want not" reminds us that when we design a Permaculture System, we need to account for every by-product of each system we are creating. This can get extremely complex, but the time in planning will pay off in less work for us if we design interconnected systems that recycle each system's "wastes" and use them as resources for the other system's sustainment.
By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
- David Holmgren