Thursday, March 1, 2012

Holmgren Design Principle #6: Produce No Waste

Going through David Holmgren's version of the Permaculture Design Principles, here's #6.

Produce No Waste

I love this one! Waste == Work. If my system doesn't use an output, then I've got to do something with it - find a spot for it, move it there, find another spot when the first one fills up, wash, rinse, repeat. Better to remove the word "waste" from our vocabulary and instead consider "outputs."

The Linear Model
One type of system model takes energy from source to sink in a line, extracting useful work along the way, but at the end releasing the leftovers as waste. This is a pretty good model for much of our consumer society, with raw materials being transformed into products that eventually wend their way to landfills or ocean dumping.

The Circular Model
A more permaculture system model is a circle with partial inputs being added at various points, and partial outputs being extracted, but with a clear flow linking all outputs to another stages inputs.

A longer, better slogan

Refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle

The general approach of using less, and extracting maximum yield from what we do use is something that doesn't need to wait for a system design - start today!

I have to admit to being periodically overwhelmed by the futility of personal recycling in the face of corporate waste. Many offices in which I have worked have no white paper recycling, and they generate more potentially recyclable material in a day than I do in several years. Why waste time on personal recycling that could be invested in lobbying for the larger impact? I guess the right answer is to do both, because the personal habit can inform and reinforce the broader effort.

Pretty picture of the principle at

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