Waste management system

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The old saying, "Waste not, want not" is going to take on increasing importance as world petroleum and natural gas production peaks and begins its irrevocable decline.

Waste is a big topic for today's consumer. Jay Hanson noted that "our present economic situation is little more than a well-organized method for turning natural resources into garbage."

In reality, waste is a natural resource. It may well be that the big growth industry of the future will be landfill mining.


First Principle

There shall be no waste. This is obviously something to strive for, rather than a given. But if the garbage man picks up something from my curb, I feel I have failed in some way.

On some level, there really is no waste. What humans toss out, nature eventually consumes, but generally not in a manner we appreciate. Therefore, the best thing to do is to beat nature to our own waste.


Farmers have long been experts at reducing waste. Silage and stubble are returned to the earth, and what farmer isn't delighted to find a profitable "by product" from something that might normally be discarded?

But on a deeper level, it is not simply "a nice thing" to return agricultural waste to the land, it is essential, if one hopes to do without chemical fertilizers. The nutrients in the land are taken up by plants, and need to be returned to the land for future generations of plants. To do less is simply "soil mining," and the earth eventually wears out.


But wait -- if plants take nutrients from the soil, and we eat the plants, how do the nutrients get returned to the soil? Don't think too long about this one -- it isn't a trick question!

Night soil has been used as long as there has been agriculture, and has only declined as petroleum and natural gas allowed us to enrich the land with nutrients that were taken out of the land millions of years ago. It is often criticized (often unjustly) as being responsible for spreading disease. However by proper composting, humanure is produced that is perfectly safe for closed-end recycling, meaning the waste product goes back into the production of that which created the waste.

Petro-chemical agriculture is not sustainable, and will come to an end, much sooner than most people think. ("Most people think" -- now there's an oxymoron!)

So today's situation is: we use the soil as a sponge for petro-chemical nutrients to produce feedlot crops, which we cram through living animals, whose waste products foul streams and rivers, then we feed those animals to humans, whose waste products go into treatment plants, to be poisoned so it will not fertilize algae that fouls streams and rivers. Yea, makes a lot of sense -- not!

It is really mind-numbingly simple in concept: what we take, we must give back. Of course, as with all simple concepts, the actual practice will take a lot of work.


Industrial waste sounds like something someone else does, and conjures visions of belching smokestacks and gurgling, brackish water. But each time we buy something packaged in plastic, we indulge in industrial waste.

True, we didn't create it by simply opening that plastic-packaged consumer electronic item, but together with the producing industry, we consumers are codependents in this passive-aggressive assault on the earth. The three "Rs" (reduce, reuse, recycle) begin with "reduce" for a good reason, and while some modern industrial products are pleasant (stereos, computers), or even arguably necessary (medicines, tools) almost all of us can get by with a lot less.

But villagers may also be producers of industrial waste. For example, the artisan who produces wood carvings produces wood shavings as waste. Other villagers may produce stuff like this as well. We need to learn to better reuse such byproducts, much as the farmer harvests the grain and then uses the straw.

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