The problem isn’t trash itself. It’s our concept of what belongs in the trashcan, and our concept of “throwing it away.” There is no away on this planet. Waste is moved to another location, perhaps even shipped across the ocean to make it’s home in a place where land is cheaper or government has less regulation.
What if we re-imagined the problem altogether? Instead of seeing our waste as something to throw away, what if we saw the benefit and potential use it serves in our world? One creative solution lies in this transformation: thinking of trash as the tool to re-build our natural and man-made world into a richer, more abundant oasis.
Biomass is Soil Waiting to Be Grown
In recent interview with Peter Bain & Joel Salatin, Joel mentioned that 75% of the materials that end up in US landfills are biomass. This means that biomass such as food scraps, yard waste, and lumber are rotting away in a landfill, creating methane gasses and increasing CO2 levels.
The simple alternative is diverting this nutrient rich resource into local and region-wide projects to grow soil. With a minor amount of energy and maintenance, compost and mulch can be created on a local or industrial scale. The resulting high-nutrient soil and mulch eliminates the need for petroleum fertilizers and grows a healthier, high yield food crop.
Recycling Becomes Ultra Local
Often, so much of the saving of our recycling process gets wasted in shipping materials so far away. What if we were to create energy-efficient, zero waste facilities to locally process and refine these recyclables?
Consider a simple aluminum melting machine that inputs cans and outputs thin sheets of aluminum. In his book The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli suggests an ingenious use for broken glass by forming incredible strong and robust I-beams for construction.
It’s possible that we are only years away from an efficient, effective way to recycle plastic using a ingenious, green process for re-use. There’s already a machine that reforms waste plastic packaging & film into oil. [http://www.plastic2oil.com/]
One’s Man Junk is Another Man’s Treasure
Upcycling is trending into an ingenious and beautiful way to find new and useful ways to re-imagine the purpose for which an item was originally intended. Whether we re-purpose the object, maintaining its original form, or deconstruct it and use it’s components in imaginative new ways, we keep material out of landfills and usually inspire creativity in the process.
The possibilities are literally endless, and even though some of styles aren’t for everyone, there are some upcycling solutions that are very high-quality, classy, and sometimes, expensive. In fact, some companies have created a profitable business through creating products utilizing a specific material such as snack packaging [TerraCycle: http://www.terracycle.com/] or used bicycle intertubes [Green Guru: http://www.greengurugear.com].
Water is Everywhere
“Do you think it just falls from the sky?” Oh wait, it does; it’s water. Yes, there are droughts; there are also floods. Let’s prepare for both, simply by re-defining our uses for water and it’s destination after it goes down the drain.
Greywater landscaping is the re-direction of waste water from the drain to your yard. Instead of requiring the sewage to channel and process your water, let the dirt and plants drink in the nutrition and clean out the toxins.
After all, nature’s been balancing itself without sewage processing plants for millions of years. Think about it: all the animals of the forest and rivers urinate and defecate everywhere and the ecosystem self-cleanses.
Using riparian plants and trees that have naturally filtered water for the life of this planet, rather than chemical intensive and energy intensive waste water processing plants, we can produce not only cleaner water, and create more natural spaces to do it, but also keep chemicals and high-energy machines and procedures from ever having to touch a drop.
Taking Rainwater Out of the Gutter
Some of the cleanest, most nutritious water for plants and humans alike is rain. In our industrious urban areas, we have made a repulsive relationship with this resource, and mixed it with the oils and trash of our streets and sidewalks, channeled it into storm drains and flushed it out to the sea. By reversing this relationship and creating a magnetic relationship with rain, we can plant it in the ground and store it in near our homes.
Microtrash, such as tiny bits of plastic, metal and other non-organic material can be made useful by creating bottlebricks. Basically, by compacting microtrash into an empty plastic bottle, you keep trash out of nature and the landfill, and create building blocks that can be combined with cobb and built into garden beds, benches, or walls. Learn more at http://www.bottlebrick.com/
Reengineering Packaging to Clean the Environment
With the exception of the last 100+ years, we as humans have been programmed to mulch the environment. Most often, this meant tossing the banana leaves or corn husks that our food was wrapped in onto the ground. The result was scraps for rodents and insects, and mulch and compost for plants.
What if, instead of perceiving litter as the problem, we attacked the problem at it’s source: the material that food packaging is made from. Compostable packaging already exists, but what if we took it a step further? What if we engineered a packaging material that was a combination of beneficial pioneer plants, mycelium and a fibrous mulch material ike coconut husks that encourage root growth. Instead of snack wrappers covering the streets and empty lots, imagine the beginnings of a budding new ecosystem.
Art from Scrap
An amazing business for turning waste into resource exists in a somewhat inconspicuous building a few blocks from downtown Santa Barbara. The non-profit storefront is called Art from Scrap, and they work in collaboration with local businesses, residents, schools and even the annual Solstice Parade to turn would-be-landfill items into creative projects. [http://www.artfromscrap.org]
Both households and businesses alike donate materials to this storehouse of wondrous art supplies. You’ll find everything from boxes of unclaimed keys, microcircuits, and leather scraps to foam padding, piano keys, and the dayglow spiral tentacles that are manufacturing scraps from local Powell Peralta skateboard wheels.
This model has the potential to be a powerful resource for any small town or large city, especially one that has any sort of industry that produces a by-product that ends up in the landfill. With just a bit of marketing from the community and cooperation from nearby businesses, the amount of waste we could transform into useful commodities with this idea is quite impressive.
Central Processing Resource Station
Pioneering this new future is going to take some hard work and innovative minds. Although some industry and jobs may be lost in the process of this transition out of the old paradigm, the opportunity for creating more stable, public-benefit corporations, careers and processes will result.
One such possibility is to create local and region-wide processing stations to transform the waste stream into a resource stream. Even with a household’s best efforts of composting, recycling and bottlebricking, not even one in their locale has the energy or even knowledge to perform this type of sorting. It may not be a pretty job, but certainly a useful one to keep recycling, lumber, potential compost, and other upcyclable items out of the landfill.
There is no universal solution to sorting a waste stream on a planetary scale; instead, we need to adapt to each bio-region, township and neighborhood to create a solution applicable to the people and resources there and the relative need to for these items to be processed, redistributed or reapplied.
We have an opportunity to create abundance out of poverty and find simple solutions to what seems like an insurmountable pile of trash. The key to managing, processing, and resourcing this stream we call “garbage,” is to reimagine the possibilities of what we can do with this untapped potential.
What Do You Throw Away?
Everyone can and will make a difference as we move into this new paradigm of thinking of trash as a resource; it’s simply a matter of focus. We are so quick to sit in front of the computer or watch TV, but what if we were to find new motivation by re-investing this time into something more productive? What would it look like to become a zero-waste household and inspire our neighborhood? Ask yourself when you’re getting ready to throw something away, “Can I make another use of this?” or “Can someone or something make another use of what I think of as garbage?”
How to Make a Difference:
Here’s a quick list of things you can do to re-conceptualize waste as a resource:
How Do you Make a Difference?
Tell us what you do! Tell us about what your friends or neighbors do! We want to know! Inspire us! Leave a comment below: