Waste or food?
Over the holidays I’ve been reading David Archer’s excellent book Tyne and Tide: A Celebration of the River Tyne about the legendary river which flows about a mile south of where I’m sitting.
However the following statement on river pollution made me stop and think:
“The generation of waste products is an attribute of all living creatures, and human beings are no exception. Most of the products decompose naturally in the environment and do not cause detriment to other organisms sharing their living space.”
This encapsulates our short-sighted attitude to ‘waste’. Contrary to popular opinion, organic wastes do not decompose in the environment, rather they are eaten. Horse manure is manna from heaven if you are a dung fly or one of many species of fungi or bacteria. That is their food source just as a shiny apple on a tree is food for humans. We’re not immune from eating ‘waste’ products either, there are over 700 species of bacteria in our gut which metabolise various food elements, including some essential vitamins. Metabolise = eat and excrete! So rather than natural ‘waste’ materials not causing “detriment to other organisms”, they are actually nourishing many of those organisms and form part of a continual cycle of nutrients.
So why am I being this pedantic so early in the New Year? Well we’ve got to start thinking about the materials in our economy in the same way. McDonogh and Braungart call these ‘technical nutrients’ to draw a comparison with ‘biological nutrients’. If we start to think of a continual cycle of materials in the economy, and design materials and processes so the by-products of one process are always nourishing other processes in the system, then we are a long way towards sustainability.
Sound fanciful? Then check out the industrial symbiosis at Kalundborg.