When I first began to understand natural systems, the concept of waste free cycling of water, nutrients and materials was pretty much a no-brainer. I think that I realized the importance of all natural waste being a resource the first time I looked upon a fetid corpse being utilized as a food source by several different species of insects. As I grow, and change, I am gaining insight into this wonderful truth, how it lends credibility to the goal of sustainability, calls us to replicate systems like nature continuously demonstrates for us and more specific understandings of just what is involved in trying to duplicate this specialized feature into everything we do.
A relative of mine is all bent out of shape that the government is considering banning incandescent light bulbs. He is a strong supporter of individual freedom and advocates his right to make bad choices. At first, when I heard his perspective on the issue, I thought he was just confused. This week I started to understand just how confused he was. His main objection is that the “govie” would mandate his choices in the marketplace. He has put himself in a position that requires him to grasp at any straw to keep his argument afloat. One of the reasons that he says he hates them is that they present a “disposal problem”, because florescent bulbs contain mercury.
This may be true, but the “problem” disappears when you recycle the bulbs properly. Even when these bulbs are broken, the mercury that escapes into the environment is much smaller than the amount of mercury that would have been spewed unregulated into the atmosphere had an incandescent bulb been in use. Electric power generating stations around the planet “dispose” of this dangerous chemical into our shared air resource continuously. From there it makes it’s way into the food chain and our bodies.
There is no “away”. The sooner we learn just what that means, the better. We recently had a roof put on our home. It is recyclable metal as opposed to “composition” shingles, which would have to be landfilled along with their latent energy, stone, fiberglass and tar. The more ways we can close the loop, emulating natural cycling, the better. Just this week, just before the blizzard hit, we brought several hundred pounds of leaf litter to our property. It was from a property that didn’t have a compost pile, a place that has not come to realize the elegance of natural systems. we were going across town anyway and I brought giant re-used contractor grade plastic bags to pick up the “waste”. With care, the bags might last several more years. I had them on hand from last time they were used to “dispose” of yard waste.
As the old New Englanders used to say, buy only the very best, use it up, wear it out, fix it, make it last, then use it for some other purpose. I am from a time when shirts became rags, rags became rugs, and the rugs could be used as mulch in the garden once they had outlived their usefulness. Observing one of the most efficient systems can lead us to emulate it’s efficiency, but we have to take the time to think, change and act. Nothing can be worth the “convenience” of being disposable. The legacy we leave for our progeny should be something more profound than a series of toxic waste, landfills and materials that will remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, imitate nature and you may be surprised to find out where it can lead. The more deeply your commitment to see things in their proper perspective the more powerfully you will transform the world. The more fully we integrate ourselves into the fabric of life, the more we respect our essential responsibility to sustaining life.