Managing waste is a crucial part of self sufficiency thinking. Everything wasted is exactly that- a wasted energy or resource that could potentially be used to enhance some system of self sufficiency.
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We’re going to talk about waste and what does waste mean to a self-sufficient system. When I say waste, most people think about the things that we throw away for the bin man to come and clear from our homes. It does mean that but it also means a wasted opportunity, a waste of something that could have done something else. It also means a waste of energy i.e energy removed from the system. Self-sufficiency means something that is self-supporting. If something is supporting itself then that system of self-supporting is going to break down very quickly. As soon as we try to remove more out of it than it needs to survive, the system’s going to break down very quickly.
For example, we would say that our animal waste products make our compost that feeds our soil. That energy that we’ve put into the soil grows our crops. The energy that the soil is put into the crops, we then take and put into our animals and that energy that we put into the animals again comes out and feeds our compost. So that’s a cycle of energy that’s working around our system. If you’ve got your system working really well, then there’s going to be byproducts of that that we’re going to use and that’s going to be the vegetable crops and our animal products that we eat. So the self-sustaining system is happening and it’s producing a byproduct that is useful to us. That’s what you’re looking for, something where you don’t need to go and buy, for instance, compost.
You don’t need to go and borrow animal feed. These are all inputs. What you’ll find is that your inputs are going to come very close to your waste. The more you waste, the more you have that you’re not reusing. The more you’re putting in your bin, the more you’re going to have to purchase to replenish that energy that you’re throwing away. So when you have food waste in your kitchen and you put that in the bin and then it goes off to the landfill, you have to go to the shop and buy more food. Whereas if you can keep that food energy within your system by feeding your animals or by it feeding your compost, that’s the energy that you’re not going to have to go and replace. There are lots of ways that we make waste.
Some inputs that we’re already paying for and end up going to waste are things like packaging. Whenever we buy toothpaste or a new gift for a family member from Amazon for Christmas, it comes with the packaging and lots of people put that in the rubbish to be disposed of. That is an energy source that we could be using to feed our system quite often. So paper and cardboard, for example, are an energy source that we usually throw away that have better uses of it from a self-sufficient point of view.
There are two ways where it’s actually going to pay us back some of that energy cost straight away. One is the compost pile and the other is the fire. Getting a wood fire is such a fantastic addition to a self-sufficient way of doing things because it allows you to heat your home with quite often byproducts of what you’re creating. So we’re heating our house in a way that’s costing us nothing. It also allows us to save the energy that we’re already paying for in the waste of packaging by creating either energy for our home or energy for our plants by way of composting.
The next thing is food waste in your kitchen. There’s really no reason why anyone should have any food waste that has to go to the landfill. The easiest home for food waste is obviously to get some animals. If you’ve got a full complement of animals, for example, chickens, a couple of dogs pigs, there is going to be a home for every single type of food waste that you’re creating. Even if you don’t, you’ve always got the backstop of the compost pile. These animals and the compost are already creating elements that go into our self-sustaining system. So by feeding them, it just adds to the energy that’s in our system, which is the goal.
Another thing to avoid waste is to just avoid the number of things that we throw away and don’t reuse or repurpose. Clothing is a great example. If you have children then they are always growing and so there’s a need to replace clothing. We only replace clothing as it wears out and we try very hard to think about sustainability when we do that. But old clothing can be repurposed. If somebody at your home knows knitting and sewing, any old clothing can be repurposed into something that you might sell and again, that’s a way of keeping that energy in the system. Rather than just throwing away, these items are remaining in the system.
Lots of natural fibres can be composted if you want to go that way. Speaking of composting natural fibres, compost loo is also a great thing to have on your property so rather than flushing away that waste you can compost it. A compost loo is super easy to build. It sounds kind of icky if you’re not familiar with the concept, but I can assure you it’s nothing of the sort. It doesn’t stink and it’s a great thing to have in your garden and also an efficient way of recycling that energy back into your system. So you’re literally composting your human waste just like you would with the animal waste products through your compost pile and again that feeds the soil, feeds the plants, feed the animals and feeds you. It’s another way of reducing your waste and also the amount of water waste. It is also a great way of keeping that energy in the system because every piece of energy you remove from the system needs to be replenished somehow.
Next thing is water butts. Water butts are something every house should have because it means you’re not putting pressure on the water supply. If you’re on a meter, then you’re paying less for your water. But it also means that you’ve got that water in other places that you might otherwise not have it. So every single piece of animal housing or shed should have its own water supply. It’s a great way of not having that wastewater going out from your system.
We also should be thinking about recycling things. A tremendous amount of the building that I do at home when I make a new house for an animal or anything of that nature is done from repurposed materials. I usually find them by taking something else down or a byproduct from something I’ve done at work or are available free online from places like Freecycle. It’s important to find whatever it is in your small ecosystem that are ways your local community used to dispose of things because they’re such a huge resource.
Hopefully, the way I’ve been talking about waste made you think slightly differently about what waste can mean and ways in which you can reduce the amount of waste that you’re sending away. You shouldn’t consider it waste, you just consider it an energy that is currently within your system. It will need to be replenished somehow. When we’re talking about waste, there’s this whole other ecosystem happening around this and hovering just above it and that is finance. So we all have costs. We all have rent or mortgage or electric bills or council tax then we have to pay. So it’s also super important to look at that as a cycle of energy as well and make sure that you’re reducing the amount of waste in that cycle by paying for things that you either don’t really need or that are available for free.
I’m talking about it from a very practical point of view and it quite literally is an energy cycle. We ss human beings require energy. We require the food that we eat to give us the energy we need to function and of course, we excrete some of that energy and flush it away and we exert that energy by working on our land or in our jobs. So that energy has to come from somewhere and it’s not free. Just because you butcher an animal that doesn’t mean that that’s all free energy. You can eat that energy that was put there in the first place by feeding that animal. If you’re feeding it crops, then that energy had to come from somewhere and that’s by feeding the soil. So it is an energy cycle that goes round and round and we need to think of every part of that and make sure that we’re not wasting any source of that energy because it is something that’s going to cost you money. So I hope this was some food for thought for you all.