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Zero Waste, Perpetual Food
Jamais Cascio, 23 Jun 05

In natural systems, "waste" is a nearly unknown concept. What may be waste products for one species is nearly always food for another. The interconnection between the various organisms in an ecosystem means that, absent external disruption, environmental cycles can continue more-or-less indefinitely. That's not the case with most agricultural or industrial methods, however; much of what we do makes waste, and waste is a sign of inefficiency.

Environmental engineer Dr. George Chan thought we could do better, and has for the past two decades been working (along with the Zero Emissions Research Initiative) on something he calls the Integrated Food and Waste Management System (IF&WMS), a method of layering different types of production together such that the waste output from one component feeds another. IFWMS has a goal of zero waste -- and in its growing number of implementations, it comes pretty close. IF&WMS combines farming of livestock, aquaculture, horticulture, and agro-industries. The oneVillage Foundation sums it up in this way:

Fish can be eaten, algae can be used as feed, worms from the vermi-culture gin can fed to the fish and fast growing plants like Napier grass can be added ... to the pond ecosystem. Excess water in the pond percolates into the surrounding berms providing both irrigation and fertilizer for the crops growing on the berms. Finally aeroponic greenhouses can be added to this system.

The integrated biomass system will not be limited to agricultural production. The integrated biomass system will enable the development of a variety of value added products and services including electricity for export.

1. Fertilizer

2. Crops

3. Carbon sequestration services

4. Ecotourism

5. Restaurant/bakery

6. Agricultural products such as mango salsa and vinegar, palm oil etc

7. Education and training

8. Business development services

Additional details on the process can be found at the Institute of Science in Society website.

IF&WMS has been successfully employed in Brazil, Mauritius, and Namibia, and there's growing interest in India. In Namibia, the the process is used for a brewery. The spent grain from the brewing process (once fed to cattle, which can't properly digest it) is used to fertilize mushroom growth and to cultivate earthworms, which are in turn used as chicken feed. The waste water, once heavily chemically treated to make it pH neutral, is instead used to grow Spirulina algae; the remainder is channeled to a fish farm. The waste from the mushrooms, earthworms and chickens provide food for the fish. The chicken manure is also put through a digester to produce methane as fuel, reducing demand for wood.

Dr. Keto Mshigeni, who helped introduce IF&WMS to Namibia, and Gunter Pauli, founder of ZERI, wrote:

Zero emissions is simply the continuation of the drive of industry toward higher levels of productivity and away from waste. After zero defects (total quality), zero accidents (total safety), zero inventory (just-in-time), zero emissions means that all raw materials will be fully used.

This model could well prove the economists and politicians wrong. They believe that in order to increase the productivity of a company, you have to reduce jobs.

We are showing that when you focus on the productivity of the raw materials, you can generate more income, higher returns, and more jobs, while at the same time eliminating pollution. This is the industrial model of the future.

I think they're on to something here.

(Thanks for the tip, John Norris)

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Comments

Check out the Intervale in Vermont too: http://www.intervale.org
John Todd has been working on Living Machines for waste water treatment, and proposing integrated farms like this.
I really like these types of projects that can cycle resources through so many steps, producing food and goods from what would have been waste(d) or poorly utilized.


Posted by: Bear K on 23 Jun 05

Integrated farming done this way has merits in its own rights. It reminds me of the idea of becoming "shepherds" of the world, and also of the "methaphor on your desk" idea: see the (integrated) system before your very eyes, and help it work.

Also, it looks like dangerous integrated farming practices increase the risk for a flu pandemic. So safer farming practices should be considered a must if we want to do "primary" prevention. And it looks like they are not receiving enough attention - last time I looked, recomendations written by the World Health Organisation seemed badly outdated.

Such "primary prevention" would include:

- Less contact between animal species (separate ducks from chicken, separate people from animals) ... easier said than done.

- Proper disposal/processing of "wastes" (don't feed chicken waste - full of flu virus as it's a digestive virus to them - to pigs). How fast could we go here?

- Less contact between lots of animals (keep a thousand animals separate from the next thousand animals). Keep them undercover?

- Eat local food more often than not. (Yeah, a flu pandemic does that to you anyway, as it's suposed to shut down foreign trade.)

- Don't eat animals at all (some people may consider this option - they add to common prevention - thanks).

Not a single one of these is easy. What would be the single most effective intervention point? Or do we rather need a "resolutic" to the "problematic" (Club of Rome jargon)? What do we push first?


Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 24 Jun 05

Dear Sir
I am keen to try your zero waste in Uganda. We have massive problems with waste but keen to do fish farming and has2000 acres of wet land for this

I am visiting Mauritius next week, can I visit your mauritius plant?

WR
Andre LIm


Posted by: Andre Lim on 26 Jun 05



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