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Waste Reduction, Sanitation, and Garbage

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“When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ “

~ John 6:12


This is, in several ways, the “nastiest” topic – not simply because it deals with one of the uglier facts of life, but also it is one of the common ways in which communities of all sizes fail: how do we manage human sewage, waste, garbage?

Firstly, in keeping with the anarchist tenor of this, we should recognize that this is also not a “one size fits all” scenario. Chances are there will be many equally good strategies applied, based upon the size of the community, the existing resources, and the kinds of activities one expects to occur on these properties.

Here are some general points of consideration:

  1. Number of permanent/non-permanent residents: depending upon the kind of property you’re scouting (see section on “Scouting” above), you will either have a completely available septic system, the ability to build a septic system, or, in some cases – no septic at all and no ability for the land to support it.
  2. The topography, geography, drainage: how the water flows, naturally, across the land is also a point of consideration, when managing issues of human and animal waste.
  3. Types of activities: not all human activities produce equal amounts of waste, and not all waste is qualitatively the same. Some animal waste, because of the animal in question, has to be managed with caution. Most of the normal, domestic to N. America, livestock do not have special requirements. Some of our communities might sell leases for more intensive business activities – which in 20th century terms might have meant “lots of toxic waste”. In 21st century terms, with 3D printing, many of the serious problems of toxic-manufacturing have been solved. But even 3D manufacturing activity will have inputs/outputs that need to be considered, managed.
  4. The desire to re-purpose, if possible, the “waste” itself: as stated previously, one man’s “crap” is another man’s “guano”. Waste isn’t always “waste”, and if there is a way to re-purpose the waste for other activities, then it makes sense to seek these strategies out.
  5. Recycling: this is self-explanatory for anyone that’s been alive since the 1970’s. Of course, re-cycling should be based on science, engineering, and NOT upon some political belief system. Not all materials can be effectively recycled.
  6. Culture of re-use and non-wastefulness: this is in keeping with the ethos of both anarchism and deliberate living. We seek to build these free, voluntary, communities and to live lives that are full, healthy, joyful. A spirit of “don’t waste” seems eminently part of the American tradition.
  7. On-the-grid solid waste drop-off: no matter how efficient your community is, you will likely produce some amount of solid waste, each year, that cannot be re-purposed or recycled. This is why, as part of your “land scouting”, you must consider the location of the nearest solid waste, recycling collection point or landfill. Another point to consider: though you would not want to get into any business that would have obvious aesthetic impacts upon your neighbors, it could make sense for a small resilient community to be based around collecting garbage, materials, sorting it, and re-purposing. Let’s talk about electronics: these days, many of our components, finished products, are coming from overseas. Free trade, between all people, should be lauded, supported. However, scenarios in the near future could impact the availability of certain products: computers, phones, monitors, TVs, networking appliances, etc. What if a resilient community, technically a tech-co-op, established itself with the purpose of recycling and reusing electronics? – yes, this would have impacts, but from a community perspective the impacts are net-positive. Yes, you have to be careful when recycling electronics, because of toxic exposure – but “20-50 million tonnes of e-waste” is created, worldwide, each year. Americans throw away, in the garbage, enough phones every year containing 60 million dollars in gold/silver. So, with respect to “electronic waste”, there does appear to be “gold in them there hills”. An electronic re-cycling co-op, which was also a 3D printing co-op, because hybrid co-op? As strange as this sounds, rural America could be one of the best places to recover and recycle these materials.
  8. Shared food preparation areas: the value of a shared food/prep area is gained partially from design. Utilizing passive solar (from direct sunlight) can reduce the incidence of bacteriological exposure via food. With a shared kitchen/prep areas, and potentially a shared eating area (near the agora), you can focus where immediate food waste, from human activity, occurs. This is not to say that each family can’t manage their own food/waste issues, it is simply to propose one effective approach to managing a “sticky issue”. Plus, with centralisation of food prep, you gain certain advantages when dealing with pests. Additionally, there is some social benefit to people cooking/eating together.
  9. Shared bathroom/Showers: As with shared kitchen/prep, this is a matter of taste over risks. I would contend that this can be solved equally well by individual families on their leased land, as well as be solved via a joint, voluntary, community solution. Shared bathrooms/Showers test certain features of anarchist ethos. True believers are respectful, polite, and not likely to leave the common resource in shambles. Pseudo anarchists, or jerks, will use a shared resource and treat it like, well, crap. This is a culture issue as well – some communities, for other non-engineering reasons, would desire to have a traditional family-bathroom-shower set-up.
  10. Manage your own SH&T!: for really off-the-grid types, “nomads”, and primitivists, the ideal solution might be “dude, pack your own sh&t”. This means the management of all waste, period, is a personal, individual, endeavor. Before you cast aspersions, recall the conversation from above about “nomad communities” or communities based on a mode of movement and NOT upon a piece of land … firstly, it is unlikely that Heathian purists would accept the “nomads” as being of the same type, but we should be cautious in our attitudes and more open minded when considering how an optimal, free, dignified, and RESILIENT community might be built by anarchists. In the case of “nomads” or “primitivist” communities, the personal management of waste would, by necessity, be the optimal course of action.

One comment

  1. One of the big challenges at Mu Aye Pu, will be waste management. What to do with all the garbage and waste water?

    The architect, Mr. Tay, will install systems whereby waste water is recycled as fertilizer for the surrounding farms. And Nigel Grier, the Mu Aye Pu project manager, is an expert at turning trash into cash and is implementing his innovative system at hotels in Bali. His system will be installed at Mu Aye Pu.

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