Rethinking waste: Transforming problems into solutions

Repurposed brick planter

There's an argument to be made that the only time something is actually waste is if we don't know how to put it to work, and that by making an effort to recognize so-called waste items as really being resources, we can improve our lives, our homes and communities, and perhaps our entire world.

For instance, in many places, our streets and curbs and stormwater systems are designed to remove rainwater from the streets and neighborhoods as quickly as possible, and to shunt it to downstream. But because rainwater (actually all fresh water) is a precious resource, that "free" water that falls from the sky could be used to make landscapes more sustainable, if we would just make allowance for it and slow down its passage through our neighborhoods. By integrating some commonsense adjustments to roads and sidewalks, such as curb cuts and infiltration basins, in order to slow down that runoff so that it can soak deep into the soil and support the growth of trees and other landscape plants, we could generate shade, cooling, biomass, habitat, and even food, using less municipal water and fertilizers as inputs.

A few other common "waste" items from homes are grass cuttings, tree prunings, and fall leaves, all of which often get hauled offsite to be disposed of, yet could be put to work increasing soil fertility, as well as reducing evaporation (which decreases the demand for some water inputs to the property) and mitigating erosion. But if we haul off these renewable, biodegradable, and free materials, we then have to pay to bring in mulch, more water, and more compost or other soil amendments, so keeping them and using them onsite makes so much more sense.

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