Monday, 4 June 2007

Biocultures, Aquaculture and Living Machines

Making money from your waste. I am now going to introduce you to some Positive Waste Recycling methods you may or may not have already heard of.

In Bushcraft when you head out into the wild blue yonder, civilised bushwhackers will dig a hole for their deposits - less civilised people don't. Mountaineers might even bag up their 'belongings' and carry them out. Not having a flush toilet available makes you infinitely more aware about what happens to your personal waste. In the big city which you could translate as the Big S----Y because our homes sit on top of tunnels of our poo - literrally, which then disappears into the nearest river. Our poo was never meant to go into the water system. The spread of the diseases Giardia and Cryptosporidium preventing us from drinkingdirectly from streams and other groundwater is the result of human and animal waste getting into streams.

Above are two revolutionary pictures - one is the dunny or traditional latrine dug by groups of travellers in wild or not so wild country - the other is the front page of Ecocities to Living Machines by Nancy and John Todd. There should be another of the compost toilet, but that'll have to wait.

We currently pay a lot of money for our waste water, for drainage and we don't have to. A dunny is a pit dug to down a few feet to where the soil changes colour. This topsoil is the place where waste can break down the most quickly. When you use a dunny you cover your little offering with soil when you've finished. It's the same concept as a compost toilet. To let the waste break down naturally below/above ground - covering it with soil/saw dust/ grass whatever to keep the place nose friendly.

Now how you are thinking can you make money with this. Well you can't right away but it doesn't cost you a penny to dispose of your waste in a healthy and safe way and if you plant trees over these pits when they're full, your trees will have lots of lovely nutrients to feed on Isix months to a years time you can reuse the same area if you have to because it will be just like earth anywhere else.

This isn't a subject to shy away from in distaste. I mean we all poo (unless you've got a little problem) and collectively this is a BIG POO problem. Swimming in a sea of nappies and floating turds is not keeping our backyards tidy. There's all these house proud people around with our Ikea shiny homes and we're leaving mountainous piles of crap all over over the place. In the UK we're even shipping our waste to China (including nuclear waste which is being dumped on the Tibetan Plateau). We have to learn to be a bit more open about our usually private pastimes until these matters has been positively solved.

If you're not interested in pooing in a pit then this is where the living machine comes in, and this is where we talk about the money. A living machine is a man-made ecosystem. A simple example of a living machine is a grey/black water purification system. Grey-water is like your bath suds and black-water is your sewage. I have talked about the methods of purifying water. First you filter then you purify. There are organisms on this earth whose jobs are exactly that to filter (soil,sand, gravel, algae) and to purify (charcoal, pond-plants, reeds, oxygenation). A grey/black water system is a collection of these natural helpers. So you have a level of sand/gravel; a level of algae; then a level of small pond plant, and then succesively levels of bigger plants to very normal looking Reed Beds. Hence a grey-water system may also be known as a Reed Bed System. These systems are so good at what they do that they are self-regulating, self-maintaing, self-cleaning. They do all the work. They can also be varied for, and directed at, all kinds of waste, like catering waste and nuclear waste (using Funghi). One chocoalte factory which had an accident and overloaded their living machine with much more chocalate-making waste than it should have; left the system on it's own for a few days ( I think they shut the door on it because it was too big a mess to deal with).When they came back it had cleaned up and was functioning normally. The point is that these machines work superbly - they don't need huge amounts of expensive chemicals and what's more they can earn money because what they are is 'Aquaculture',

An Aquaculture is like Agriculture but aquarian; fish are part of the equation. The water that comes out of the living machine process is potable, that is you can drink it, recycle it for use in the home or have fish.
A Living Machine is so good that you can have your waste decomposing nicely under a layer of algae in your living room and not even know it's there. Living Machines built for community purposes are like green houses with ponds, or mini Eden Projects. Once set up they not only solve the problem of waste but they offer energy in the form of heat; a vat of water with plants growing in is like a low grade furnace. They also offer products to sell like food and natural fertiliser. When a pool has been emptied it is possible to grow vegatables in the nutrient rich beds left there for consumption. This is possible with the black water systems but personallly I'm not yet tough-skinned enough and would be happier with the veg I eat coming form a grey water system.

If individuals, councils and local governments around the world implemented the systems outlined in Ecocities and Living Machines their waste problems would be solved, and they would be richer in more ways than one. The only people that lose out are the water companies who wouldn't have any work to do except maybe gardening and plumbing, and the pharmaceuticals (who make all the lovely chemical purification cocktails - fluoride & chlorine etc, that come out of our taps at present). this is very likely why - although living machines have been around for thirty odd years - nobody knows about them. The people earning the big bucks very likely only want people to buy what they offer and they're the ones who can afford advertising. At some point we have to grow up and these are the positive ways that we can.

Having introduced you to the theory behind LM's in future articles I will make a compost loo for you (well not for you exactly but you know what I mean), and building a living machine. There are also living machines for cleaning air - the Breathing wall as developed by a friend of mine John Paul Fraser (A Permaculture Designer), and toxic lakes, which they're being used for in the really damaged lakes of the US.

Any of our playing with nature; like gardening or making ponds could, be called building living machines if we actually knew what we were doing and were making ecosystems with a purpose. The Tods call it Bio-culture. Using biological systems to fulfil our needs.

I call it common sense.

I hope this hasn't been too sciencey for you. Just wanted you to know that there is a positive solution for all our waste problems and to tell you this is it.

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tags living machines, compost toilets, sewage, waste disposal, water purifiaction, filtartion, Bio-culture, positive solutions, grey water system, reed bed system, how to build a dunny, a compost loo, alternative toilets

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