Thursday, February 18, 2010

Philosophy 101: Recharacterizing Waste

Is it waste or abundance?

This morning, I enjoyed some strawberry flavoring in my coffee, a wonderfully summery treat in the middle of February.  My treat made me think about how much sustainability depends on recharacterizing waste.

Last summer, my husband and I made our annual journey to the pick-your-own strawberry farm, then spent the rest of the day (and night) freezing strawberries and making jam and preserves.  Preserves, by their nature, create a lot of liquid, so after I canned the whole fruit preserves, I was left with a pot of strawberry syrup.

My first instinct was to throw it away; it was the by-product of preserves, not the product I was aiming for, so it must be waste.  But then I thought better:  this stuff wasn't waste.  It was ice cream topping.  It was coffee flavoring.  It was a valuable product all its own.  I canned two or three pints, and I enjoyed some today, a delicious abundance in a time of year that can feel very sparse and limited.

We need to do the same thing with all of our processes to lead a sustainable life.  Rather than immediately consider something waste, we should ask ourselves what it becomes next.  Holey towels become dust rags; old clothes become quilt pieces; poultry bones and pieces become stock.  And yes, the leavings from canning can become flavorings, toppings, and other treats.  In the process, our lives become filled with abundance, because we have limited our waste. 

What "waste" can you find value in today?

The Analysis

Fast:  Changing your way of thinking may take time, but many forms of "waste" take less time to recharacterize than they do to dispose of.  I can go through the hassel of taking fireplace ashes to my weekly trash can, or I can use them to line my compost bucket, reducing any food scrap odor and providing important nitrogen to my compost pile.  The result is the best fertilizer on earth.

Cheap:  Turning waste into abundance is always a financial win.  It has the added benefit of reducing the amount of first-use "stuff" you have to buy, too.  I'm certainly not buying strawberry coffee flavoring this year.

Good:  A life with less waste and more abundance; quite good.
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