Permaculturists demonstrate nature produces no waste
Marco Lam talks about the important of biosystems in permaculture design.

Permaculturists demonstrate nature produces no waste

Marco Lam talks about the important of biosystems in permaculture design.
Marco Lam talks about the importance of biosystems in permaculture design.

When’s the last time you raked leaves and put them in the garbage? Well, stop it, just stop it.

Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren would tell you leaves are a valuable resource. They make great mulch, protecting plants in the winter and maintaining soil moisture in the summer.

Leaves, manure, bugs, birds, and yes, weeds are welcome in a permie garden. That’s because everything is part of a living system where the inputs (needs) of one are met by the outputs of another. “Produce No Waste” is one of 12 guiding principles articulated by Holmgren, who has been practicing permaculture for more than 30 years.

The June Permaculture Design Certification class saw Holmgren’s principle put to practice by guest instructors Marco Lam, Avery Ellis, Nikko Woolf and lead instructor Becky Elder.

Lam talked about animal systems; Ellis, aquaponics; and Woolf and Elder, natural building.

Lam pointed out that animals such as chickens, ducks, pigs and geese have important outputs that are generally ignored in commercial and traditional animal systems. Sure they produce eggs, meat and other products – but what about work they perform that benefit the whole system?

“Efficiency in permaculture means the multiple outputs rather than simply the production level of the animals,” Lam said. “Chickens scratch and forage, produce manure, etcetera.”

Related: June PDC photo gallery

In aquaponics, where food plants are grown in a fish tank, inputs and outputs are met in very specific ways. Fish waste provides nutrients to the plants which, in turn, purify the water. Ellis described the process as a “nitrogen cycle.” Fish waste produces nitrogen ammonia which bacteria turn into nitrogen nitrite. Bacteria then turn the nitrite into nitrogen nitrate which helps plants grow.

No waste.

Natural building utilizes materials produced by nature to fulfill the human need for shelter. Woolf described several types of natural building including cob, which uses clay soil, sand, water and straw. Globs of the material or “cobs” are piled on top of each other and worked together to form walls.

Reused materials are incorporated into the rest of the structure. Windows, doors and other discarded building material can be repurposed, making it cost effective and gentler on the planet. Sunlight and wind are harnessed for passive heating and cooling, reducing dependence on petroleum-based energy.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, no waste.

“In permaculture, we’re trying to get away from fossil fuels,” Elder added. “Having an energy efficient house in the future is going to be critical.”

Permaculture strives to imitate natural systems so that human activity provides for our needs and our ecosystem rather than simply consuming it. Here lies hope for a better, more sustainable future.

So the next time leaves start falling, put the rake away and take a nap instead.

Holmgren’s twelve principles

Visit Holmgren Design for more on the principles.

Observe and interact:

TreeBy taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.



BottleSunCatch and store energy:

By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.


TurnipObtain a yield:

Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.


EarthApply self-regulation and accept feedback:

We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

HorseUse and value renewable resources:

Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.


WormProduce no waste:

By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.


SpiderWebDesign from patterns to details:

By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

FlowerIntegrate rather than segregate:
By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.


Snail1Use small and slow solutions:

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

BirdFlowerUse and value diversity:

Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.


SunHillsUse edge and value the marginal:

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

ButterflyCreatively use and respond to change:

We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.