Two Years of Mining Black Gold
Or how I ran out of garbage when I learned to love compost
Here in the Nordic Countries, there is a huge emphasis on recycling and generating sustainable energy, especially with waste. Neighbouring Sweden recycles 99% of it’s garbage, Norway imports UK garbage for incineration, and here in Denmark, I live on a large human-engineered stormwater-filtering wetland, which leads to a biogas fermentation complex, attached to a wind farm. Since it is so difficult to store wind power, Danish utilities sometimes even have to pay other EU nations to take excess energy.
As the sciences that deal with energy and waste both develop, they become more integrated, which makes the whole process more efficient. My local area is a good example of that.
I’ve taken these lessons in waste and energy from both engineering and ecology, and applied them to how I manage my food forest space: only to find that I needed more biological waste than four people could generate in order to build and sustain my system. Waste is, in some sense, a scarce resource.
My composting system: food waste goes in the sealed composters, and yard waste is turned between the two larger units over the course of a season. Only one of the composters is close to being full, as the biomass compresses considerably when water drains.
I integrate household waste directly into the construction of many spaces in my garden: newspaper and cardboard are vital resources for sheet mulching, whereas woody yard waste is essential for hügelkultur and “chop and drop” or chip mulches. Many of my projects move at an artificially slow pace, precisely because our consumption does not equal my rate of construction.
These composters were each filled with 1.5m³ of composted grass clippings, collected over 15 years. Three years after moving in, and I have emptied 15 years worth of compost.
I have had to integrate the production of biomass and green manure crops, and regenerative practices like coppicing and pollarding into my repertoire in order to generate the biological waste I need to provide my food forest crops with adequate nutrition and soil integrity, without the use of synthesised chemical inputs.
I could start turning the waste of all of my immediate neighbours into a resource as well, or working with pee-cycling and humanure, if such things were not legal and regulatory minefields. There are a number of simpler energy-generating compost systems I would like to try, like home biogas fermentation, or even just a simple biomeiler, but If I were to work with those systems, I would need to be producing more garbage!
Ideally, I would like to create a test site here where almost 90+% of day-to-day waste is managed in-house, and this goal becomes more realistic the more food and biomass resources I am able to extract from this small patch of land. In a well-designed system, cycles of production and waste can be cyclical, instead of linear.