Composting and industrial recycling


[no author]
Penguin, March 2009, $19.95

Composting is a brief but very practical, hands-dirty, guide to turning garden waste, food scraps and waste paper into the kind of soil that will have your plants moaning in ecstasy as they grow a mile a minute. As the authors say, it isn’t rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules. Anything organic will rot if you leave it long enough, and learning about composting is simply learning how to make the process work better for you and your garden.

If you just want to put lawn clippings on the garden beds, fine. If you want to buy a bokashi bucket to keep in the kitchen, fine. If you want to make a worm farm, fine. If you want to establish a hot-compost heap and turn it every week, that’s fine too. Composting points out that many people evolve a mixed system for dealing with waste and when I looked at our own household to check, I counted nine different paths we use to convert green stuff into good soil or dispose of what we can’t use. Our system makes the most of our resources with the least possible time and effort but it was never planned, it just grew. The garden does, too.

cradle-to-cradleCradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Random House, April 2009, $24.95

Cradle to Cradle applies the composting model to industrial design. The authors, high-powered environmental engineering and architectural consultants, argue that we need to move beyond the one-way trip that our raw materials usually take, to the model of traditional farming practices which return nutrients that have been taken out so that the land remains productive.

They acknowledge that the ‘cradle-to-grave’ eco-efficiency model is already better for the planet and its inhabitants than the old habit of treating resources, and rubbish dumps, as effectively infinite. But, as they say, merely slowing down the rate of resource depletion and environmental degradation will still leave us with no resources and a polluted environment: it will just take longer.

They want us to plan ahead so that industrial products can re-enter the resource cycle as ‘technical nutrients’ alongside the biological nutrients and they give diverse examples of how this philosophy can be applied. They do over-sell their idea somewhat and are a bit too dismissive of the benefits of eco-efficiency but their concept is sound and timely and their book should be a source of inspiration for engineers, architects and industrial designers.

These reviews were originally published in the Townsville Bulletin in April 2009 and have been lurking on my older website ever since. The impetus to republish them on Green Path was the recent article excerpted below, which is a wonderful case study in cradle-to-cradle industrial design and management. I have quoted the key points with enough context to make them comprehensible, but the whole article and its links are well worth exploring.

Inside Interface’s bold new mission to achieve ‘Climate Take Back’

Joel Makower June 6, 2016 via The Story of Stuff

Next week at the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings, better known as NeoCon, Interface, the Atlanta-based carpet company, plans to roll out its next corporate mission. In the process it plans to set a new marker for what it means to be a sustainable business.

“Climate Take Back,” as the new mission has been named, is the successor to Mission Zero, the name given to a vision articulated in 1997 that, for most outside the company, seemed audacious at the time: “To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence.”

… Such bold goals are more common now — albeit, not common enough — and with Interface on a trajectory to achieve many of its 2020 commitments ahead of schedule, the company has been on a quest to formulate a new vision that seems as audacious today as Mission Zero did 20 years ago.

Specifically, Climate Take Back includes four key commitments:

  • We will bring carbon home and reverse climate change.
  • We will create supply chains that benefit all life.
  • We will make factories that are like forests.
  • We will transform dispersed materials into products and goodness.

… Today, the company forecasts that by 2020 it will halve its energy use, power 87 percent of its operations with renewable energy, cut water intake by 90 percent, reduce greenhouse gas emissions 95 percent (and its overall carbon footprint by 80 percent), send nothing to landfills, and source 95 percent of its materials from recycled or biobased resources.

Given the fact that the company was within striking distance of many of its 2020 goals, it decided last year to build a framework for what would happen next.

… “It starts with changing how people think of what they’re capable of doing,” says Green Team member Janine Benyus, co-founder of the consultancy Biomimicry 3.8. “How they think about themselves and what power and agency they have that changes the world. They realize that climate change is the looming thing and that we all need to take a piece of reversing it, not just mitigating it or adapting to it.”

Factories as forests

Benyus provided the inspiration and intellectual firepower for another of Climate Take Back’s commitments: creating factories that operate like forests.

The notion is something Benyus has been talking about, and working on, for a while: to build human development that functions like the ecosystem it replaces. That means providing such ecosystem services to its surroundings as water storage and purification, carbon sequestration, nitrogen cycling, temperature cooling and wildlife habitat. And do so at the same levels as were once provided before humans came along.

…and beyond

This kind of ambition for industrial processes is essential if we are ever to have a truly sustainable industrial society. It may not be our highest priority right now (decarbonising is arguably more urgent) but it is something we should be beginning to think about now so that we can do it as quickly and intelligently as possible when that time comes. 

Dengue, Zika and Wolbachia

Townsville has been trialling an innovative way of eliminating Dengue, one of the nastier tropical diseases, for the past eighteen months. Its basis is infecting the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (photo – wikipedia), which carry the virus, with Wolbachia bacteria which prevent the virus developing.

The April 2016 Field Trial Update (pdf) is full of good news:

A year and a half after releasing the first mosquito with Wolbachia in Townsville, we are excited to announce that almost all Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are now carrying Wolbachia across the Stage 1 area.

Wolbachia levels in Townsville City, South Townsville, North Ward, Belgian Gardens, Castle Hill, West End, Garbutt, Gulliver, Currajong, Vincent, Aitkenvale, Mundingburra, Hyde Park, Pimlico, Mysterton, Hermit Park and Railway Estate are all between 80% and 100% and we hope to see this trend continue long-term. … We are making strong progress towards our goal of establishing Wolbachia in Townsville’s mosquito population, and reducing the risk of dengue transmission in our city.

… We are grateful to the more than 6700 locals who have joined our team. Townsville is setting an example for what communities can achieve when locals lend a helping hand.

… Meanwhile, communities in Cranbrook, Heatley, Kirwan, Thuringowa Central and Mount Louisa have been the first to grow and release their own Wolbachia mosquitoes using DIY Mozzie Boxes. Wolbachia levels in these suburbs are increasing and we will continue to monitor the population as the release phase in these areas comes to an end.

When we signed up for the trial we (and most of the rest of the world) hadn’t even heard of Zika virus, but Zika is the reason those Mozzie Boxes have been in the international news recently:

For the past several years, researchers in Australia have been at work trying to develop a way to put a stop to dengue, a virus that — like Zika — is spread by way of a certain breed of mosquitoes.

The result is what’s called a Mozzie Box, and Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recently demonstrated how it works.

The Mozzie Box works by intentionally breeding disease carrying mosquitos, with a twist.

In the Mozzie Box, Aedes mosquitoes — the same kind that transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and more — are bred.

And how exactly is breeding more mosquitoes the solution to a mosquito-borne illness?

The Mozzie Box mosquito eggs contain a bacteria called Wolbachia, which renders the grown mosquitoes essentially harmless (minus a few itchy bites here and there).

The whole story of Dengue (which we’ve had in Townsville forever), Zika (which we’ve never had) and the mosquitoes is too long and complicated to tell here but this Wikipedia page covers the science well enough to ground further reading on the Eliminate Dengue site and elsewhere.

Nature photography challenge

lorikeet on red flowers
Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on the flowers of an umbrella tree

A “Nature Photography Challenge” has been circulating on facebook recently. The idea is that each new person challenged has to publish one nature photo every day for a week and invite one new person each day to taken up the same task. When I was challenged I saw it as a good reason to sift through my older photos for attractive images which, for one reason or another, hadn’t already been published here on Green Path. Now, of course they are being published here, partly so that I can expand on the information about them but partly to give them a public life longer than facebook affords.

I began with the Rainbow Lorikeet, above, a photo taken in the garden of a friend on Magnetic Island earlier this year and offered to facebook friends in Southern states as an example of the stereotypically gaudy tropical wildlife. There’s not much more to say about it except that this very common species has recently been split into seven, “three of which occur in Australia: Rainbow Lorikeet (now Trichoglossus moluccanus) in the east; the Red-collared Lorikeet (T. rubritorquis) in the north and the Coconut Lorikeet (T. haematodus) in Boigu and Saibai Is. in Torres Strait,” according to Ian Montgomery of Birdway. That makes our local birds Trichoglossus moluccanus, not Trichoglossus haematodus as they used to be.

grey dove
Peaceful Dove in the frangipani tree

I will continue here with the other birds I posted, rather than following my “Challenge” sequence. The Peaceful Dove, Geopelia placida (aka Geopelia striata) is as ubiquitous here as the Rainbow Lorikeet but very much quieter in coloration, demeanour and voice.

grey heron
Striated Heron fishing from Aplin’s weir

The Striated Heron, Butorides striata (another not-gaudy, not-noisy local bird), often squats like this while fishing, unlike Egrets which stand tall and spear down from their maximum height. Aplin’s Weir  is on Ross River not far from my home and has therefore often featured on Green Path.

The last of my bird photos was an exercise in defamiliarisation:

birds in flight

Birds in flight, obviously, but which birds?

Pelicans. Those enormous beaks are hardly noticeable from straight ahead, especially when we are not cued by the contrast between the pink beak and the black-and-white plumage. I took the shot on a Ross Dam walk with the Townsville Bird Observers Club a few months ago.

butterfly close-up
Extreme close-up of a butterfly’s face

I was surprised to find myself posting so many bird photos and only one insect, since a few years ago, the ratio would have been reversed. The butterfly, for what it’s worth, is a Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas bolina, one of the half-dozen species most often seen around my garden. If you want to see what the whole butterfly looks like, there are photos here.

Bottle tree on a low basalt ridge beside the road from Hughenden to Porcupine Gorge
Bottle tree on a low basalt ridge beside the road from Hughenden to Porcupine Gorge

I submitted two landscape photos. This one was taken on a trip ‘out West’ four years ago; this post has a couple more and links to yet more.

Bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris) are fairly common in the dry tropics. The Kurrajong and Illawarra Flame Tree are closely related, but the Boab (baobab) is not related at all, despite the obvious similarity of form.

My other landscape broke my own rule (of finding pictures which hadn’t already appeared here) for the sake of the greatest possible contrast with the Rainbow Lorikeet photo. It shows cattle country near Mount Fox, just over the crest of the Dividing Range a little North of Townsville.