Permaculture Principle #6 - Produce No Waste

Image courtesy of João Vítor Heinrichs

Get Minimal

Before we get into this principle I want to stop and give a quick plug for minimalism. Not to over-state the obvious but the less we consume the less waste we create. Minimalism invites you to consider how reducing your belongings and purchases increases resources such as time, money, physical space, mental energy, and peace of mind. You have less stuff to worry about, protect and maintain.

It's in the Name

This principle's name says it all. Undoubtedly you are starting to see how the principles are woven together to support the greater whole. Creating no waste seems like such a simple concept that it’s easy to dismiss. However, we are wasteful beings, and we must consciously be aware of the waste we create.

Image courtesy of Dinh Khol Nguyen

It’s not enough that we all agree that producing less waste is a promising idea but understanding doing so is a complex problem. In our personal lives, we can easily see ways in which we can immediately reduce or stop wastefulness such as by sharing the abundance from our gardens, lowering the heat to use less energy, or not wasting money by overpaying for products and services. This is not a mindset of scarcity but one of responsible management of resources.

Hidden Waste

However, it can become incredibly easy to be detached from the imbued or hidden wastes in our systems, especially if we don’t see or feel their impact immediately and directly.

For example, there are tons of carbon created and thousands of gallons of water wasted in the processes of farm produce traveling from field to market. Tractors, trucks, irrigation, harvesting equipment, field spray-off sheds, site storage, transportation, refrigeration, misting systems, and retail storage all use valuable sources to bring us fresh vegetables in the dead of winter. Depending on the resource(s) and how granular you want to get it can be a mind-numbing rabbit hole to go down.

Image courtesy of Fernando Augusto

Modeling itself after natural systems which recycle everything, a permaculture system should be designed to produce minimal or no waste. In nature, even a dead tree will house small animals and feed insects. In fact, most by-products can be used for something; the challenge is to figure out what.

For example, changing a washing machine's output hose from its sewer connection to a sludge monster, a barrel containing plants that filter out biohazards, which turns greywater into water suitable for irrigation. Or consider organic waste which when composted that saves not only a trip to the landfill but can be used to nourish and grow crops. One person's waste is another person's black gold!

Garden / Farm Example

On many commercial farms, a surplus of crops can end up as waste. If unused they will either rot or be plowed under. As a partial solution, most industrialized nations now have gleaning programs that provide people of limited means with an opportunity to harvest the produce for themselves. As with all networking activities this incentive has both an active and a passive function – fresh food to take home coupled with the opportunity to connect with other community members, a ripple effect.

Image courtesy of Megan Thomas

It's just not about more crops for the hungry. The subtle brilliance of this kind of program can be easy to miss but is the kind of thinking I hope this series stimulates. The quick benefits that you can see and measure in a gleaning project are the obvious ones to spot – reducing surplus food waste and feeding families in need.

The ripple effect builds trust and community. By the act of sharing surplus, the impact is created beyond providing meals to building resources like faith, belief, hope, conviction, and confidence.

Health and Financial Examples:

In thinking through examples of this principle I came up with multiple examples of how to reduce waste in all areas of your life. I combined both the health and financial examples under one heading because, in reality, they are an extensive list of “To Do” or “Not to Dos.”

What’s important is for you to focus on thinking for yourself and not feel the need to consult a list before acting.

Ask yourself questions that help you eliminate waste in your life, albeit just one such thing at a time. The root or base questions to build on are;

  • Is this practice or process wasteful?
  • What are the imbued wastes that I don't immediately see?

Health Questions

  • Do I have habits/rituals that are wasting my potential?
  • Is the food I eat preserving my body or exacerbating its deterioration?
  • Do my eating habits create trash? i.e., Fast food packaging.
  • Do I waste fuel on short trips when I could walk to the destination?
  •  Observe how you manage your waste – how much do have and what does it consist of?

Financial Questions

  • Am I wasting money by holding credit cards that have high-interest rates fees?
  • Will, I waste money by investing in this opportunity that I don’t completely understand yet?
  • Am I wasting money on hidden fees in my investment accounts?
  • Do I have investments in highly wasteful industries or companies?


Are you familiar with the Zero Waste philosophy? It fits perfectly into this principle’s ethos, and it deserves a little space of its own. It heartens for the rethinking of our processes so that all by-products are reclaimed. No refuse is sent to landfill sites or incineration plants instead it closely replicates natural methods for recycling.

 The Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) defines Zero Waste as follows:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient, and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal, or plant health”

Produce No Waste

This permaculture philosophy underscores the need for user end prevention as opposed to end-of-pipe reactionary measures. It is an entire restructuring strategy that aims for an enormous transformation of the world’s material flow chains with the goal of creating no waste. Zero waste is an ideal or vision rather than a hard metric or goal. It is a guiding principle for consistently laboring in the direction of eliminating waste.


Join us

Join us in our quest at to save the planet one kilowatt, one therm, one permaculture principle (aka a 'Better Choice') at a time. You will be joining a group of like-minded individuals with a common goal and a common purpose.

Please consider taking action on any of the tips or recommendations found on our site to create a more sustainable, healthy, and abundant life