Why We Need to Stop Recycling!

Often I start my lectures with statements like “we need to stop recycling” and “sustainability is done,” both of which are designed to have you stop in your tracks and say WHAT?!? I do this because it is time for us all to wake up to what is next in our evolution and I find that there is a fair amount of shock value that will get people’s attention with these kinds of statements.

Of course, the truth is that I don’t think that we should stop recycling or that sustainability is a bad thing. It’s just that these conversations are getting old and we collectively need to begin thinking into the next conversations.

To gain some access to this I ask myself the question, “What difference will what I am doing now make in 100 years, or really 10 years for that matter?” I ponder this pretty much every day and in many ways it is THE way that I make my difference in the world.

So if sustainability and recycling are old conversations, then what is a new conversation?

Let me start in 1975. I was 14 and had to write a paper for my biology class. Back then, it was handwritten on lined paper and in pencil in case I made a mistake. The paper was about how we were overfishing the oceans. How exactly I knew about that I am still not clear.

Then in 1981 I designed what I generally refer to as a sustainable fish farm. At the time I was serving as the Treasurer of the Arizona Aquaculture Association (essentially fish farmers) and as we visited fish farms around the state there were several things that made no sense to me. The most significant was that the farms were growing a single crop (called monoculture), harvesting the fish, extracting the filets and throwing the rest of the fish parts away to the wildlife in the area. There are many things wrong with this, two of which being: i) the impact on the canine population exploded and ii) they were throwing away a perfectly good resource that could be used.

By 1991, I had spent almost 20 years exploring many of what are now called sustainability topics and I discovered Permaculture. This turned out to be the piece that had been missing for me. I like to call Permaculture the “Art and Science of Working with Nature” and it brought together all of my thoughts and ideas about how nature works into one cohesive design methodology. In studying Permaculture I discovered the concept of regeneration as opposed to sustainability. Let me explain:

Humans design a particular kind of system on the planet. The kind where there is a beginning, middle and end. Think about it—every product, resource, system and function that we have created in our culture takes time, energy and money to maintain over time…otherwise it ends. Plus, the longer we put off maintaining these resources the more it costs. I have pondered this for over 30 years and have found that this is true for every human system. This presents us with an interesting problem and is the big reason I have pondered sustainability and then regenerative design for so long.

Nature, on the other hand, has a different kind of system in place, one that interestingly regenerates itself. A school of fish generates more fish to grow their population, however, not so many that they use up all of the resources available to them. As does a fruit tree, the seasons, rain, and well pretty much everything in nature. There is balance, which is a distinguishing feature of nature and a regenerative system.

So the question becomes: what if we looked at natural systems and began designing our human systems to work in conjunction with or in the flow of natural systems? This is what Permaculture attempts to address, a methodology designed to look at natural systems and work in their flow. This is what we call regenerative design.

What about recycling and sustainability being old ideas? In a nutshell:

  • Recycling is what most people do to be ‘green.’ Reduce, reuse then recycle. In the process of education about recycling it comes last. So we don’t need to stop recycling we need to start thinking differently. Learn to reduce and reuse first and use recycling as a last resort.

  • On sustainability being done. If you think about the word, or if you really want to dive in look up the definition in the dictionary, it is about sustaining what we are already doing, so that it will last longer. Are we generally happy with what we are doing to the environment, planet and ourselves? I say no and call sustainability a stopgap measure—it is a good thing for what it is, as it begins to open our collective eyes to what we are doing and the need for what is next. It offers some new thought and a pathway to new conversations, but it isn’t The solution.

So what is The solution? I personally don’t think there is one. Ultimately, I think it will be a combination of many from all the different areas of thought. The key thread throughout all of it is that we need to be thinking and consciously creating what is next. Be a thought leader, explorer, willing to be out on the front edge.

So in the coming months we will be exploring through articles, webinars and classes what that could be. We are looking for new technologies, new thoughts on old technologies and whatever else we can creatively generate to bound into the next part of our collective journey.

Join me in this conversation. Email me, send ideas for future thought, write an article, and most of all participate. I look forward to carrying on this conversation.


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