Rethink: The first step in our waste management strategy is to think about waste as a potential resource, rather than disposal material. Not all waste materials have the same potential for resuse, so low-quality materials are avoided in preference for those with higher potential for a second life. In addition, the toxicity, embedded energy, and other material properties are considered.
Reduce: While we are conscious consumers and try to avoid buying products with excessive packaging, it is not possible to avoid all undesirable materials and waste. In many areas, such as food and household items, it is very easy to buy in bulk and bring our reuseable containers. However, tools, electronics, and building materials often come in special packaging that is necessary to protect the product. We try to limit the amount of inorganic waste (plastic, metals, glass etc.) as much as possible as it is more difficult to process or dispose of. During the initial development of infrastructure, our main waste stream is construction waste. Waste we cannot manage on-site needs to be transported to the nearest town for disposal (burning or landfill), which we limit as much as possible.
Reuse: We reuse and upcycle as much of the inorganic waste materials as possible, and we store many materials as future feed sources for technical materials (e.g., for 3D printing). In our rural area of Peru there is no waste collection and little access to recycling. The locals mostly burn their rubbish or dispose of it in the river or jungle. We do not support recycling, as we believe it promotes excessive consumption of packaging material that is generally not able to be processed into new products. Most recycleable materials are not actually recycled, but are introduced into additional sorting and transport processes, and eventually become landfill.
Renew: Recyling and reuse are forms of downcycling the material, and nearly always result in it being disposed of. While this prevents use of new materials and saves energy, it is simply delaying disposal. Hence, we prioritize upcycling (or renewing) the materials into equally or more useful forms. For example, clean organic wastes such as food scraps, paper, and agricultural waste are used for feeding the animals (chickens, rabbits, and worms) or for making compost. A methane biodigester is being installed to treat the toilet waste and produce biogas for cooking and biological agents for agriculture.
Return: In an ideal holistic and cyclic system, waste materials would be returned to either the natural cycle or the industrial cycle to produce new products. For example, the compost and fertilizers produced from inorganic waste are returned to the ecosystem to replace the nutrients that were taken in the form of the food crop. Closing this nutrient and material cycle is a key concept in achieveing self sufficiency.