One of the challenges of being an eco-friendly homesteader is figuring out what to do with the everyday things most people throw away and rethinking “waste” as a concept. Broken chairs, scratched furniture, damaged/discarded fencing materials, food scraps including vegetable peelings, the list goes on and on. Does it have another use, or even better, multiple uses?
Rethinking waste involves looking at things as raw materials for other things, like discarded pallets as material for building a chicken coop. It involves retraining your brain to realize everything has a purpose even if it’s not immediately or directly benefiting you. It’s an extension of how you learn to see things when you begin to learn about Permaculture, where a common saying is “the problem is the solution”. The phrase refers to the fact most issues we have with something aren’t actually issues, the problem is how we think about the issue, specifically in relation to humans’ egocentric views.
An Example Problem
Since I lived along the Texas Gulf Coast most of my life and now live in a semi-arid area a great example that I’m thoroughly familiar with is flooding, especially flash floods. These floods often destroy houses and most homeowners blame the flooding, which is only a natural occurrence and not an issue. The real issue is these neighborhoods are often built by a developer who filled in a wetland or wanted to get closer to a river “for the view”.
If you are building in an area that is prone to flooding, the flooding isn’t the issue. It’s that you’re trying to build there. Flood plains are ecologically complex and deserve to remain intact. Plus, by leaving these sensitive areas alone, we preserve our rapidly depleting waterways.
So why aren’t more people rethinking waste? Simply put, they don’t know how. Often that extends to that they fail to realize that they should. Plus, it is a major challenge to learn how to rethink waste. So let’s start somewhere familiar, the kitchen.
Rethinking “Waste” Food Scraps
By now, we have broken the habit of throwing food scraps and vegetable peels in the trash, opting for the compost instead. It’s an easy switch, but those veggie scraps still have uses before being relegated to the compost. So what else can we do with them?
Depending on the animals you raise, often you can give the veggie scraps to them. Please, nothing moldy or contaminated with poisons! Don’t give your animals something that can make them sick! (I am aware pigs can safely eat rotting or moldy food but I personally find it inhumane to purposefully feed them like that.) For us, that means splitting the vegetable scraps between the birds and the sheep. This helps out as they turn the scraps into manure while lessening their feed bill.
But what if we could get another layer of use out of the veggie scraps before they went to the animals? You can. Vegetable stock.
So how many uses is that? At least four: Vegetable stock (1) that you can then strain and feed the scraps to animals (2), which lowers their feed bill (3) and gives you valuable manure (4). You can compost (5) the parts they don’t eat if there is anything left. The stock can then go into making soups and sauces, cooking rice, or even steaming veggies. All out of something most people throw away.