Monday, August 25, 2008

Natural Cycles

What happens to water after we're done with it? Is it wasted?

My kids want to know because I keep yelling at them to turn off that tap while they brush.

But actually, I came to terms with this question a while back, finally deciding that if a hydrological cycle was good for anything, it must somehow be replacing the water we lose in the sink and flush down the john.

I'm aware we burn fossil fuel to make electricity to clean our water and pump it all back uphill to the big tank; but basically, it's the same water living beings have been filtering and pumping for a couple billion years. Right?

Earth's ecology is a closed system. We get a few occasional elements from space and lose a bit from time to time (we recently shipped some metal to Mars, for example), but isn't the whole concept of ecology based on the notion that all life's essential components are recycled?

Reid found an article today that suggests this view doesn't tell the whole picture.

"...The vast amounts of food lost to spoilage and insects in poor countries, and simply tossed in rich ones, also represent an enormous stream of wasted water, according to a new report that calls for big improvements in a world heading toward 9 billion hungry, thirsty mouths.

"The report, 'Saving Water: From Field to Fork — Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain,' was issued on Thursday by the Stockholm International Water Institute, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the International Water Management Institute (report pdf here). It outlines ways that governments could halve the amount of food lost between field and plate by 2025.

"The amounts of waste are staggering. In the United States, nearly one-third of the food that is produced each year, worth about $48 billion, is discarded. The water it took to grow and process that wasted food amounts to about 10 trillion gallons, according to the analysis. Many European countries have similar losses, proportional to their size."

Despite the fact that all this water is not vanishing straight into space, the energy we use to move it around surely could be better spent.

Speaking of waste, the Mullenix Household started composting a few weeks ago. It has been a fun and interesting experiment, one which I hope will bear fruit (literally) in next spring's garden.

We might even have some compost in time to feed a winter crop? The tomato plants are out now and the bed waiting for something else.

Here's the new composter. It's Canadian.

Here's the little pail we've been dropping our kitchen waste into.

Here's where the garbage goes.

A few turns of the spade (can you see them?) reveal a little shop of horrors: Many hundreds of plump, fleshy maggots, writhing in the darkening mess.

Mother Nature is hard at work in our bin of Canadian plastic.


Russ London said...


Did you go to canada to get it?
When composter have been offered for sale over the years by environmental groups on earth day etc, they were out when I got there.

My composter is a roll of fencing left over from my flight cage. (now abandoned)


Matt Mullenix said...


That was Canada via Whole Foods. Shelly got there early and waited in line. We're lame, huh?

smartdogs said...

Regarding the 'wasting' of water - the energy used to move water is not the biggest environmental impact from our 'borrowing' of it. It's the things that that water come in contact with while we use it that, all too often, remain with it long after we rinse or flush it away.

For some time now (well over a decade) we have known that, not only do household cleaning and personal care products contaminate our sewage, but trace amounts of the pharmaceutical products we (and our pets)ingest do as well.

Many of these compounds are highly resistant to biological degradation -- they remain in the water for a stunningly long time -- even as it moves through the hydrologic cycle. Studies have shown detectable concentrations of dozens of pharmaceutical products in surface water bodies in remote alpine areas on at least three continents.

Oil may be the commodity that is currently of most concern to us, but I suspect that water will not be far behind.

Anonymous said...


Another American late Eurekea moment .
We are beginning to realise that our lifesyles are affecting Natural Cycles.
The one we now hear about is the carbon Cycle, but , as has been said, the hydrological cycle is equally important for the Planetary Ecosytem and our wellbeing.
We are already seeing the beginnings of Water Wars.

There will be more Economic, Social and Environmental consequences, if we do not change our patterns of consumption.
We must both personally and commercially value the full Sustanable Developmental Cost of human water useage, and reduce and recycle more of this finite Clear Oil , whilst we still can


Larissa said...

gross. but in a good way.
or good, but in a gross way...

stevea said...

Thought about making a rain barrel? Cheap, easy and you won't have to pay to water your lawn, garden, and plants again.

If memory serves, I believe you get a little rain every now and then down there...

Matt Mullenix said...

Smartdogs, point well taken.

JohnnyUK, better late than never!

Larissa, exactly!

Steve, good idea!

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt

As the marketing men say ;

Looking's the first step,
Buying's the next !!

At least the World seems to be looking at last !

NB: Steve & Libby - this reminds me of our interesting conversations back in 2000, in wonderful, dry, old Magdelena!!