Waste is Food.

One day in Anatomy we were watching a video that showed a scene of blood pumping through arteries at a microscopic level. Fast forward to another day and I was watching this time lapse video of a city with cars stopping and going. I had this ah-hah moment which was when my fascination towards patterning and processes that nature follows came to fruition.

 I noticed that even though blood and cars were two completely different things and scales, they all moved the same; stopping then alternating turns and going trying to reach a destination. They both travel through some sort of path whether it’s through the human body or a road.

 I began thinking about the tiny platelets that are so small, but together serve such a great purpose and I thought about the cars and the humans inside of them. Even though each car is being controlled and carrying out its own personal task on a smaller scale; when zooming out, all the cars put together form a vast network of cars moving through a system.

 From that moment, I began to look at life through a larger lens and reading about slime molds in Johnson’s excerpt took me back to that epiphany I had. I found this reading to be very interesting because Johnson discusses how something so small like slime molds, could answer some of our most complex problems regarding systems thinking and sustainability.

 For much of a slime molds life, it moves as thousands of distinct single-celled organisms. Once conditions are right however, these single-celled organisms come together forming a larger blob, operating as a single organism.

 This aggregation is an example of bottom-up behavior in which features within this system solve problems by getting information below, rather than from a single “executive branch”. They are complex adaptive systems that display emergent behavior.

 Emergent behavior is the process of coming into being based on local rules of behavior which then move outward to larger and larger scales where coherent shapes emerge. While this process may create a beautiful pattern, it doesn’t serve a function until it shows higher-level behavior created from the use of local rules.

 This higher-level behavior should then be able to adapt to its environment. From this, emergence becomes adaptive.

 Another example that looks to nature when trying to understand sustainable design is the video from Benyus and McDonough. They both agree that in order to design sustainably, one must observe and learn from nature first.

 There is a role that designers take on and that is to design with intention to restore natural systems. There are three laws that are mentioned and they are waste equals food, respect diversity, and use current solar income.

 McDonough believes that in nature growth is good because that means nothing is being wasted. If we can eliminate this concept of waste, we can have the possibility of a sustainable future. If everything created is viewed as food and something that can go back into the Earth, then there is hope for our future.

 McDonough gives two types of products: Products of consumptions and Products of Service. Products of consumption are things that can be put back into our air, soil, or water safely. Whereas, products of service are considered things which cannot go back into the biological cycle and these are things in which we are interested in the service of the product rather than the materials.

 McDonough believes that if we create products with the ‘waste is food’ mentality we will see a seismic shift in our approach towards sustainability.  

6 thoughts on “Waste is Food.

  1. I think that it is so important to see things as a whole such as the cars in our society to the blood cells in our system. I love how you were able to make a connection between the two and have an insight on them.


  2. When I read the Johnson’s reading I wasn’t to keen on the implication of emergence be being bottom up. It felt vaguely reminiscent of implying emergeance has rules pre set by some ruler we haven’t identified yet. However, I think your explanation made me understand what the reading meant better. That perhaps bottom up simply refers to the awareness of the environment with which agents exist and adapt too. I will probably have to go back and reflect on the reading some more. I also found the food is waste mentality very intriguing and agree if that mindset changes we will see a positive shift. I guess it all comes down to shifting values and thinking.


  3. The phrase ‘waste is food’ really stood out to me. In nature, waste doesn’t exist; some of the most important organisms on this planet are the tiny microbes that live in the soil because they fuel our ecosystems and our food webs. They feed on the materials we view as waste and complete the cycle to sustain growth. I think it’s important that we learn from the microbes and implement this no waste, cyclic thinking in our daily lives and technology.


  4. Your analysis and incorporated personal experience made this very enjoyable to read. I love that you were able to see the similarities between systems before it was pointed out to you. Our societies perception of waste is a huge problem. It is something that has began to plague the Earth. If we can figure out how to limit our consumption of products of service and change our view on waste, we will be in a much better place.


  5. I enjoyed the comparison between the natural patterns such as blood pumping through veils you stated here in regards to McDonough’s concept of Waste is Food. I agree that eliminating the concept of waste can better improve patterns in our negative systems thus transforming them into regenerative systems Analyzing the root patterns in manufacturing and design can help guide us to a better future.


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