Janine Benyus, noted biologist and author of the book Biomimicry, describes nine laws that nature seems to consistently follow in developing sustainable ecosystems. Modern designers, in their desire to create sustainable products are increasingly becoming aware of examples from nature, which has so often displayed the most elegant solutions to problems of design. These laws include:
- Nature runs on sunlight.
- Nature utilizes only the energy it needs.
- Energy fits form to function.
- Nature rewards cooperation.
- Nature banks on diversity.
- Nature demands local expertise.
- Nature curbs excess from within.
- Nature taps the power of limits.
- Energy recycles everything.
This last one can be rephrased to say that, in nature, all waste, either directly or indirectly, becomes food. For example, leaves falling from a tree, if they are not raked up and put in plastic bags, decompose and enrich the soil, with the help of earthworms and soil microbes, eventually feeding the tree from which it fell or perhaps a different one.
The folks in the Brazilian city of Jundiai, north of Sao Paulo, have found a unique way to apply this law. Their program, “Delicious Recycling,” provides food to residents when they bring in recycling. The food comes from a community garden which boasts more than 30,000 plants. Now, instead of streets and waterways strewn with trash, they have healthy, well-fed residents. The program, a brainchild of the city’s Municipal Utilities department, has been running successfully for ten years.
As long as we’re talking trash today, another Brazilian city, Curitiba, near the coast, has run a similar program for twice that long. This city, which won a UN Environmental Program Award in 1990, exchanges transportation passes for the recycled materials. The program, which employs shantytown people to collect the trash, uses proceeds from the sale of the recyclable material for social programs to further assist those in need.