“I love permaculture! But I live in a city…What can I do?”
It can seem challenging to begin to nurture our commitment to eco-awareness when many of us still live in urban environments with space restrictions and other city regulations. How can we bring permaculture into our daily lives in the city? Here are some tips on easy projects that urban permies can undertake, even if they are renters! Be sure to check on regulations in your area and reach out to other urban permies for help. Remember–the problem is the solution!
Recycle your greywater
In many parts of the world, including North America, we used clean drinking water to flush our toilets. As far as I’m concerned, pooping in drinking water is a crappy idea (more on this below), but the least we can do is use greywater to flush our toilets.
You can easily collect and reuse water from your bathroom sink by catching it in a 5-gallon bucket and pouring it into the water tank on top of your toilet. You will need to disconnect the pipe that joins your sink to the sewer, but make sure to keep the p-trap connected to the sewer side of the drain and ensure that there is water in it. This will stop dangerous fumes from coming up into your house from the sewer. Another simple idea is putting a bucket in the shower to catch water while you are showering and then using it to flush your toilet or water your plants.
Harvest rainwater for your garden
Municipal water usually contains chlorine, which can be harmful to plants. Why not capture and store chlorine-free rainwater to water your garden with instead? The roof of a 10′ by 30′ house in Toronto can catch an average of over 5600 gallons of water in a single year. You can buy a rainbarrel at your local hardware store, but I suggest making your own out of a used wooden wine barrel. It’s a good idea to set up your rainbarrel a few feet above ground level so that you’ll have enough pressure to water your garden. Just cut the downspout that carries water from your evestrough to the ground at the level of the top of your barrel. If mosquitoes are a problem in your area, you might want to consider pouring a small amount of cooking oil on top of the water to stop them from breading. You’ll also want to empty your barrel and turn it upside down before the cold weather comes so that the water doesn’t freeze and expand, causing the barrel to crack.
Turn your yard waste and kitchen scraps into soil
Many major cities in North America now run organics recycling programs, but they are energy-intensive and often require your food waste to be transported large distances from your home. Diverting organic materials such as leaves and food scraps from these programs (and oftern from the garbage dump) by composting them in your backyard is a great way of reducing your ecological footprint while also creating amazing, nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
You can build a simple compost bin out of scrap wood (look for old shipping pallets or a futon frame put out to the curb on garbage day). Make sure to mix enough carbon (brown materials like dried grass, leaves or garden trimmings) with the nitrogen (green materials like fruit and vegetable scraps). If you want to create a community compost centre with your neighbours, consider building a three-bin system using these plans: Three Bin Composter Guide (Foodshare.net).
The appendix of the guide includes useful instructions for maintaining your compost bin.
Let worms eat your garbage
If you don’t have access to outdoor space for composting, you can compost your kitchen scraps indoors by building a worm box (aka vermicomposter). Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof is the go-to resource for vermicomposting and is available at many libraries. There are also a ton of designs available online, but we suggest building your vermicomposter out of wood rather than plastic. Follow the instrutions in Worms Eat My Garbage or try out this design: Worm Bin Plans from Seattle Tilth
Compost your poop
As I mentioned earlier, pooping into drinking water is an idea that doesn’t really make sense to me. First of all, it involves polluting a valuable resourse that is under increasing threat. Secondly, it means flushing away an amazing source of nutrients … a veritable brown gold! You can conserve drinking water and turn your poop into rich soil for your garden by composting it in your yard. (Note: If you live in an apartment building and don’t have access to outdoor space where you can build a compost pile, we don’t recommend collecting your poop.)
The process isn’t as scary as it might at first sound and can be as simple as setting up a 5-gallon bucket or large steel pot in your bathroom (I suggest building a wooden frame with a toilet seat so you don’t have to balance over it) and covering your “deposit” with dried leaves or wood chips. You will also need to start an outdoor compost pile where you can dump the container once it’s full. The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins will tell you all you need to know about composting your poop, including important information about killing pathogens. You can read the book online for free here: humanurehandbook.com/contents.html.
Well, I hope these ideas give you a little inspiration for some easy projects you can start on in the new year. Happy 2016 … may it be a year filled with inspiring projects that help you live more lightly on the planet and with lots of joy!