Exploring the Intersection of Yoga + Permaculture: Produce No Waste

A grocery store in Vancouver embraces the idea that imperfect produce needs love too (and is totally edible and nutritious).

“The organic gardener does not think of throwing away the garbage. She knows that she needs the garbage. She is capable of transforming the garbage into compost, so that the compost can turn into lettuce, cucumber, radishes, and flowers again…With the energy of mindfulness, you can look into the garbage and say: I am not afraid. I am capable of transforming the garbage back into love.” Thich Naht Hanh


Produce No Waste is a thought provoking permaculture principle. As a society, we realize the abundance and overuse of plastic is polluting the seas, filling landfills, and being scattered around the earth. In many countries, trash is burned, impacting the quality of air and the ozone layer. We may carry reusable bags to the grocery store and find our own ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, with the valiant aim of producing less waste. In the Western World, we have the luxury of sending items to the recycling bin, trusting that the trash fairies will properly utilize the plastic and paper and turn it into something practical, like recycled plastic utensils for toddlers. Other countries and cultures have no outlet for their waste and are given the option to either bury, burn, reuse or restore. It will take a radical global shift to actually produce no waste at all.


A classic camping and wilderness principle is to Leave No Trace. My permaculture teacher, Shad Qudsi, had the epiphany: “‘Leave no trace’ is bullshit. But, what about leaving a positive trace.”  Each day, each moment, we have a choice of how to spend our money, how to accumulate and how to share resources. Our interactions with friends and strangers are transactions, where we input currencies of kindness or controversy, and withdraw pure perceptions based in truth or lavish illusions. We can make the choice for our interactions to be fruitful & exponential in value, as we invest time in that which we value and aspire to accumulate.


In yoga, practicing saucha, a personal observance introduced in the Yoga Sutras, promotes making the most of resources and being intentional, pure and clean in thought, word and deed. “Purification also brings about clarity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the sense, and capacity for self awareness.” Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali 2.41.


“Saucha is the first of the five niyamas (personal observances), which form the second limb of yoga as described in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” The Sanskrit term can be literally translated as “purity,” “cleanliness” and “clearness,” and it covers the cleanliness of body as well as the purity of mind. This niyama reminds one to live a healthy life and keep the body and mind pure. Healthy diet, personal hygiene and self-care are also considered saucha. The practice of saucha starts with the external environment and keeping the surroundings clean. It also includes purity of bodies from both outside and inside, relationships and speech” (Yogapedia).


I have volunteered at two yoga and permaculture farms in Guatemala, Atitlan Organics and the Mystical Yoga Farm. Both of these farms participated in the innovative idea to transform waste into eco-bricks. All waste is stuffed into plastic bottles. These bottles are packed to the brim and used to build structures, like school buildings. The founder of Atitlan Organics, Shad Qudsi reuses, revamps, reconstructs, and restores all waste that cannot fit into the bottles. Aiming to produce zero waste, he decided to bury his baby’s diapers, as to contribute nothing to the landfill in a country that already has challenges in disposing of people’s waste.


Producing no waste begins at the source of our consumption. If you aim to produce no waste, it will impact the method of your buying. Buying in bulk and bringing your own containers for storage is a sweet, cost effective way to minimize and eliminate packaging. Finding multi-purposes for a single item is also a way to simplify and save resources. I grew up in a fairly typical American household. I used hand soap, body wash, face cleanser, acne creams, body lotion, hand lotion, shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, laundry soap, etc. When I journeyed to Africa in 2005, Ispent 6 months on the Mercy Ships., a hospital ship which sails around Africa performing surgeries. All funds for this organization come from the donations of humans and the only profit is the bright light of goodwill and the joy of seva, passionate compassionate, selfless service. Onboard the ship, were each given 1 minute to shower, as the quantity of fresh water had to be conserved for surgeries, drinking and cooking. Within that minute, we would also catch excess water in a bucket to minimize waste.


During my time abroad, I stayed on the ship for 3 months and spent 3 months living in a small village. My first three weeks in the remote village, I lived with a Ghanaian family and I was amazed and in awe at their skilled resourcefulness. They had one long bar of soap. They used this soap to clean their bodies, their hair, their clothes, their dishes and their home. This opened my eyes and raised my awareness about the marketing of a diversity of products that all achieve the same purpose. I realized that soap is composed of either lard or oils, with other added ingredients for fragrance or consistency, like essential oils and vegetable glycerin. Throughout the decade I travelled around the world, I observed the personal care of cultures, considering their available resources and life necessities. I developed a personal care routine of using coconut oil, aloe vera and an all purpose soap like Dr. Bronners, as well as toothpaste and shampoo, both of which are pretty simple to make at home. Using exclusively coconut oil and aloe on my skin, rather than a plethora of specialty items, my acne cleared up almost immediately. Imagine the amount of waste that is reduced when the choice is made to decrease the number of products you purchase for personal care.


“No waste is intricately tied into the practice of yoga, encompassing the entirety of what we are. Even our kleshas or defiled emotions, defiled thoughts, are fertile soil to be tilled and worked with, so that the garden of our true self can bloom. There is nothing left out, nothing wasted. Everything that we bring to the table, consciously and subconsciously is, in its essential nature, of the light and when we see how these karmic sequences have modified these forms into their apparently defiled circumstance, then it becomes a very understandable, very workable, very sacred process.”  Israel Chaput, forest yogi.


Consider your true necessities and whether they align with your values. Think about what is important for you and how you can use what you already have, restore what may need a bit of extra love and how to dispose of that which you no longer need. Maybe you can give away what no longer serves you to someone who may be able to properly utilize it, or assess what must absolutely be surrendered and symbolically burned. Are you hoarding anything that would bless someone else? Is there anything you need that you can find without over-spending and over-extending? Are there ways you can reduce packaging and processing? Are there things you always wanted to make, like paper or soap that you can learn to create? Are you holding onto detrimental habits in your life, which are producing waste in your mind, affecting your spirit? How does what you consume through your eyes and ears affect what comes out of your mouth? How can your spiritual practices, like meditation and yoga, prevent emotional debris from building up in your life? Find valuable ways to reduce rubbish physically, mentally and spiritually. How can you utilize this principle from both a permaculture and yogic perspective to foster clarity and resourcefulness in your daily life?

~ Arli ~

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