We could learn a thing or two about recycling from Mother Nature

Jun 8, 2014

Credit blogs.dickinson.edu

For weeks, I eye-balled a dead deer lying in a nearby wheat field. Each time I passed, I saw carrion eaters had whittled the carcass further. When I first spotted the broken body, I hoped a highway crew would clean it up, but after observing how many meals it provided not only to crows and magpies, but also to other scavengers, it served a better purpose where it was.

In nature, nothing goes to waste. My grandmothers recognized this truth as they recycled string, foil, sacks, and glass. Plastic may be convenient, but it may also be humanity’s downfall.

Another event develops this understanding more clearly. I recall a family trip to Cherokee Village near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. One discovery archeologists made as they researched the site was the lack of refuse in the middens or dumps.

The tour guides, descendants of former occupants, reminded us that ancient Americans used every part of creatures they harvested. Skins provided shelter and clothing. Villagers turned bones and bladders into tools, utensils, and containers. They used shells and claws for decorative and musical purposes. Nothing went to the trash until it couldn’t be recycled again. 

Nature follows this same rule. As soon as a beast or bird expires, its immediate biological functions cease, but new functions begin. The immediate use of the dead creature is obvious. It offers protein. Using their delicate nostrils, carrion eaters compete for delicacies.  At the same time, insect species discover the new food source and join the fray.

As insects arrive, the carcass assumes additional duties. Many species utilize it as an incubator. They drop in to eat, lay eggs, and depart, leaving larvae to incubate and perpetuate a species.

Once flesh is devoured, rodents zero in on remaining bones, a rich mineral source they nibble with relish.  My family discovered a shedding ground in Wyoming where we couldn’t find an un-gnawed antler.   

Not only does nature recycle her creatures, she provides plants, trees, and shrubs with remarkable recycling abilities. Walk through a wooded area and notice the carpet of dead leaves. 

Lift a section to observe a universe. Those leaves and humus renew soil supporting everything living in that area. Decomposition-generated warm temperatures initiate numerous biological processes.

Fungi love decaying patches as they continue nature’s work breaking larger elements into absorbable elements. Similar activity occurs in compost piles gardeners depend upon to create luxuriant plant growth.

Note fallen trees. These house birds, beasts, and insects. Once decomposition begins, insects, bacteria, and fungi revitalize soil from which the tree sprouted. Kick one to see it dissolve into sawdust and wood chips. 

None of these are swift processes. It takes time to recycle plant and animal matter. Despite our impatience watching this slow progression, humans still create packaging that breaks down inefficiently.

Returning to reusable packaging is a good idea. It may not be convenient, but that convenience means we have time to squeeze one more stressor into an already crowded day. If we enjoyed less convenience, we might enjoy the world more. Stepping onto her porch to collect the morning milk delivery, Grandma saw many beautiful sunrises