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Working with wastewater and learnings from Biosphere 2, with Mark Nelson


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I’ve been lucky in recent months to be able to speak to people who’ve been leaders and change makers in the regenerative space for a significant amount of time. Building on that knowledge and experience I got to speak with Dr Mark Nelson. 

Mark is Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics, head of Wastewater Gardens International and has worked for several decades in closed ecological system research, bioregenerative space life support, ecological engineering, restoration of damaged ecosystems, desert agriculture and wastewater recycling. Notably, Dr. Nelson was a member of the eight person “biospherian” crew for the first two year Biosphere 2 closure experiment, 1991-1993. 

The project included pioneering regenerative agriculture and waste and water recycling. Even before that, in the 1970s, he planted an organic fruit orchard at Synergia Ranch, Santa Fe NM and has helped manage its organic fruit and vegetable farm for decades. 

As Associate Editor of Life Sciences in Space Research, he is also an author and contributor for numerous books including “Pushing Our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2”, “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time” (2014), and “Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship” (2020) by Mark and two fellow biospherians. 

I first planned out this interview withMark to focus on his work with wastewater management and gardening, but I quickly realized that it was only a small part of the work and experience in his expertise. 

As a result, we cover a lot of ground in this session ranging from the work and development on the Biosphere 2 installation and what it was like being part of the research team who lived there for two years. 

Mark talks about his work and learnings from decades of international ecological projects including those focused on wastewater management and how all these diverse places and contexts continue to inform the Ecotechnics initiatives. 

We also get around to focusing on his book “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time” published by Synergetic Press. There we dissect the key considerations for safe harvesting and reuse of wastewater and the potential uses of it in gardens and beyond.

Making use of wastewater is becoming more and more essential as the energy intensive and expensive methods of purification are quickly becoming unfeasible. Though people are becoming aware of this necessity and its potential it’s still going to require a lot more visibility to be adopted at the scale that is needed, so I hope that episodes like this will act as a catalyst to get more listeners like yourselves to consider how using waste water might fit into your own projects.

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