Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
I think you need to look at each individual component that goes into the aquarium and see how close to the ideal YOU are willing to go, and at what cost. Then you will have an aquarium that is as close to 'organic' or 'sustainable' as you can get it.
Tank- the actual glass box is not going to be organic. But you could recycle glass, or get a used tank rather than buying a new one.
Filter, running off electricity. Including the concepts of filtration and water circulation. I am not sure if you are going to get very far trying to minimize this. You can use a power head instead of a filter, and then you have to do the removals yourself (water changes). Or you might look into 'organic' filter media. I add peat moss to some filters, and oyster shell grit to others. I guess this might be 'natural' or 'organic' water chemistry as compared to 'dumping chemicals' into the tank... but REALLY what is the difference in buying calcium carbonate powder (from ground shells) to increase the hardness vs buying oyster shell grit (sold for caged birds)?
Substrate- here is one place you can be all over the map and make your own call. You can go dig up some of your garden soil and add some material from your own compost pile, and I suppose that is the most 'organic' you can get. You can add materials known in horticulture as plant nutrient sources (bone meal, blood meal, greensand and so on). Google terms like organic gardening for more info.
Fertilizer: specifically 'Fish Emulsion'. Just toss in a dead fish or shrimp every now and then and let the microorganisms work on it.
Other fertilizer sources: Lets go back to the circle of life and you can choose your own starting place and call that organic: Animals poop, and die, and these things are broken down by microorganisms to become plant nutrients. If an animal poops on the land and the rain washes the chemicals into the lake, that is fertilizer for the aquatic plants. When you feed your fish their waste becomes plant fertilizers. Even if the fish do not eat some of the food and it falls to the bottom of the tank microorganisms digest it and then it becomes plant food.
Raise your own fish food (bugs, worms, vegetables, algae...) using organic methods, then you can call that part of the system 'organic'. Here is one path: When you do a water change put the used water in a tank (10 gallon) in the sun. Let green water algae grow. Get a daphnia culture started. Scoop out enough daphnia each week to keep them from over populating, yet enough that they keep on breeding. You will have to have several set ups going, hopefully growing different things (research growing your own fish food) so your fish have a good diet. Organic worms, mosquito larvae and many other things can be raised to feed your fish.
Light. Put your tank in a window, skylight, sun room or green house.
Power for other things: Solar panels, batteries... are getting cheaper and longer lasting, so it is feasible. The initial set up will cost about 3-5 years worth of power from your electric company, and maintenance is not free, but is pretty cheap. Replacing worn out components will really be the biggest cost, so get the best ones, the longest lasting ones. It depends on your cost of electricity, but the break even point of the pay back amortized over a 25 year life of a solar system can be as early as 6-8 years if you are paying a high rate for electricity. Looked at from an 'organic' point of view:
Mining the materials and building the panels, batteries and so on to make a solar power system has gotten a lot more efficient. Better technology requires a lot less of the basic materials, and the components last longer. Lets translate all that goes into a system, and compare it to the power that you get out of a system. It costs X amount of power equivalent to build a system, and over its life it will generate Y amount of power. If X>Y then you are putting more into it than you will ever get out of it. If X=Y then that is the break even point. It costs just as much to build as the system would generate. If X<Y then it is good. The system will generate more power than it cost to build.
About 30 years ago the 'environmental' pay back was... never. You would not get back the environmental cost of building the system.
Now the 'environmental' payback is just a few years.
So, solar is the way to go!
'Organic' has come to have so many meanings that I think it is up to you to really understant what you mean when you say it, and how you can apply your concepts to whatever you are doing from growing your own vegetables to aquarium keeping and beyond.
Look into other catch phrases and see where that gets you, too.
...are the two other terms that come to mind.