Food waste is a big issue. Consider the energy that goes into producing and transporting food from as far away as Europe and China, and the money spent on something that is then literally thrown away. Weigh it up against the environmental impact and the fact that many people go hungry, and it’s undeniable that we can do things better.
We live in a plastic world. Plastic is present at every part of your day – even when you brush your teeth right at the beginning. The problem is that much of it is designed to be consumed briefly but last forever.
It’s disturbing to realise that every toothbrush you have ever owned is still alive somewhere. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down, although there are new biodegradable options that won’t take quite so long. Some plastic can be recycled, but a lot still ends up in landfill or in the ocean.
There is now so much plastic in the ocean that it is literally creating garbage patch islands.
If you haven’t heard of the ocean garbage patches then you are in for a shock. They are forming where ocean currents meet up and create a vortex that traps floating garbage. Once plastic has entered into the current it will likely end up in one of the many garbage patches.
Both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans have trash vortexes, but the most famous is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is 5 times the size of Queensland weighs in at about 7 million tonnes. About 80% is plastic.
Plastic is finding its way into the stomach of fish and birds, and can have a terrible impact on the ocean wildlife. The impact of plastic pollution of wildlife highlight by the film Midway Point – you can watch it here. Be warned, it’s not for the faint hearted.
One of the best ways you can avoid contributing to these plastic islands in the ocean is to recycle anything you can. But there’s still plenty of plastic that can’t be recycled. The list includes everyday items like coffee cups, bin bags and cling wrap.
Plastic is embedded deeply into our daily routines. Attempting Plastic Free July is an easy way to think about how you can reduce plastic in your everyday life. The aim is to attempt to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July.
The organisers are aware of the challenge – you’re also asked to keep any unavoidable single-use plastics in a ‘dilemma bag’ to share on social media at the end of the challenge.
Some single-use plastics to avoid in July:
- Take away coffee cups (apart from the lids, most cups are lined with a plastic layer to insulate)
- Bottled water
- Plastic bags
- Plastic tooth brush
- Cling Wrap
- Plastic food packaging
See below for our 7 tips on living plastic free.
Speak to you family, friends, work friends, and school or share house about attempting the challenge together. Everything is easier in a group, plus you are spreading the word and increasing the impact!
Attempting to go plastic free isn’t easy, but if we are going to curb plastic pollution this challenge is a great way to start – it allows us to reflect on our consumption habits and look for alternative choices.
6 Tips for avoiding plastics
- Purchase a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. For some reusable coffee cups, have a look at KeepCup.
- Make your own bees wax fabric food wrapping to replace cling wrap. You can try a cheap and easy DIY or alternatively you can purchase some from here.
- Knit your own dishcloths and bench cloths out of thick organic cotton thread to replace synthetic dishcloths.
- Take reusable cloth shopping bags or even a cardboard box when you go grocery shopping.
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with a wooden biodegradable toothbrush.
- Save the weekend newspaper and use throughout the week line your household or work bin with paper.
Try and purchase clothing made from natural fibres such as cotton, wool, bamboo, silk and hemp!
Main image: Mike Nelson / The Guardian
By Imogen Williams
Janene Trickey was one of few reporters on a RSPCA Victoria rescue in January. She recounts what she saw, gives some background on puppy farms, and offers guidance to get a puppy not raised on a farm.
Unable to walk on leads, two smelly dogs with matted fur are carried to a table for examination by Australia’s only forensic veterinarian Rebecca Belousoff.
On 20 January, these dogs, along with 46 other dogs and 21 puppies, were seized from a puppy farm in regional Victoria by RSPCA inspectors. This marked the first time RSPCA Victoria has allowed journalists into their Animal Care Centre. The facility houses animals under protective custody until the legal owners surrender them, or are made to by a court.
Watch what you eat this Easter, ethical shoppers (and we don’t mean calorie counting). Jess Noble explains.
Chocolate brands Cadbury and Lindt monopolize the Easter chocolate market in OZ, but what the average supermarket consumer doesn’t know is that some of the most popular chocolate contains environmentally harmful untraceable palm oil, including some products from both these giants.
Carols are playing in the supermarket, Christmas is coming, and the thought of presents is starting to loom large. This is a great opportunity to create social impact for individuals and communities by purchasing from a range of outstanding social enterprises on the Good Spender website.
Good Spender is an online marketplace where consumers who want to make a difference with their shopping can buy directly from social enterprises. Social enterprises are businesses that sell goods and services to benefit the community.
Every dollar you spend with a social enterprise goes directly to support the social purpose of that organization. This can range from creating employment for those with disabilities, the long term unemployed or indigenous Australians, through to protecting the environment and supporting nutrition and sanitation programs in developing countries.
This Christmas, Good Spender aims to be not just a platform for buying good and doing good, but also a convenient solution for ticking off your shopping list. Discover the broad range of products sold by social enterprises, and support their mission by buying from them, including:
Oz Fair Trade – beautifully home wares and jewelry handmade by local artisan from recycled bomb shells during the Vietnam War.
Summerland House Farm – farm fresh macadamia nuts, coffee, and gift hampers that create jobs for people with a disability.
Liminal Apparel – fair trade and organic cotton bags and accessories that better the lives of local producers.
Niulife – a delicious and healthful range of extra-virgin coconut products that empowers third world producers.
Spend smart and do good these holidays. Visit GoodSpender.com.au for your Christmas shopping, and give gifts that make a difference. Also sign-up as a buyer to receive the newsletter, where you will be the first to know about new products and promotions such as free shipping!
At this stage, we are well and truly a society of gadget nerds. Computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and dozens of other electronic devices proliferate, and we use them for almost everything. Hype around the release of new models is huge, and you’re encouraged to update your gadgets regularly or risk looking like a backward fogey who’s more familiar with Morse code than txt spk. The ethical cost of continuously updating these devices is large, but there are a few things you can do to swim against the tide and use electronics in a more sustainable way.
Know your rights
Often, the decision to buy a new piece of electronic equipment happens when the old one carks it. This might be the timely death of an heirloom television, but sometimes electronics break before a reasonable amount of time or usage has elapsed. It’s always worth checking with the seller or manufacturer before you put it out on the nature strip for the council to pick up. The Australian Consumer Law clearly sets out your rights when it comes to broken or faulty goods, and if you’re entitled you might be able to squeeze another year out of your smartphone by having someone else foot the bill. For a simple, amusing explanation of when to ask for a repair or replacement, watch this clip from ABC consumer affairs show The Checkout. Unfortunately, most electronics retailers don’t know or choose to ignore the law. See this CHOICE investigation on the subject, and make sure you don’t let sales staff railroad your legal entitlements. This guide from Lifehacker on how to get Apple to replace a defective phone offers handy tips for what to say to retailers when you’re asserting your rights.
Donate your cast-offs
If you absolutely must have the newest computer model and your old one is still in working order, donate your computer to a charity electronics organisation. These groups will take your gently used computers, spruce them up, and give them to people or groups in need who aren’t concerned about having the latest and greatest innovation. That way your old computer can eke out its retirement somewhere it’s truly appreciated, and community groups buy one less new computer. For donation options in your location, consult the Give Now electricals page.
Recycle your e-waste
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is shaping up as one of the biggest global pollution problems of the coming century. Computers and mobile phones contain a laundry list of hazardous and non-biodegradable materials like plastic, lead, cadmium and mercury. Entire towns in China and Ghana are covered in e-waste, and the people who live there are forced to do dangerous and low-paid salvage work to re-sell the residual components of dumped devices. For more information on the human cost of electronics disposal, see this Guardian piece on the town of Agbogbloshie. To avoid your old computers, phones and TV sets contributing to this problem, check out free tech recycling schemes like the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme and Mobile Muster.
Electronic ethics guide in your pocket
For brick and mortar shopping, print out a copy of Baptist World Aid’s tiny summary of their Behind the Barcode report into electronics companies. The report investigated dozens of popular electronics brands on labour rights, worker treatment, and living wage, assigning a grade from A to F. It’s trustworthy, simple to understand, and covers most brands you’re likely to find in electronics and department stores. None of the brands received an A grade, but some got as high as B+. Even if you only use it as a cheat sheet to avoid purchasing from the brands that got a low score, it’s worth tucking inside your wallet, especially if you buy a lot of electronics for personal or professional use.
Choose trustworthy refurbs
Refurbished goods sometimes get a bad rap, but if you’re interested in savings and know where to look, they can be a great choice that’s less harmful than buying new. It’s important to make sure your computer has been refurbished by someone credible, rather than being given the once-over with a can of compressed air in the back of a truck somewhere. A good choice might be buying direct from the manufacturer: Apple, Dell, Acer and some other brands have website sections where you can buy refurbished electronics at steep discounts. You can also buy from reputable third parties like GreenPC, which provides very low-cost PCs to charities and people on low incomes.
Spring clean your computer
If you haven’t given your computer a bit of TLC recently, look into how you can extend PC’s lifespan and make it a little more enjoyable to use. PCs can become crammed with malware and unnecessary software, which may inhibit their processing speed and generally make your computing experience miserable. On the hardware side, PC towers can be incredibly dusty and grimy places. This stops the fan from working at its best, which can lead to overheating and performance issues. Check out how to treat your computer right at Lifehacker.
Investigate DIY repairs
For the more confident electronics consumer, there is a wealth of resources out there that show you how to repair your own electronics. This can be risky, and always check with the seller or manufacturer first to see if they’ll repair or replace your item. But if you damaged the item yourself, or you’re simply a free spirit with a broken television and nothing to lose, it’s worth attempting to repair your item before you junk it. Replacing cracked laptop or phone screens, for instance, is a common DIY job that most people can do by themselves. For a database of repair guides, see iFixit.
Change the trends
Instead of buying the latest smartphone upgrade, consider joining the vintage mobile phone brigade. Mobiles that we recognise from a decade ago are surging in popularity, and it’s not hard to see why when you compare the weeklong battery life of a mid-2000s Nokia with the paltry 24 hours of a new model iPhone. If going off the grid appeals to you, consider buying one of these vintage wonders so you can keep in contact and break your Twitter addiction in one go. For klutzes and clumsy people these phones can be a real boon – their lack of glass panels and sturdy plastic casing make them virtually immune to everyday accidents that can total more modern specimens. Sellers include Vintage Phones and Unimobile.
Chechi Pe, Electrodomesticos (CC)
Mosman Council, E-waste collection (CC)
Alper Cugan, Differance (CC)
Spring is here! You know what that means? It’s party time! Sustainable party time!
Between September and New Year it seems like every weekend is taken up by a rolling series of barbecues, weddings, kids’ birthdays, dinner parties… not to mention Halloween, which has gone from curious American import to an excellent excuse for Bloody Marys and pumpkin scones.
If you’re anything like us, the temptation to organise events you’re throwing at the last minute inevitably leads to hurried shopping trips the morning-of, snatching up handfuls of supermarket brand napkins and 3-for-2 dip medleys. At this point party sustainability usually goes out the window, and you find yourself wondering how much the neighbours would hate you if you stuffed a few bags of plastic cutlery and crusty salad into their rubbish bin.
That’s why we put together this inspiration-board-cum-shopping-list! It’s packed with eco-friendly and Fairtrade party purchases, plus a few DIY options and other assorted goodies. To go with it, here is our definitive eco party planning guide. We’ve thought of it all – from waste management, to decorations, to invitations and party bags for the little ones. Make your next shindig the best and most sustainable one yet!
The most important part of any gathering, some might say! You know the drill: make sure you’ve got a guest list and budget sorted before anything else, and a rough idea of what type of party it will be. It’s important to know these things beforehand so that you don’t end up over- or under-purchasing your supplies – nobody likes hungry guests, or dealing with mountains of surplus leftovers. Check out this quantity guide if you’re unsure of how much food and drink to supply per guest – scale down if you’re feeding smaller mouths!
- Try seasonal food options, and plan your menu, whether it’s a buffet, a sit-down meal, or a table of hors d’oeuvres, around a few fresh, easily available ingredients. Check the Seasonal Food Guide for what will be around when you’re hosting.
- Entertaining is a great opportunity to buy lots of locally produced fruit, veggies, meat and dairy! Flavour Crusader has a great list of directories where you can pick up fresh, delicious food close to home.
- Buying dip is the ultimate fool’s game. Dip can be made ahead of time, and doing it yourself is a sure fire way to impress your guests with quality that’s miles better than bought. Here are a few of our favourites:
o Melitzanosalata, or Greek smoky eggplant dip
- If you’re having a barbecue (and why wouldn’t you be), SBS food has a huge recipe collection of BBQ delights from around the world.
- Try to minimise the amount of meat dishes, even if the ones you make are locally sourced. Smitten Kitchen’s party food collection contains heaps of recipes perfect to feed a crowd, and most of them are vegetarian/vegan.
- Op shops, op shops, op shops. Why use disposable plates, cups and cutlery when you can buy a dedicated set of charmingly mismatched crockery to use for parties? Yes, this option does involve a bit more washing up, but trust us – it’s not that bad! See Otter’s Op Shopping Tips for more.
- Go for cloth napkins over paper. Vintage napkins are often beautiful, and if you’re feeling crafty you can make some yourself out of old clothes or sheets. Same goes for tablecloths and place mats!
- Try reusable straws, or be a straw-free event. Plastic straws are hugely wasteful, and we don’t think your guests will miss them that much.
Entertainment and decorations
- Remember DJs? No, we don’t either. These days, music is as simple as hooking your player of choice up to a set of speakers. If you don’t have your own speakers, ask a guest to bring some. We like streaming music service Spotify, which has a huge selection of premade playlists for every mood and occasion. If you’re not a fan, it’s very easy to make your own.
- Try this easy, no-sew DIY bunting for a touch of twee charm. You can make it in any fabric and it can be used over and over again.
- Solar fairy lights are good option for nighttime gatherings.
- Avoid releasing helium balloons, which can cause environmental damage when they come back down again. If you can bear it, consider giving balloons a miss altogether and using something else instead! Try these handmade paper decorations, which can be constructed using wastepaper or recycled materials and decorated however you like.
- Consider asking guests to bring some flowers from their garden! Much more eco-friendly than alternatives, and probably less tacky too.
- There’s nothing we can say about eco-friendly lolly bags that hasn’t already been covered in this great blog post, which recommends paper bags and careful treat selection.
If you have any other eco party tips, leave them in the comments below!
Kaitlyn Rose, fruit platter (CC)
1. Festive coloured string of birds, Oxfam Shop, $7.95
2. The Holiday Finger Food Combination Generator, New York Times
4. Large beer bottle carafe and matching glasses, Pete’s Glasses, $42
5. Heart shaped Acacia wood bowl, Oxfam Shop, $18.95
6. Keg hire, Hire A Keg, from $235
7. Vintage napkin set, Etsy, $21.99
8. Solar LED fairy lights, Bunnings, $9.90
9. Terrace striped tablecloth, Oxfam shop, $42.95
10. Vintage Soviet cutlery set, Etsy, $39.59
11. Mango, melon and lime soda recipe, Honest Cooking
12. Fabric-covered crate seat DIY instructions, Wait Til Your Father Gets Home
13. 20 pack soy tea light candles, Moonlight Candles Australia, $17.95
For more party-oriented tips, check out our tips for creating a sustainable table setting, and some helpful resources for Christmas lunch that apply equally well to all the fabulous gatherings you’ll no doubt throw over the Spring and Summer.
By Grace Boglev
If you have a yard and don’t mind a little extra pet care, it’s worth looking into keeping some backyard chickens. Hens are relatively simple and cheap care for, plus they have a range of lifestyle and environmental benefits.
Before you decide to keep chickens, keep in mind that they require consistent attention. Some animal shelters have seen a huge rise in numbers of abandoned chickens from would-be backyard farmers motivated by novelty rather than considered planning. Like all pets, they’re an investment, so make sure you have the time and inclination to give them the lives they deserve.
Eggs are fantastic. A great source of complete protein plus many essential vitamins and minerals, they’re incredibly versatile and an under-appreciated star of the average fridge. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to navigate the ethical concerns that come with the humble egg. As consumers, we can make the choice not to support factory farming, but even navigating the labelling on eggs to avoid cage eggs can be complicated.
One way to know for sure that your eggs come from a safe, caring environment is to raise the hens yourself – it’s not as hard as you might think, and can be very rewarding. Most chooks can be expected to produce around 4 eggs per week, which can really add up if you’ve got a small flock!
Food Waste, Compost and Fertiliser
Chickens will gladly gobble up scraps from your kitchen – vegetable peelings, old bread and leftovers are all fine feed for a chook. Plus, your chook can take this food waste and quickly turn it into fertiliser for your garden – a double win for you.
Chickens will go out of their way to snarf up slugs, snails and other pests in your garden. As long as you keep an eye on them so they don’t damage your plants, they’re a totally natural and highly effective insecticide.
Before You Start
Be sure to contact your local council about keeping chickens – different councils have different regulations concerning how many chickens you’re allowed to keep and the type of housing you must provide them. It’s also possible that you won’t be able to keep a rooster – while chickens are relatively quiet, roosters aren’t!
You can get chickens from a number of sources. The best place for you depends on why you want to keep chickens.
Buying your chickens from local farmers means that you can meet the people who raised your birds, as well as supporting a local business. This will also allow you to choose which type of hens you want – pets, egg layers, for meat or for eggs and meat. Consider looking for stalls selling eggs and hens at your local farmers’ markets. Otherwise, Humane Choice has put together a list of certified farms (though not all farms listed will sell hens, it’s a good way to find local farmers).
If you want to re-home a chicken that has been rescued from a factory farm, there are a number of organisations that can assist you. Animals Australia have listed some adoption organisations in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania that they approve of. NSW Hen Rescue also have some useful information on how to care for rescue chickens and if they are suitable for you. Most rescue hens are unreliable layers, so if eggs are what you’re after, consider buying a small flock and adding a rescue chicken or two as well.
What You’ll Need
First, you’ll want a reasonably sized yard. Some councils will have regulations about the distance the coop and run must be from the fence.
The coop itself should be secure and warm, protected from the elements and including a nesting box and perch. You’ll also need an enclosed mesh run to protect your chooks from predators. Various state animal welfare legislation says that they must be provided with appropriate food, water and protection, so make sure your coop is of a standard that meets local requirements and your birds have everything they need to flourish and be happy.
Many suppliers of hens will also provide you with a coop, but you can also build one yourself. This set of instructions from Readers Digest Australia tells you how to build a small A-frame chicken coop cheaply, but there are many other sets of instructions available online depending on the size and style of coop you want to build.
Want To Know More?
There’s lots of information available online for raising chickens:
- this flyer from Western Australia’s Department of Agriculture & Food
- this information from Sydney City Council’s Green Villages
- and this FAQ from Suburban Farmer
are all great resources to start with. Happy farming!
Chicken trio, kimll (CC)
Boiled egg over cheese bread toast, Ames Lai (CC)
laying eggs, dolanh (CC)
Op shops are fantastic, there’s no two ways about it. They’re a great way to avoid purchasing new and prevent perfectly good cast-offs from going into landfill, plus you’re supporting charity at the same time. Some of my earliest memories are of cruising op shops with my dad on Saturday afternoons; his poison was vintage sci-fi novels and comics, whereas I was more interested in toys and dress-ups.
However! For people who aren’t lifelong op shoppers, secondhand wonderlands can be confusing and intimidating. Plus there’s that weird op shop smell, like a cross between a primary school and a retirement home. But fear not, because to celebrate National Op Shop Week we’ve put together the ultimate guide to pre-loved purchasing — and don’t worry, the op shop smell disappears completely after a thorough cycle in the washing machine.
Know the lay of the land.
Choosing which op shops to hit up is crucial. If someone close to you is a regular at Vinnies and the Salvos, get them to take you to their favourite spots. Op shops vary hugely in size, price point, stock, store arrangement and many other factors. For the seasoned enthusiast this is all part of the fun, but if you’re more used to doing a casual swing through Target then the number and variety of op shops can be overwhelming. To find your closest op shops, check out Op Shop Listing, which has hundreds of op shops around the country.
As well as proximity, here are some general tips when deciding which stores to hit up:
- The further you are from a major urban centre, the cheaper the items and the larger the variety. Regional op shops, and those in outer suburbs, are often enormous treasure troves of clothing, books and homewares priced significantly lower than those in trendier postcodes.
- Check out church or parish op shops, which are tiny in size but frequently contain more than their fair share of unexpected finds.
- Most op shops take delivery of new stock on specific days of the week, so it’s often worth it to phone ahead to your op shop of choice and ask them when they’ll get a new shipment in.
Ideally, you want to set aside at least a whole morning or afternoon to go on an op shopping adventure. There are some basic preparations you’ll want to make to ensure you get the best out of the experience:
- Bring reusable shopping bags for carrying your finds so that you don’t have to use disposable plastic bags.
- Make sure you’ve got a reasonable wad of cash, because some op shops don’t have EFTPOS.
- Go through your wardrobe or your kitchen cupboard and make a rough list of what you’re looking for so that you don’t end up wandering around aimlessly (can be a real problem in op shops.)
- Bring a bottle of water. Op shopping is thirsty work.
When you’re inside
Because op shops are organised so differently to normal retail spaces, the techniques you need to navigate them are different too. Stock is often displayed in a way that would be considered cramped in other shops, and this means there are a lot more items per square inch than your shopping eyes are probably used to. This is a recipe for glazed-over wandering – don’t let the Op Shop Dawdle happen to you.
- Manage your FOMO (fear of missing out). Only check each area once, and be strict. If you find yourself fingering through the same rack of jumpers three or four times, you might have to implement a time limit by setting an alarm on your phone.
- When going through clothing, be picky. Is your item made of nice fabric? Is it a colour that will go with other things in your wardrobe? Does it fit properly? Are there any defects? Only take the plunge if it’s something you’ll actually wear!
- Don’t get too caught up in gender-specific sections. Browse the men’s section if you’re a woman, and if you’re a man don’t reject that nice wintery coat just because the tag says it’s made by the Ladies’ Clothing Emporium for Women.
- Don’t buy something if it’s chipped, ripped, stained, too short, too long, or ‘for a friend’. If you’ve never sewn before you’re probably not going to start now, and that beautiful but too-long skirt will sit at the bottom of your wardrobe causing you guilt until you give it back to a different op shop six months later. Better to leave it for someone else to find.
- Know what clothing in style this season. Fashion goes through cycles, and often by the time something ends up in an op shop it can be on the verge of a comeback.
- Avoid single-use appliances unless you’re 100% sure you’ll use them. There are stacks of popcorn makers, doughnut irons, fairy floss machines, chocolate fountains and the like in op shops, which can seem exciting because they’re expensive at retail. But there’s a reason they end up here – most people don’t use them!
- If you’re shopping for furniture, bring a tape measure, and the dimensions of the space you need to fill. There’s nothing worse than lashing a bargain vintage bed frame to the roof of your car and dragging it home, only to find it doesn’t fit in your bedroom.
- Be very picky about accessories. Op shops are full of scarves, belts, hats, sunglasses and costume jewellery, and you can afford to put something back if you’re not completely in love with it.
Emily Orpin, A day in Hongdae (CC)
Eddy Milfort, 10 11 2013 (CC)
Ashton, Vintage Haight-Ashbury (CC)
Tracy B, Royal Albert Summer Solitude (CC)