A basic audit of your home and lifestyle helps you see where you’re at and what needs to be improved. Johanna Ashmore of Down to Earth Mother is here to help you get your house in order.
A basic audit of your home and lifestyle helps you see where you’re at and what needs to be improved. Johanna Ashmore of Down to Earth Mother is here to help you get your house in order.
When it comes to composting, there’s a dizzying range of options. Mez Thearle, who blogs at Thearle Girl, tells you how she chose the right one for her.
Erin Rhoads is a zero-waste hero. After working out how to live without plastics, she moved on to zero-waste living, which entails leaving as little rubbish behind as possible. And she’s keen to share her tips with Otter readers.
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!
We are living through the biggest property boom Australia has ever seen, and the cost of buying a house is unreachable for many. But renting doesn’t mean you have to stop being green! You may feel as if you have no control over certain things in your rental property, like water tanks, solar panels and space for gardening, but here are some things you can do to green up your rented home.
Here are some great tutorials from SaveWater.com.au on simple home DIY. Make sure you speak to your landlord before doing any of these!
What are your ideas for renters who are trying to be green and environmentally friendly?
Thanks to My Green Australia for this post!
Eating seasonally is an easy way to be gentler on the planet, improve your health and shrink your grocery spend. So why don’t we all do it? Daile from The Confused but Conscious Consumer peers into the produce section.
Picture this – you walk into a grocery store on a wintery July day. Maybe it’s your local farmers’ market; it could be a chain supermarket or even a fruit and veg shop. There are so many options – beautiful looking fruit and vegetables on display. The tomatoes are red and juicy, lettuce green and leafy. An apple so shiny you want to bite into it on the spot, just to hear the loud crunch and feel the sweetness burst in your mouth.
You may come shopping armed with a very specific list of items to purchase, based on the cookbooks you scoured prior to your shopping adventure; or perhaps the knowledge of ingredients for a family favourite. You grab a basket and fill it to the brim with zucchini for a frittata, asparagus for a weekend breakfast cook-up, sweet potato and pumpkin to make a nourishing soup, strawberries and mangoes to add to your post-exercise smoothies and some mint for Mojitos because no one is THAT perfect when they go shopping.
The asparagus has been imported from Mexico, the mint is out of season as it’s winter and the strawberries and mangoes are horribly expensive but still grown in Australia… although how far away and under what unnatural circumstances?
As consumers, we demand that the fruits and vegetables we want to eat be available for purchase at all times. Especially if we have seen it as a key ingredient on a TV cooking show the night before. We will pay top dollar for out of season fruit and vegetables, and not bat an eyelid at a bunch of greenery flown 14,000 kilometres to be sold en masse.
But how are we supposed to know what is in season? I’m no agricultural guru, and to be honest have a difficult enough time keeping a cactus alive let alone a vegetable garden. I have done a basic amount of research and know there are handy guides such as this one for Australians, this for the US and one for the UK. I have no doubt Google will point you in the right direction for whichever country you are in.
Seasonal eating information is out there, and sometimes common sense comes into play as well. Winter is the time for root vegetables, summer is perfect for stone fruit and spring is the sound of strawberry picking.
Eating seasonally is not that difficult but sometimes it means putting down your recipe book, turning off the TV cooking show inspiration and tossing out your old favourites. A great idea is ordering a farmers box every week and discovering new recipes based on the surprises found in the delivery. Think of it as a Masterchef Mystery Box in real life.
– Shop at farmers markets. Talk to the vendors selling the produce, find out where the delicious food you are about to buy is grown and ask for their recommendations.
– Buy your fruit and veggies first. After you have stocked up on enough fruit and veg for the week, pull out your cookbooks or do a recipe search with your main ingredients. This will guide you with a list of non-perishables to buy to complete your meal plan.
– If it seems expensive, don’t buy it. There is a reason avocados are $4.00 in autumn. Not buying overpriced produce is a great way to eat seasonally as well as reduce your weekly spend.
– Experiment with food. So what if the recipe calls for potato and you bought turnip instead? You may discover new favourite flavours and surprise yourself. Breaking the rules is fun.
– Follow interesting food blogs to keep inspired all year round. I have listed some of my personal go-to blogs – Inspirational food blogs for cooking seasonally.
So, how often do you actually consider where your food comes from and how it came to be glistening at your produce market? Do you have any great food blogs you want to share? What about tips on how you eat seasonally at home?
There are a lot of things that ordinary people can change about our lives to reduce the negative impacts of modern existence. Sometimes it’s as simple as re-using a jam jar before you throw it away, and sometimes it’s a complex and rewarding project like growing your own veggies or sourcing stuff like clothes and appliances second-hand. But this week, Otter investigates a choice that could literally mean the difference between life and death: whether, when and how you use antibiotics.
When we think ‘sustainable living’ the things that come to mind tend to be environmental issues like climate change and pollution, animal welfare and biodiversity, plus the labour rights and working conditions of the people who make our stuff. Health experts and scientists have fought to convince us that antibiotic resistance should be considered at least, if not more, important than these issues. Last year the director of the American Centre for Disease Control gave the public this grave warning:
Without urgent action now, more patients will be thrust back to a time before we had effective drugs. We talk about a pre-antibiotic era and an antibiotic era. If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post antibiotic era. And, in fact, for some patients and some microbes, we are already there.
He’s not kidding around. Cases of antibiotic resistance are on the rise everywhere. In Australia treatment-resistant and incurable gonorrhoea has been reported. In some parts of the country up to 80 per cent of Staphylococcus cases, which can cause horrific skin infections, fail to respond to first-line antibiotic treatment.
If that’s not scary enough, consider that some experts believe we could lose most or all of the benefits of antibiotics within 20 years. This would mean not just a catastrophic rise in deaths due to infectious disease like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and syphilis, but also an end to many of the lifesaving modern medical procedures we’ve come to take for granted. The University of Technology, Sydney recently released a report for the media that characterises antibiotic resistance as a natural disaster.
Antibiotics are necessary for:
Bacteria can produce a new generation in as little as 20 minutes, making their rate of evolved resistance to environmental toxins (like the substances we use to make antibiotics) extremely efficient. This is why taking the entire course of prescribed antibiotics is so important (more on what else you can do later). You might start to feel better after a couple of days, because the medication has killed off most of the bacteria causing your illness. But the ones left are tougher than the dead bacteria, which we can tell because they are still alive. Unless you completely wipe them out, there is a chance they will evolve into a new strain that doesn’t respond to the antibiotics you were taking.
The ease with which individuals can mistakenly nurture new bacterial threats within their bodies also underscores the upside of antibiotic resistance: if we act now, there is much that can be done to prevent the problem from getting worse. Unfortunately, antibiotic knowledge in the wider community is low, and few people understand what needs to be done. A National Prescribing Survey found that 65% of Australian workers believe antibiotics are effective against colds and flu, a myth that results in thousands of unnecessary prescriptions every year.
So what can you do? There are three main areas in which your actions can make a difference.
This is basic stuff we all get taught in Kindergarten, but it’s critically important to help stop the spread of bacteria in the first place.
From the Centre For Disease Control:
And finally, talk to those around you. Make sure your family uses antibiotics properly, and understands the very real and pressing risk of resistance. Antibiotic misuse is a community issue, and we can only prevent it by being aware of our duties to the most vulnerable: newborns, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are most at risk of developing incurable infections. Take your responsibility seriously, and make sure antibiotics aren’t a happy blip in the history of our species.
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!
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.
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.
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.
There’s lots of information available online for raising chickens:
are all great resources to start with. Happy farming!
Chemicals. What does the word mean for consumers? Is your laundry powder sold using greenwashing claims? Should you be worried? Using laundry detergent as a case study, Eleanor Robertson puts chemicals under the microscope.
The word ‘chemical’ is powerful. Say it, and we tend to picture 44-gallon drums full of mysterious green sludge, perhaps labelled with skull and crossbones. These images and associations are echoed in advertising for many products, which use the terms ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’ to imply that they’re healthy, green, and non-toxic.
Is this accurate? Well, not really. So what’s the story?
In order to determine what substances we should care about when we’re buying things, it’s essential to understand what the terms on product labels mean. Many products advertise themselves as chemical-free or ‘natural’, but these terms don’t have an agreed-upon meaning. Plus, items like laundry powder aren’t required to list their ingredients on the package, so it can be hard to figure out what’s actually in them.
In the strictest sense of the word, everything is made of chemicals. A chemical is just a compound, or an arrangement of molecules, that science has named. Everything can be described in chemical terms — including things we think of as natural like air, food and water — so calling something ‘chemical-free’ is meaningless and misleading.
All the chemicals in that banana were formed by natural processes, but if you isolated any single one and compared it to the same chemical produced by humans in a lab, they’d look exactly the same. This is why the term ‘no synthetic chemicals’ doesn’t tell you much either.
Usually when we buy products that make claims of ‘natural’ or ‘chemical-free’, we’re looking for something else: we want to know that what we’re purchasing isn’t going to make us sick, or harm the environment. What we’re really after is products that are non-toxic.
Buying products that are less harmful to people and the planet is obviously very important, which is why it pays to be a little skeptical of products that make environmental claims. Defining something as non-toxic is hard, because toxicity is related to quantity – which means that in large amounts almost everything is toxic to humans. That includes water. In terms of environmental impact, even Earth-friendly cleaning favourite Bicarb soda has issues: the Solvay process, an industrial procedure used to synthesise Bicarb, is not environmentally neutral.
It’s simply impossible to rely on eco-claims made on the product packaging, unless it’s been independently certified by a credible third party. Good Environmental Choice Australia, or GECA, certifies some laundry products — most are commercial rather than domestic, but if you like to buy in bulk it may be worth checking out.
To dig a little deeper into what we use to wash our clothes, I checked out the ingredients in three supermarket laundry powders: one brand name that made no eco-claims, one brand name that did make eco-claims, and one supermarket own brand. While this isn’t a representative sample or a scientific test, it did turn up some interesting points. The ingredients for these laundry powders came from their Materials Safety Data Sheets, not the packaging. Not all laundry powders have MSDS available — try Googling the product and brand name along with ‘MSDS’ if you’re interested. I also investigated one recipe for ‘chemical-free laundry detergent’ from a popular eco lifestyle blog.
To determine how safe each ingredient is, I used the Environmental Working Group’s substances database. EWG gives substances an A-F ranking according to five criteria: Asthma/Respiratory, Skin Allergies and Irritation, Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity, Cancer, and Environment.
|Sodium tridecyl benzene sulphonate||
|Sodium carbonate peroxide||
|Sodium lauryl sulphate||
|Castile soap (olive oil-based vegetable soap)||
|Borax (Sodium borate)||
|Washing soda (Sodium bicarbonate)||
The best-performing detergent in our non-representative sample was the supermarket own brand, with none of its ingredients ranking below B. The regular brand had ingredients ranked A-F, but more of its ingredients were ranked A than the eco brand, whose ingredients ranked A-C. Surprisingly, the borax used in the ‘chemical-free’ recipe rated F. Since 2010, the European Union has required products containing borax be labelled ‘May damage fertility’ and ‘May damage the unborn child’.
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