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Tag Archives | lifestyle

The clean, green thrill of a cold shower

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta (Flickr)

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta (Flickr)

JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. While “the other things” he referred to almost certainly didn’t include taking cold showers, Tony Ryan thinks JFK’s famous quote can be applied to adopting this practice to reduce your impact on the environment.

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Host a waste-free party this festive season

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; The Green Gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

Photo credit (clockwise from left): Migle; the green gables; Mack Male (all Flickr)

The festive season is almost upon us and with the mad Christmas rush, it’s easy to let our waste-free principles fall by the wayside. Stephanie Lewis shows you how to be the host or hostess with the most, except when it comes to waste, with just a little planning.

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Have a Christmas that’s merry for you and the world with Good Spender

good spender

Mark Daniels, Head of Market and Sector Development at social enterprise development organisation Social Traders, on their new social enterprise shop Good Spender!

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 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!

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Setting the tone: make your music sweeter with ethical guitars


Looking for a guitar made from sustainable or recycled materials? Perhaps not a consideration for most people! While you might not think the guitar from your local music store could impact native forests much at all, consider this: several hundred thousand guitars are sold in Australia every year, with millions more sold worldwide. Kathy Rockwell looked into it for us and discovered a whole world of ethical guitars.

While the wood used may only account for a tiny percentage of the world’s timber output, guitar making demands specific ‘tonewoods’, such as Sitka Spruce, rosewood, blackwood and ebony, to produce the sweet sounds desired by musicians. This demand for tonewoods can drive up timber prices significantly and, in turn, help deplete native forests in North America, Brazil and Africa in particular.

In response you can seek out manufacturers that are developing more sustainable sources, or experimenting with novel materials. Check out our tips for what to look for below.

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Be an environ-RENTAL-ist – how to practise green renting!

for rent

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.

    1. Location – consider the location of your rental. Will it be near your work – does this mean you can potentially bike, walk or use public transport to get there? Being closer to places you frequent will obviously cut down on the amount of driving you have to do.  Also keep in mind where you do your shopping — is there somewhere close by that you can walk to? Are there bus routes that might work?
    2. Size – is your home too large? The size of your home will also add to how much you spend on heating and cooling, both money-wise and in terms of carbon emissions.  Try to find a rental property that fits your family’s needs, not necessarily wants! If you need help being convinced of this, just think: more rooms = more cleaning. Extra space might seem nice, but that could mean a rise in the time you spend vacuuming and dusting.
    3. Energy Offsets. Nowadays it is pretty normal to go into a rental and have to connect your own gas, electricity, phone line and internet provider. When selecting your suppliers, remember to choose ones that offer green options. For electricity, it’s easy to switch to a government-accredited Green Power option
    4. Weather Proofing – no more drafts! When moving into a new home it is always best to check for drafts or areas where the property will need a bit of weatherproofing. If you find there are drafty doorways, consider speaking to the landlord or real estate agent about the possibility of repairs. If not then you should grab some draft snakes such as this one by Julielion or make your own!
    5. Insulation. Check there is insulation in the ceiling before moving in. This will help  keep the indoor temperature in your house stable through changing seasons, reducing the need to spend money on heaters and air conditioners. If there is none, you should speak to the landlord about having some installed.
    6. Being smart with heating and cooling. In some older rental places you may not have high star rated heating and cooling systems. In some cases, you may not have any! Make sure you dress appropriately for the weather in your home. In winter, bundle up in warm jumpers and socks. In summer, close your blinds or draw the curtains early in the morning so warm air doesn’t enter your house. Simple things like this will make your rental property much greener. Check out our 5 weird tips to reduce your winter energy bill for more ideas.
    7. Water saving devices. If your property only has older shower heads, consider replacing them with water-saving shower heads. These are simple to install, and when you leave you can pop the old one back on and take it with you to your new house. Make sure none of the taps leak, and repair or replace any drippy offenders. If your toilet is an older single-flush model, you can place a full milk or juice bottle in the cistern to reduce the volume of water it uses for a flush.
    8. Bathroom water saving. Take shorter showers — under 4 minutes. Limit time spent in the shower to soap up, wash down, and rinse off. Shorter showers save on energy costs associated with heating water. Shave your legs before you hop in the shower and then rinse off once you’re in. If possible, lower the default temperature on your water heater to the level of heat at which you take your showers. This saves energy, plus you’ll spend less time fiddling around with taps while the water runs.
    9. Recycling . Make sure you use your recycling bins. If there are no recycling options in your building, consider checking if any of your neighbours would mind if you used their bin. Be sure to ask first — there is nothing worse than being caught red-handed trying to stuff your household waste into someone else’s bin!
    10. green renting

    11. Container gardening. If your’re renting an apartment or a property with no garden, make use of a container garden. You might not be able to produce a massive crop of potatoes, but herbs, flowers and small veggies like tomatoes are easy to grow in small spaces. There are many tutorials and DIY ideas out there for container gardens, and vertical gardening is really having a moment right now. Here are some good resources to check out:
      Better Homes and Gardens – Container Gardens

      My Green Australia Gardening Tips – Recycled coffee pod planters
      VERTICAL VEGETABLES: “Grow up” in a small garden and confound the cats!
      Milk Crate “Air-Pot” Urban Container Gardening
      Urban Organic Gardener
    12. Lighting. When you first move in, it’s best to replace any older incandescent bulbs with newer energy-saving models. These are much better environmentally and also have a far longer lifespan. Make sure to switch off the light in rooms you’re not using.
    13. Reusing water. If you are not able to have a grey water system in your rental property, there are still a few things you can do. Keep a bucket in the shower that you can empty onto your garden. If you’re rinsing vegetables or fruits, keep a bucket in the sink and then empty this onto the plants.
    14. The three R’s – Make sure you continue to buy products in packaging that is recyclable, or made from recycled materials. Choose products that are reusable instead of disposable, and try to reduce the amount of stuff you buy in the first place!

green renting

Here are some great tutorials from 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?

mga logo

Thanks to My Green Australia for this post!

Photo credit
For rent – ABC
Potted herbs – Maggie Hoffman (CC)
Recycling – Steven Leith (CC)
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You can stop antibiotic resistance: here’s how


What is antibiotic resistance?

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:

  • Open heart surgery
  • Safe childbirth
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Organ transplantation
  • Industrial-scale food production
  • Cancer chemotherapy
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Hip and joint replacements

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.

dracula sneeze

Good hygiene

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.

  • Stay at home if you’re sick. Soldiering on might make you feel personally virtuous in the short term, but it’s a false economy that puts the community at risk.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. Avoid products, either personal care or for cleaning your home, that contain antibacterial ingredients like Triclosan. They are no more effective than traditional cleaners and may contribute to resistance.
  • Use tissues when you cough or sneeze. If there aren’t any around, sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand.
  • Avoid touching your face, and wipe down shared surfaces like doorknobs and keyboards regularly.


Proper antibiotic use

From the Centre For Disease Control:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance.
  • Ask whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness.
  • Ask what else you can do to feel better sooner.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take an antibiotic exactly as the healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

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.

Photo Credit
Shawn Oster, Pills (CC)
gif from
Dracula sneeze courtesy of the University of Arizona Health Service
lamentables, antibiotics (CC)
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Parties that are fun for you and the planet

sustainable party

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!

fruit plate


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   Ethereally smooth hummus

o   Melitzanosalata, or Greek smoky eggplant dip

o   Broad bean, mint and feta dip

o   Beetroot dip

o   Capsicum, cashew and sundried tomato 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.


Avoiding disposables

  • 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!

Photo Credit
Cuttlefish, bunting (CC)
Kaitlyn Rose, fruit platter (CC)
Hannah Ball, 125/366 (CC)
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Sustainable party shopping guide

sustainable party

sustainable party

1. Festive coloured string of birds, Oxfam Shop, $7.95

2. The Holiday Finger Food Combination Generator, New York Times

3. Red and white Capiz tealight holder, Oxfam Shop, $18.95

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.

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Are backyard chickens right for you?


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.

Pest Control

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.

Local Farmers

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).

Rescue chickens

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:

are all great resources to start with. Happy farming!

Photo credit
Chicken trio, kimll (CC)
Boiled egg over cheese bread toast, Ames Lai (CC)
laying eggs, dolanh (CC)
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