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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 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?

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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Good Gadget Guide: 8 ways to shrink your e-waste footprint

 

appliances

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Photo credit

Chechi Pe, Electrodomesticos (CC)
Mosman Council, E-waste collection (CC)
Alper Cugan, Differance (CC)
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No more grainy tomatoes! Replace pitiful produce with seasonal superstars

 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.

eating seasonally

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.

eating seasonally

Tips for eating seasonally

– 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?

Photo credit
KBR, tomato salad (CC)
Elizabeth Thompson, Vegetables on display (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

Food

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.

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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 Dating: green romance for eco-conscious lovebirds

sustainable dating

How do you combine sustainability with dating? Daile Kelleher isn’t going to suggest recycling lovers (it’s always a terrible idea), and she hasn’t quite figured out how to upcycle  past partners for future use. But she does have some sustainable dating ideas – being green has never been more romantic. Visit her blog at The Confused But Conscious Customer.

sustainable dating

Geocaching

Perfect for lovebirds with a sense of adventure and a fondness for the great outdoors. Set aside a day with your date, wear comfortable shoes, download the Geocache app on your GPS-enabled smartphone and you have yourself a romantic treasure hunt.

What’s the deal?

A geocache is a container of varied size that has been hidden in a specific location and tagged with GPS coordinates, ready to be discovered in an online-enabled scavenger hunt. Once you reach the marked area and find the specially marked geocache you can sign the logbook, celebrate your discovery via social media and take a memento from the container, as well as leaving one in its place to mark your achievement. No need for vehicles or cash money – you couldn’t ask for a more eco and pocket friendly date.

Why is this a great date idea?

With few outside distractions you’ll have an opportunity to connect with your date, and geocache hunting is a great chance to talk. This type of activity is also reminiscent of childhood – treasure hunting, orienteering at school camps or your summer with the local scout troop – which can lead to intimate conversations laced with nostalgia. This grown-up Easter Egg expedition has to involve teamwork, so when you find the geocache you’ve achieved something together. Awww!

sustainable date ideas

Fish & chips at the beach

Every beach has a local takeaway where you can get a serve of chunky chips, battered sav, potato scallop and a piece of crumbed fish to enjoy while watching the waves. While some areas may have slightly more upmarket versions of the humble fish and chipper, there is nothing better than an oil soaked paper wrapped parcel shared with someone cute.

What’s the deal?

If you live near the beach, walking or catching public transport means you cut down on emissions. But what about the fish? We all know about overfishing and species extinction, so it’s crucial to choose your fish wisely – which is often easier at the fishmonger than it is at a fish & chip shop. This is where the Sustainable Seafood Guide comes to the rescue. An online tool as well as an app, it’s as simple as searching for the type of fish you want to eat and checking the rank.

Make sure you check yours and your date’s seafood choices so you can enjoy your parcel of freshly deep fried food knowing you have made a more sustainable decision.

Why is this a great date idea?

Sunshine, sand and water – whether you go swimming or not, the beach is a fantastic outdoors date. You get a bit of vitamin D and honestly, who doesn’t feel a bit more romantic bathed in sunshine with the sea breeze tossing your hair about? As for the fish, every time I use the Sustainable Seafood Guide app around friends they are intrigued and want to know more. It’s a wonderful little educator on the types of fish we should be eating more of and ones we should avoid altogether.

Sustainable dating isn’t all about being outdoors, so here’s one last option for committed homebodies who prefer their dates cosy and low-key rather than rugged and sandy.

sustainable date ideas

Board games by candlelight

Prove two people can have hours of fun with their clothes on by having a board game night with your date. Grab your favourite game, light some candles and chill a cask of Australian wine (much more sustainable than a bottle) for a romantic night in.

What’s the deal?

No matter what your interests, there will be a board game suitable for you and your date. Try Eurogames like Agricola, a card game like the aptly named Love Letter or even an old faithful like Scrabble. A fun way to match your wits, intellect and ability to strategize, board games are a bit of competitive fun and an excellent way to stave off fear of awkward silences.

Why is this a great date idea?

It’s private, you don’t have to leave home and the candles are not only  romance-inducing but also a great power saver. Any extra sparks you create definitely won’t contribute to your carbon footprint. Board games are a lifelong investment and can be played for years to come – imagine the flashbacks when you sit down with your grandkids to play Ticket to Ride, reminiscing about the evening you spent flirting over train routes.

Considering sustainability while dating isn’t that difficult and there are plenty of activities that are fun, flirty and suitable for two with as little impact on the environment as possible. Other ideas include pretending to be a tourist and exploring your own city, spending a day volunteering at an event together, a visit to your local organic farmers market to grab ingredients for a homemade lunch, or even a simple picnic in the park with plenty of opportunities for canoodling. Failing that, by far the most sustainable activity you can engage in is best done with the lights off…  all in the name of energy efficiency of course.

Photo Credit
Loving on the edge, Collin Key (CC)
Geocaching, Sean Carney (CC)
Fish and Chips, Travis (CC)
Disco Ticket to Ride, Kevin Cheng (CC)
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Op shopping tips for the skeptical newbie

op shopping

Eleanor Robertson

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.

  1. 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.

op shopping

  1. Be prepared.

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.

op shopping

  1. 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.

op shopping

Pro tips

  • 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.
 Photo credit
 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)

 

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Otter’s Green Grog Guide

sustainable alcohol

When it comes to responsible drinking, we’re given an avalanche of advice about the health benefits of red wine, the dangers of binge drinking, and why alcopops will bring about the downfall of civilised society. But putting aside liver health and tipsy teens for a moment, what’s that case of white wine doing to the planet? Are some brews better than others? And what’s the surprising Australian innovation that could slash booze-related eco damage? Otter has answered all these questions and more in our first Green Grog Guide to sustainable alcohol!

sustainable alcohol

Beer

Ah, beer. Once a way to consume water without risking exposure to pathogens, Australians take in around 41% of their total alcohol as beer. There is enormous variation in the water and energy intensity of different beers, and how they’re packaged is also an important contributor.

The water footprint of a glass of beer is around 75 litres, and a lot of that is used during the growth of grains, which are the usual source of carbohydrates fermented to produce beer’s ethanol content. But the water stats we can use to make better beer choices are the ones that come out of different breweries. This report from 2010 estimates that beer production in large breweries uses about 4 litres of water for every litre of beer produced, whereas small breweries tend to use more like 6 or 7.  As always, it’s worth checking to see if your favourite brand has a water and energy use policy. For instance, Sab Miller, which makes Pure Blonde, Victoria Bitter and Peroni, says it is committed to reducing its water usage to 3 litres per litre of beer produced by 2020. It claims to be an industry leader.

Australia has a pretty good recycling record, with about 64% of our post-consumer waste being in some way re-used. But there’s always room for improvement, and if your state has a Container Deposit Scheme you can even make some money back.

In terms of carbon footprint, you can make a big difference by switching brands and packaging, and being careful about how you store your bezzas. This article estimates a local brew at the pub has one-third the impact of the same amount drunk from an imported bottle. That is, it’s much better, from an emissions perspective, to drink a non-imported schooner pulled from a keg than it is to buy a carton of bottles from America or Germany. And make sure you’re practising efficient tinnie refrigeration! Only fridge the amount of beer you’re going to need, and don’t run a separate beer fridge.

The upshot of all this is: going to the pub is better for the environment. Whose round is it?

sustainable alcohol

Wine

Wine, generally, is on the ups in Australia, with the hard-earned thirst being replaced by a relaxed glass of red or white. Wine represents 37% of the alcohol we consume annually, and Australia is now the world’s fourth largest wine exporter.

The water footprint of a glass of wine is around 120 litres, considerably more than beer. But Australians drinking Australian wine can put our minds (relatively) at ease when it comes to sustainable alcohol. Food miles are an important consideration because wine bottles are heavy and bulky to transport, meaning the closer your wine, the better. This paper suggests that Australian wine may suffer PR impacts on the export market because it’s so far away from its main importers. But for locals, this means it’s a correspondingly better choice than drinking wine that’s been shipped here from overseas.

Speaking of packaging, what’s the most environmentally advantageous way to buy wine? Why, the humble sack of goon, naturally. Referred to as ‘Bag In Box’ in industry circles, it was invented by Australian winemaker Thomas Angove in 1965, and has become synonymous with low-quality wine fit to be consumed only by alcoholics and university students.

But cask wine has many advantages over the bottle. (Not even counting the option of highly inadvisable and quintessentially Australian drinking game goon of fortune.) A single bag and cardboard box usually contains 2-4 litres of wine, which represents far less packaging than glass bottles. One report found cask wine generate a 55% lower carbon footprint and 85% less landfill waste than traditional glass bottles. Plus, the wine lasts longer: BIB packaging doesn’t expose the liquid to air, ensuring a much slower rate of oxidisation.

So reducing the environmental impact of your wine? It’s in the bag! The bag in the box, that is. Australian-grown cask wine is probably the best choice, and these days there are some perfectly respectable tipples sold Chateau Cardboard-style. And if you want to keep a decoy bottle and a funnel handy to maintain your reputation? Well, we won’t judge you, and after a few glasses neither will your dinner party guests.

sustainable alcohol

Spirits

Spirits – your vodkas, whiskeys and gins – are high-alcohol liquors produced by distilling the product of fermentation to achieve a more heavy-hitting end result. They’re also heavy hitters in terms of resource use, with distilleries using between 9 and 63 litres of water for every litre of spirits they produce.

However, comparing this figure to the same measure for beer and wine can produce misleading results because of spirits’ high alcohol content. A litre of vodka contains 33 standard drinks, whereas a litre of regular strength beer only has 3 or 4. That’s a lot less packaging, and depending on the distillery might even be less water and energy usage per unit of alcohol.

Different kinds of spirits have their own unique issues. Rum and tequila, for instance, both produce a startling amount of waste – up to 90% of the raw material ends up outside the finished bottle. For tequila, it’s dire: every litre of finished tequila generates 10 litres of vinazas, acidic wastewater byproduct. Since tequila is only legally allowed to be named tequila if it is manufactured in the area surrounding Tequila, a city in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the environmental impact of this waste is highly concentrated. In 2008, over 2.5 billion litres of vinazas was unaccounted for, and reports suggest it is shaping up as a disastrous pollution issue in the region. Some small batch tequilas are more responsible, but the vast majority are unsustainable.

Because spirits is such a diverse category, it’s harder to give general advice than it is about other kinds of sustainable alcohol. It’s worth researching brands that make specific sustainability commitments to avoid any nastiness.

 

Image credit
Alcohol, Kimery Davis (CC)
Beer, courtesy Dan Nolan (<3)
Wine, Dorte (CC)
Whiskey, Eelco (CC)
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Three must-see sustainable jewellery sources

sustainable jewellery

Back in January, Otter investigated the ethical issues surrounding jewellery. From dirty gold mining to blood diamonds, it turns out shiny trinkets are as good at distracting from their questionable production processes as they are at diverting attention from a bad hair day.

One of the things we recommended was to look out for Fairtrade or recycled materials, to avoid the negative effects of dirty mining practices and ensure the beautiful ornaments you buy aren’t made by exploited workers. We’re always on the lookout for new places to buy sustainable jewellery, and here are three local Australian shops we’ve stumbled upon that don’t sacrifice quality or design when it comes to responsibly-sourced glittery goodies.

bombshell necklace

Oz Fair Trade Bombshell Jewellery

Qinnie Wang, founder of Oz Fair Trade, says:

During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more than 270 million sub-munitions on Laos. It is estimated that more than 30% of these sub-munitions failed to explode, leaving Laos with 80 million undetonated bombs. Since 1973, there have been around 12,000 explosion-related accidents.

Cambodia’s notorious landmine problem is the product of a civil war that spanned three decades and claimed the lives of up to three million people, or one third of the entire population. Today, more than 40,000 people are amputees.

Despite the efforts of the relevant government bodies in both countries, millions of undetonated bombs remain. It is within this context that a new type of product was born: recycled bombshells.

Once detonated, the aluminium and brass in bombs can be melted and made into household objects. Local people started making spoons from bombshells after the war, and they now produce beautiful jewellery, too.

Recycled bombshell products are ethical in three main ways:

•             recycle existing material

•             provide extra income for land clearance

•             provide job opportunities for local people

You can view how bombshells are turned into jewellery in the Oz Fair Trade’s YouTube video, or view the bombshell collection here.

spindrift necklace

 Spindrift

Spindrift is the creation of artist and jewellery designer Natasha Wakefield, who combs the Northern Beaches of Sydney for pieces of sea glass to use as gems in her collections. Sea glass is the result of tides and sand acting on shards of bottles, windows and parts from wrecked ships, transforming it from jagged and dangerous waste into smooth, frosted treasure.

The sea glass used in Spindrift jewellery is also known as mermaids’ tears, and this romantic provenance is echoed in the designs. The pieces are elegant, understated and slightly melancholy, with the pale, translucent blues of the sea glass complementing lustrous silver metal components. Other pieces use reclaimed wood and small shell fragements.

Spindrift uses recycled silver wherever possible, and is committed to sourcing Fairtrade and sustainable materials.

katrina freene

 Katrina Freene

Adelaide-based designer Katrina Freene makes limited edition earrings, brooches and necklaces from recycled tin trays. A little bit retro and a little bit Australiana, Freene says her design is heavily influenced by her passion for sustainable jewellery as well as memories of her childhood.

The tin trays she uses are an op shop staple, often passed over for being unbearably kitschy. On a large, tea-tray-sized scale this is often true, but the colourful motifs really shine as smaller bits of wearable art. Some pieces incorporate multiple textures, and some are single patterns, like a pair of studs with the detail of a pheasant’s plumage. Part of the charm of this jewellery is the invitation to imagine what the rest of the tray looked like, which makes her pieces both whimsical and engaging.

Posts and earring threads are made of sustainable materials, and Freene tries to avoid manufactured parts as much as possible, preferring to design them herself.

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