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



At this stage, we are well and truly a society of gadget nerds. Computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and dozens of other electronic devices proliferate, and we use them for almost everything. Hype around the release of new models is huge, and you’re encouraged to update your gadgets regularly or risk looking like a backward fogey who’s more familiar with Morse code than txt spk. The ethical cost of continuously updating these devices is large, but there are a few things you can do to swim against the tide and use electronics in a more sustainable way.

Know your rights

Often, the decision to buy a new piece of electronic equipment happens when the old one carks it. This might be the timely death of an heirloom television, but sometimes electronics break before a reasonable amount of time or usage has elapsed. It’s always worth checking with the seller or manufacturer before you put it out on the nature strip for the council to pick up.  The Australian Consumer Law clearly sets out your rights when it comes to broken or faulty goods, and if you’re entitled you might be able to squeeze another year out of your smartphone by having someone else foot the bill. For a simple, amusing explanation of when to ask for a repair or replacement, watch this clip from ABC consumer affairs show The Checkout. Unfortunately, most electronics retailers don’t know or choose to ignore the law. See this CHOICE investigation on the subject, and make sure you don’t let sales staff railroad your legal entitlements. This guide from Lifehacker on how to get Apple to replace a defective phone offers handy tips for what to say to retailers when you’re asserting your rights.

 Donate your cast-offs

If you absolutely must have the newest computer model and your old one is still in working order, donate your computer to a charity electronics organisation. These groups will take your gently used computers, spruce them up, and give them to people or groups in need who aren’t concerned about having the latest and greatest innovation. That way your old computer can eke out its retirement somewhere it’s truly appreciated, and community groups buy one less new computer. For donation options in your location, consult the Give Now electricals page.


 Recycle your e-waste

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is shaping up as one of the biggest global pollution problems of the coming century. Computers and mobile phones contain a laundry list of hazardous and non-biodegradable materials like plastic, lead, cadmium and mercury. Entire towns in China and Ghana are covered in e-waste, and the people who live there are forced to do dangerous and low-paid salvage work to re-sell the residual components of dumped devices. For more information on the human cost of electronics disposal, see this Guardian piece on the town of Agbogbloshie. To avoid your old computers, phones and TV sets contributing to this problem, check out free tech recycling schemes like the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme and Mobile Muster.

 Electronic ethics guide in your pocket

For brick and mortar shopping, print out a copy of Baptist World Aid’s tiny summary of their Behind the Barcode report into electronics companies. The report investigated dozens of popular electronics brands on labour rights, worker treatment, and living wage, assigning a grade from A to F.  It’s trustworthy, simple to understand, and covers most brands you’re likely to find in electronics and department stores. None of the brands received an A grade, but some got as high as B+. Even if you only use it as a cheat sheet to avoid purchasing from the brands that got a low score, it’s worth tucking inside your wallet, especially if you buy a lot of electronics for personal or professional use.

 Choose trustworthy refurbs

Refurbished goods sometimes get a bad rap, but if you’re interested in savings and know where to look, they can be a great choice that’s less harmful than buying new. It’s important to make sure your computer has been refurbished by someone credible, rather than being given the once-over with a can of compressed air in the back of a truck somewhere. A good choice might be buying direct from the manufacturer: Apple, Dell, Acer and some other brands have website sections where you can buy refurbished electronics at steep discounts.  You can also buy from reputable third parties like GreenPC, which provides very low-cost PCs to charities and people on low incomes.

 Spring clean your computer

If you haven’t given your computer a bit of TLC recently, look into how you can extend PC’s lifespan and make it a little more enjoyable to use.  PCs can become crammed with malware and unnecessary software, which may inhibit their processing speed and generally make your computing experience miserable. On the hardware side, PC towers can be incredibly dusty and grimy places. This stops the fan from working at its best, which can lead to overheating and performance issues. Check out how to treat your computer right at Lifehacker.

 Investigate DIY repairs

For the more confident electronics consumer, there is a wealth of resources out there that show you how to repair your own electronics. This can be risky, and always check with the seller or manufacturer first to see if they’ll repair or replace your item. But if you damaged the item yourself, or you’re simply a free spirit with a broken television and nothing to lose, it’s worth attempting to repair your item before you junk it. Replacing cracked laptop or phone screens, for instance, is a common DIY job that most people can do by themselves. For a database of repair guides, see iFixit.


 Change the trends

Instead of buying the latest smartphone upgrade, consider joining the vintage mobile phone brigade. Mobiles that we recognise from a decade ago are surging in popularity, and it’s not hard to see why when you compare the weeklong battery life of a mid-2000s Nokia with the paltry 24 hours of a new model iPhone. If going off the grid appeals to you, consider buying one of these vintage wonders so you can keep in contact and break your Twitter addiction in one go. For klutzes and clumsy people these phones can be a real boon – their lack of glass panels and sturdy plastic casing make them virtually immune to everyday accidents that can total more modern specimens. Sellers include Vintage Phones and Unimobile.

Photo credit

Chechi Pe, Electrodomesticos (CC)
Mosman Council, E-waste collection (CC)
Alper Cugan, Differance (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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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


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


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, 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 – 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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Five energy-saving tips to shrink your carbon footprint this winter

cold otter

Now that we’re well and truly into the cooler months, watching electricity usage is crucial to stave off the end-of-winter power bill shock.  Here are Otter’s top five energy-saving tips you may not have heard before to cut down your electricity usage, lower your carbon footprint and keep you toasty for less.

  1. Bubble wrap window insulation

This involves cutting out large pieces of regular bubble wrap and sticking them to your windows. You don’t need adhesives – just spray the window with water and gently press on the bubble wrap. This can cut heat loss from the window by up to 50%.

  1. Leave bath water until it cools

Instead of immediately draining your hot washing-up or bath water, let it sit and cool down. It will provide some passive heat for the room, and may take the edge off enough to prevent or delay the urge to turn on a heater.

  1. Personal heating, not space heating

Instead of heating your whole house, consider investing in a few inexpensive appliances to keep your body warm. A heated keyboard, heated mouse, strategic heating lamps, and timed electric blanket use far less power than traditional space heaters.

  1. Outsource to your kids

Tell your kids that if your electricity usage decreases compared to the same bill period last year, you’ll give them the savings in cash. Watch as lights and heaters are switched off much more frequently, and hot shower times go down too.

  1. Limit bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans

Kept running, your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans can effectively suck out all of the incidental heat from using your stove or taking a hot shower. Keep them on only long enough to de-fog your bathroom or get rid of lingering cooking smells.

Photo credit: Finally! Susan E Adams (CC)
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