The Australian Bushfire Crisis and How You Can Help

I’m sure this wasn’t how most of us imagined the new year would begin. There’s been a lot of talk of the climate crisis over the last 12 months, and of a climate emergency about to unfold, but I don’t think many of us expected it to arrive so soon and with so much intensity. Australia is on fire.

This is what the climate emergency looks like. And it’s not pretty.

10.3 million hectares have reportedly already burned (that’s an area bigger than Scotland), an estimated 1 billion animals killed, 25 people have been killed (including three volunteer firefighters, all with young families) and thousands of homes have been destroyed.

The fires may not have reached the cities, but the smoke has. Sydney and Canberra have been suffering for months. For context: air quality index readings over 200 are considered hazardous to health. Canberra’s air quality was reported to hit 7,700. That’s worse than Beijing and Delhi – notoriously polluted cities.

Remember the Amazon fires of 2019? These fires have burned 46% more land than those. And this is the start of a fire season that may continue for another 3 months.

You’re probably thinking that the government should step in and do something about it. You’d expect them to, right? However our Prime Minister has been lacking in any leadership in these issues.

And in the absence of any empathy, support or leadership from government, it has fallen to us to do something about it. Australia might seem far away, but the planet is our collective home. We might not be powerful, but there are many of us who care, who are angry, and who want to do something positive – turn our anger into action.

I put this together to help you choose how.

Let’s turn our heartache and pain and frustration into action.

Donating to the firefighters

The majority of firefighters in Australia are volunteers. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS), which covers 95% of NSW, is the largest volunteer fire service in the world, with more than 70,000 volunteers.

These volunteers are unpaid and they are exhausted. (In most cases they also don’t get paid time off to fight fires and have to use annual leave.)

New South Wales: donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service website (with details for credit card donations, direct deposits and international bank transfers)

The Australian comedian Celeste Barber set up a Facebook fundraising page for the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donation Fund, and has currently raised $48 million in donations (yes, you read that right: forty-eight million dollars). Facebook fundraisers make it easy for those overseas to donate and this one has been super successful, which is great! Just bear in mind that this fundraiser only covers NSW and there are other fire services (Australia has six states and two territories) that also need support.

South Australia: donate to the South Australia (SA) CFA via cfsfoundation.org.au/donate (donations are made by bank or credit card).

Victoria: The Country Fire Authority has options to donate to either specific CFA brigade of your choice, or to the CFA general public fund via their website: payments can be made by bank transfer, or cheques and money orders can be sent by post.

A Facebook fundraiser has also been set up for the CFA Brigades Donation Fund.

The Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) also has a Volunteer Welfare Fund which makes small grants on a needs basis to CFA volunteers and their families – designed to alleviate stresses that can affect an individual’s ability to continue as a volunteer. These donations can be made by credit card via the GiveNow platform (unlike the CFA donations, these are not tax deductible).

Donating to affected communities

South Australia: The State Emergency Relief Fund directs funds directly to those affected by bushfires in South Australia. It’s possible to donate by electronic funds transfer, credit card or cheque via the SA Bushfire Appeal.

Donations to the Kangaroo Island community can be made directly (by bank transfer only, international donations accepted) to the Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund.

Victoria: if you heard the stories of 4,000 people in Mallacoota being evacuated to the beach and rescued by the navy, that was East Gippsland. It’s possible to donate to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund by bank deposit (via any branch of NAB) or via credit card (Paypal) via gerf.com.au/donate.

The Victorian government has partnered with Bendigo Bank and the Salvation Army to establish the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, with 100% of donated funds going directly to communities in need. It is possible to donate from overseas. Due to a glitch in the system it does not allow overseas addresses, so please use the Foundation address –  PO Box 480 BENDIGO VICTORIA 3555 – to override the system and allow your donation to be made. Website: vic.gov.au/bushfireappeal

First Nations Communities: if you would like to donate to fire-affected First Nations communities (including those in Gippsland and the south coast of NSW) , this Fire Relief Fund GoFundMe page has been set up by a Yorta Yorta man. The fundraiser offers culturally sensitive, specific direct support to those affected.

Firesticks Alliance: are delivering an Indigenous led Cultural Fire program to support affected communities and countries to heal after the devastating fire crisis. Currently fundraising via Chuffed (a for-purpose crowdfunding platform.

The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) make grants to local not-for-profit groups for community-led projects that address the most pressing needs that emerge 12-18 months after a disaster event. Donations can be made to their Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund (you can find the donation page here).

Donating to humanitarian charities

Australian Red Cross: supporting people in evacuation centres and recovery hubs across Australia. Donations: fundraise.redcross.org.au/drr (donations by credit card)

Salvation Army: providing meals to evacuees and frontline responders, and other support. Donations within Australia: salvationarmy.org.au (donations by bank transfer, credit card or Paypal). Donations from overseas: donate.everydayhero.com

Save the Children: are raising funds to help support children affected by the bushfires crisis. If in Australia, it is possible to donate via their website savethechildren.org.au If outside Australia, you can donate via their Facebook Fundraiser.

St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies): providing bushfire relief efforts across all states. Donations here: donate.vinnies.org.au

Donating to wildlife organisations

Adelaide Koala Rescue (SA): helping koalas affected by the fires in South Australia. Donations can be made via their website: akr.org.au

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park (SA): raising funds to help koalas and other wildlife via a GoFundMe page.

Koala Hospital Port Macquarie (NSW): rescuing and rehabilitating koalas injured and made homeless by the bushfires. Their website koalahospital.org.au is struggling to deal with the surge in traffic but donations can also be made via their GoFundMe page.

NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES): provide wildlife education, rescue and care for animals in NSW. Donations can be made via their website wires.org.au or via their Facebook Fundraiser page.

The Rescue Collective (Queensland): based in Brisbane but supporting wildlife organisations throughout the east coast. Their bushfire appeal is raising funds to provide food, water and medication to wildlife in need. Donations via the website mkc.org.au.

Wildlife Victoria: a not-for-profit organisation rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming Victorian wildlife. Donations can be made via their website wildlifevictoria.org.au, and they also have a Facebook Fundraiser page and a GoFundMe page.

WWF Australia: are running an appeal to replant trees to restore habitat for extinction-threatened koalas in NSW and southern Queensland. Donations can be made via their website: donate.wwf.org.au

Donating things that aren’t money

Money is really the best thing you can donate, if you’re able. It means organisations can spend the money on exactly what they need in that moment. If you don’t want to give cash, donations of fuel cards or supermarket vouchers are most useful.

A lot of organisations have been overwhelmed with donations and are now respectfully declining offers due to the issues with storage and logistics with distribution. If you’ve been told second-hand about a request by an organisation for items, please check that the request is still current.

If you’re overseas, please also take into account the length of delivery time between sending your items and them arriving – they may no longer be required by then, so check with the organisation before sending.

If you’re not able to donate money, here are some ways to donate.

Donating accommodation: if you have extra space in NSW, you can offer it for free (to people who’ve been impacted by the fires, or to relief workers) via Airbnb’s Open Homes Disaster Relief (click the link and scroll half way down the page).

Other options include registering with findabed.info , which is supporting people across the east coast; or signing up with helpinghomes.com.au (as well as for humans, “room” can also be for pets and livestock).

Giving blood: the Red Cross’s blood donation service Lifeblood says they will need more donations in the coming weeks. You can find out if you’re eligible and find out how and where to give blood via donateblood.com.au.

Giving ‘stuff’: GIVIT – Goods for Good Causes is coordinating donations of items – you can either browse the list of items required, or submit what you have via the form on their website givit.org.au/give-items

Knitting and sewing pouches for orphaned joeys (baby kangaroos) and other marsupials: Young wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, gliders and possums all need pouches. Different animals need different sizes. WIRES has written an excellent guide if you’re keen to contribute in this way.

The Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild has an even more comprehensive guide for stitchers, knitters and crocheters with all kinds of patterns for pouches, wraps and other needs. You can find them on Facebook – the pinned post has their current most needed items.

Writing a Letter

If you’ve been meaning to write to your local politician urging action on climate change, now is that time. If you’re in Australia, great, but even if you are overseas, the climate emergency is a worldwide issue.

In Australia I’m told that the most effective way to communicate is by email rather than post.

First, you need to find your local MP and their contact details – just ask the internet. (In Australia you will have both a State and Federal MP and I would suggest writing to both.)

Next, you’ll need to know what you’re going to say.

I came across a letter by Anna Richards (via Instagram) which she sent to her local MP and I think it is a good template (it’s downloadable) if you’d like to write but are at a loss for what to say.

Joining a Protest

Protests are happening across Australia on Friday afternoon (January 10th). You might not be a protester. I’m not a protester, either. The September climate strike of 2019 was my second march ever… and my first was in 2001 (for student tuition fees).

I’m not a protester, but I’ll be there. Because it’s important. And I’m furious that it’s come to this. And I want our government to know. I want to be counted.

Hopefully you’ll be there too.

Sydney: 5.30pm Town Hall

Melbourne: 6pm State Library

Brisbane: 5pm King George Square

Canberra: 530pm Garema Place

Adelaide: 5pm Parliament

Perth: 5.30pm Forrest Place

Newcastle: 5.30pm City Hall

Geelong: Little Mallop Street Mall

Woolongong: 6pm Arts Precinct

If there’s one good* thing (* well, sorta) that has come out of the bushfire crisis, it’s the way that people have banded together, supported one another, donated and volunteered and taken action. Whilst I’d love you to share this, what I’d love you to do even more is to do something on this list. Take action, in whatever way you can. No matter how small. We’re in this together.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If there’s any good fundraising drives, interesting ways to donate or volunteer or anything else you think we need to know about, please share. And if you take an action, let us know what you did. As always, please share any other thoughts in the comments!

Community Dishes (to Borrow and Bring Back)

I love it when a plan comes together. This one has taken rather longer than I intended, but finally, it is ready to go. Which means, I can tell you all about it. Introducing the Community Dishes, a set of reusable crockery, cutlery and glassware to borrow and bring back, free of charge.

Why? Because…

It means less waste. Less plastic wrap, less plastic utensils, less single-use disposables, less stuff in the garbage and less litter.

It means less stuff. Less people nipping off to the Swedish furniture store to purchase a huge set of glassware / plates for a one-off event that then languish in the sideboard for years until they are horribly out of fashion and can’t be given away.

It means growing community. Helping people connect with their neighbours, share what they have and consider re-use before purchasing new.

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the project, and how it works.

The Community Dishes Project – Who, What and Why

Have you ever been to an event where the cutlery was plastic, the plates were disposable and the coffee cups were non-recyclable takeaway cups? Me too. Yes, it is frustrating. Yes, I wish they used reusables too.

The Community Dishes project aims to make this easier for event organizers and hosts to choose the reusable option.

There are plenty of reasons why people choose disposables. Sure, laziness might be true in some cases and lack of knowledge around the plastics issue might be true in others, but I believe most people want to do the right thing. Sometimes, the limiting factors are time and money.

Solutions need to be convenient.

Borrowing large numbers of items is tricky. Most people don’t own party-sized amounts of crockery and cutlery, and borrowing a handful here and a handful there is a logistical (and time-consuming) nightmare.

Hiring is an option but small organizations and community groups can be priced out of this.

I wanted to find a solution, and the Community Dishes project is exactly that. A kit of crockery, cutlery and glassware that can be borrowed for free.

Disposables are viewed as cheap and convenient, so for a solution to be workable it needs to be cheap and convenient too. The Community Dishes kit is free to borrow. Yes, it does need to be washed up and returned clean, but the goal is to make everything else (the borrowing, using and returning) as convenient as possible.

There’s 50 each of cutlery, side plates, bowls, mugs, water glasses and large drinking jars. (There are no wine glasses as wine and liquor stores often provide free glass borrowing services.) The kit is packed into boxes similar to those used by hire companies for ease of transport and storage.

The crockery, cutlery and glassware is catering standard, white, and matching. Catering quality is slightly more expensive upfront, but less prone to chip, crack or break – and doesn’t change style or colour with the seasons as high street homewares brands do.

Whilst it might have been lower waste to fossick through charity shops, experience has shown me that caterers and coffee vans prefer to use standard vessels whose volume they know, and finding matching sets would be a struggle. Also, I wanted it to be as easy as possible for breakages to be replaced with matching stuff.

The funds to establish the kit were provided thanks to a Keep Australia Beautiful (WA), Community Litter Grant.

Community Dishes – How Will It Work?

In theory, anyone can borrow the Community Dishes kit. In practice, because it relies on trust and goodwill to ensure the items are returned (and clean), it needs to stay local and with a community focus. To begin, the word is being spread via the local Buy Nothing Groups, and also the various Perth Transition Town Network groups.

The administration of the kit is run by volunteers (me).

The plan is to record all the borrowing, and count the number of items reused and disposables avoided. In this way, we can measure the impact.

The plan is also to learn from the wins and successes and mistakes of this project, and use this knowledge to create a simple project template, so other people might be able to replicate the idea in their own communities.

It’s hard to talk too much about how it will play out as it’s early days, but by Christmas day 490 items will have been used and reused. That’s potentially 490 pieces of single-use and disposable packaging refused. By this time next year, the numbers should be well into their thousands.

I’ve put together a simple website (which I published yesterday) with some more info about how the kit works and what the project hopes to achieve. You can find out more at communitydishes.org.

There’s still some fine tuning to do, in particular with signage, record keeping, and logistics. The important thing though, is that the dishes are out there, being borrowed and reducing single-use disposables and litter.

I’m excited about the potential, and look forward to sharing more as the project finds its feet. I’d love to see other projects like this one spring up, and hope that the lessons I learn will help others.

Less waste, less stuff, and growing community.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything else you’d like to know about the project? Do you have your own experience with similar projects? Would you use something like this, if it was available? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How Getting to Know Your Neighbours Helps With Zero Waste Living

It’s easy to reduce the idea of zero waste living to thinking about the products we buy (or don’t buy) and the choices we make as individuals. But zero waste (and living with less waste) is a movement, and movements need people. We can only do so much when we act on our own.

Sure, zero waste living can mean shopping at bulk stores and making our own skincare products. That’s part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Ultimately zero waste about consuming less and buying less, and that means rethinking the way we use resources: reusing, making do, borrowing and repairing.

We think of bulk stores and libraries and Farmer’s Markets as great resources for living with less waste, and they are, but there’s a much less talked about asset almost all of us have access to: our local community.

It’s mentioned far less but is equally (and possibly more) valuable for zero waste living.

One of the most valuable assets for my zero waste journey has been my neighbours. I thought I’d share some of the ways we’ve helped each other reduce our waste, and hopefully give you some ideas for how you might be able to get involved with your own community.

What My Neighbourhood Looks Like

Just as a bit of background, let me tell you a little about where I live. I moved into my current suburb in 2016 from the other side of Perth – so I haven’t lived here for very long. My neighbours from four doors down built the property where I live, and I met them through that process back in 2014. I didn’t know anyone else when I moved in.

There’s 7 properties on my block, some rented and some owned, and residents have come and gone in the two years I’ve lived here. Our suburb is close to the city but not densely populated – there’s about 2,500 residents, with 28,000 in the local government area.

In short, I live in a city but it isn’t an urban metropolis: it has quite a suburban feel.

How I Met My Neighbours

There are probably three ways I met my neighbours. The first (and perhaps most obvious one) is seeing them at their front doors, in the garden, in the street etc, and saying hello.

The second is by neighbours introducing other neighbours they knew and I didn’t. This is both in passing and at various events in the town. Slowly the network spreads.

The third way (oh, how 21st century) is via the internet. One of the best tools has been our local Buy Nothing group, which operates using the Facebook groups function (more on that in a sec).

How My Neighbours Help With Zero Waste Living

Sharing Ideas

Sharing ideas has ranged from the big to the minuscule, and all are important. On the far end of the scale, my neighbour and I hatched a plan to turn the disused patch of land next to my block into a community fruit tree project.

I’d had the idea, and he’d the same idea, and once we got together and realised we both had the shared vision we started to make it happen. (You can read more about how we started our community food tree project here.)

We’ve planted around 24 fruit trees, and they should keep our neighbourhood in plastic-free locally grown produce once they’re a little bit bigger :)

From that, we decided we needed a little help with the tree pruning this spring, and invited the neighbours along so they could benefit from the knowledge.

Lathlain is now sporting the best pruned fruit trees in Perth, not just here but also in all the gardens of the people who came along!

On the other end of the scale, I showed my next-door neighbour how to make mint tea with fresh mint leaves. (It’s super simple – you literally steep fresh mint leaves in hot water. Taste sensation.) Now she does that rather than buy teabags.

She made the most delicious nettle soup I have ever eaten from stinging nettles from her garden. (Not something I’d ever have tried before, but definitely something I’ll try now.)

We’ve also had some good discussions about the in’s and out’s of establishing a functioning worm farm, what actually goes in the recycling bin and some of my neighbours are currently organising a street get-together.

Sometimes it just takes a conversation to spark a new idea or go one step further to changing a habit.

Sharing Resources

A spin-off from the food tree project has been our community composting bank. We share our compost bins with the neighbours, which means lots of food scraps diverted from landfill, and lots of compost we’d otherwise need to purchase. Most of our neighbours have found us through sharewaste.com.

Sharing the Work

The thing about projects led by a single person, is that when that person gets tired, sick, overwhelmed or otherwise occupied, the project tends to fall over.

One of the best things about our Food Tree Project is that there’s multiple people invested, so if one person is too busy, others can step up to keep it going. I’ve taken a step back this year as I’ve had too many other things going on. My neighbour, however, is taking a year off from work and has extra time to keep things going. Consequently the fruit trees look better than ever.

Sharing Stuff

With my closest neighbours, who I know by name, it’s easy enough to knock on the door and ask to borrow something. And I do, regularly. Garden tools, kitchen gadgets, ingredients when I realise I’m out of something mid-way through a recipe and the shops are shut.

Most recently I borrowed a coffee grinder after mine bust, and lent a book to the same neighbour who’d been contemplating buying one and seen (via social media) that I’d already bought it.

I also passed on the magazine to a different neighbour. Things are for sharing!

But when you don’t actually know someone, it’s a little bit harder to borrow something – and possibly a little bit weird to just bang on the door.

Thankfully, the internet can help us out.

There are plenty of online groups and platforms that allow neighbours to connect with each other, firstly on line, and then perhaps in person. The two groups that I use are my local Buy Nothing Group, and my local Swap Share group.

The Buy Nothing Project is a network of hyper-local community groups where people can give, borrow and accept items ,but no money changes hands. People are only allowed to join one group: the one where they live. Consequently the members are all neighbours.

The Buy Nothing group has been a great way to find second-hand items. I tend to give more than I take because I generally don’t need much stuff, but I have scored a few useful items. My two best finds: a pair of almost new trainers in my size, and a computer monitor to use with my (tiny screen) laptop.

Another great win via the Buy Nothing Group was borrowing a screwdriver to enable me to change the damaged/worn seal on my coffee machine. The guy I borrowed the screwdriver from was also kind enough to help me take it apart and gave it a good clean with an air pressure thing.

I purchased a new seal, and the machine is as good as new. The screwdriver was duly returned.

There’s plenty of other donating and lending/borrowing of things via the group. It means resources are much better used (things languishing in cupboards are being wasted) and it means people not buying new stuff.

If you’re not a member of your local buy Nothing group I’d suggest joining, and if you don’t have one, I’d recommend beginning your own!

The Swap Share group meets once a month, and is for people to donate and swap excess garden produce. There’s also been a great deal of swapping recipes and other goods: pickles, preserves, DIY cleaning products and more.

I had no idea pickled radishes were so delicious until I picked some up from a Swap Share get-together!

Without my neighbourhood network there’s no doubt I’d have purchased a lot more things and wasted far more time looking for solutions. Worst of all, I’d have missed the opportunity to get to know and help out the great people who live in my suburb.

Local solutions are almost always the lowest waste solutions. If we’re passionate about reducing our waste, getting to know our neighbours and exploring our neighbourhoods is definitely something to embrace.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you embraced any neighbourhood community groups or hyper-local networks? What have been your experiences? How have you met your neighbours and the people in your suburb – or do you not know them? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Community Composting (+ Tips For Better Compost)

One of my favourite things about living with less waste is that there is never a single solution. There are always lots of solutions. Different options work better for different people and different situations, but there will always be a way.

In Australia, 40% of our landfill bins consist of food waste. Trimmed off bits, peels, skins, seeds, cores, outer leaves, shells, things we left in the fridge a little too long, bad bits, leftovers.

We toss this stuff in the general waste bin, and off it heads to landfill. Which, contrary to what many people believe, isn’t a giant compost heap. It’s a tomb of waste, sealed by layers of rocks (or sometimes layers of plastic) in between the layers of rubbish, and slowly releasing methane into the environment.

At the same time as we throw our food scraps in the bin, we head to the garden centre to buy plastic bags of compost to help our plants grow better.

We’ve got it all wrong!

So what can we do with our food scraps instead?

Before I moved to Australia, I lived in Bristol (in the UK), and I was fortunate enough to have my organic waste collected by the council every week and taken to an industrial composter. This isn’t an option where I live now (although some councils are currently trialing it).

Even if it was, I wouldn’t use that service now. I would rather keep my food waste (it is a valuable resource!) and turn it into something I can use – or donate it to someone else who can use it instead.

I’ve talked about some different ways of dealing with food waste before: DIY worm farms, done-for-you worm farms and bokashi bins. If you’re just starting out on the living-with-less-waste journey, setting up systems at home can take a bit of time.

As always, there’s a solution. Community composting!

For anyone wanting an easy beginner’s solution, or for anyone without the time or space to set up their own systems, community composting banks are perfect.

What Is A Community Composting Bank?

A community composting bank is simply a location where members of the community can go to deposit their food scraps.

(They are not necessarily called “banks”. I was thinking about this word, and whether it was better to use the word “hub”, “centre” or “facility”. A phrase popped into my head that I’ve heard many times before: “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. If compost is what helps us to grow food, then I think bank is the best word after all.)

The best composting banks are those with capacity to handle the scraps they receive; those with unrestricted access; and those that are managed/overseen by someone to check they are working properly, not contaminated or full of pests.

By “best”, I really mean “easiest to use”. That’s not to say others don’t work well too. Given the choice, I’d prefer to turn out to a facility that is open/accessible, has space to take my scraps, and isn’t infected with cockroaches.

I’d still come back if I turned up to find the place was locked, or the bins were full, but not everyone will. To reach the maximum number of people, things need to be as easy as possible.

The other important consideration is location. A 24 hour access composting hub on the other side of town is less practical than the restricted access compost bins just down the road.

As with most community initiatives, the more local, the more useful and likely to be used.

How We Set Up Our Community Composting Bank

I run a community composting hub together with my friend and neighbour. Originally, both of us listed our home compost bins on the awesome website sharewaste.com, a free-to-use service connecting people with food scraps with people with compost bins.

Around the same time, we started a Food Tree project on the land next to my house, planting 34 food trees for our community. We realised that these trees are going to need a fair bit of compost.

We had space for compost bins and we knew plenty of people in our community would be eager to donate their food scraps to our bins.

We started with two bins, and have now increased to five (all donated or sourced second-hand).

As people contact us via Sharewaste, we ask them to bring their food scraps here, and started making compost.

Managing A Community Composting Hub

As with everything, the more people who get involved with something, the more likely it is that things will go awry. With about 20 families currently emptying their food scraps into our bins, we started noticing more and more that things weren’t quite as they should be.

I should add that this is not the fault of the people donating their scraps. As the managers, it is our responsibility to make sure it is all working.

If people haven’t had compost bins before, there is no reason why they would know what is good and what is not.

There were a few problems that we had in particular.

Fresh food scraps going in whichever bin.

This meant all five bins would have fresh food scraps mixed into varying degrees of compost – frustrating when we wanted to dig out the ready compost and there’s a bunch of veggies in there too.

We realised that whilst it might be totally obvious to us which bin was the one for new food scraps, it certainly wasn’t clear to everyone!

Too many veggies scraps (too much nitrogen).

Compost bins need a balance of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen-rich scraps are anything green and fresh; carbon scraps are anything brown or dead. Veggie scraps are high in nitrogen. If the only thing being added is fresh green nitrogen-rich scraps, the bin will get stinky and attract flies and other pests pretty quickly.

For all of the green scraps added, some browns (carbon) need to be added too.

Food scraps not being mixed in.

A big mound of fresh veggies sitting on top of the compost pile will not break down nearly as well as those food scraps stirred in, because that is where the microbes are – inside, not on top! Not to mention that food on top will attract pests.

Too much carbon.

Less of an issue as most people are donating food scraps (nitrogen), but we did find one compost bin completely filled with shredded paper – and nothing else. Without anything else, that would have sat there probably for years, breaking down ever so slowly. In the same way as there can’t be too much green, there definitely can’t be too much brown.

Setting Up a Composting System That Works

My neighbour and I talked about all the issues, and how to reduce them in future. Community things need to be easy, and we felt a big list of rules would be overwhelming and put people off – which is the last thing we want!

We worked through the issues one by one, and have implemented a system.

Firstly, we decided that it was too difficult to expect people to figure out which bin was the one to add their scraps to simply by looking.

We decided instead to implement a linear system, where the scraps always go into one designated bin, and then we will move into other bins along the line manually.

(This means we can also check there’s nothing strange being added.)

We also decided that to make it easy for people to add carbon to their food scraps, we’d set up a bin solely with carbon so they could simply scoop some in afterwards.

Then, we added some signage and labels.

We wrote up the basics on a sign, weatherproofed it and secured it to a post.

We wrote a document with more tips and tricks (the stuff that we’d like people to know) and added a QR code to the sign, so if they have a question, they can check.

We’ve also secured the aerator/composting fork to the signpost (and explained in the sign what it is for) so that it is easy for people to mix their food scraps into the existing compost.

We painted labels on the two bins that people need to use. When in doubt, always label.

In short, we’ve tried to predict in advance what could go wrong, and then solve it before it happens. So far, it seems to be working well.

Looking for a Community Composting Hub?

If you’re feeling inspired to hook into an existing hub or maybe start your own, my first suggestion would be see who else is in your area via sharewaste.com. My second suggestion would be to contact your nearest community garden.

If both of these fail, consider whether you could set up a mini hub at your place. Even if you only have capacity to take a couple of household’s food scraps, it all helps!

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you currently deal with your food scraps? Do you like your current system or would you prefer something different? Have you any experiences with community composting hubs – both good and not-so good? Anything other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How We Started an Urban Food Tree Project

Ever since we first moved to our suburb 18 months ago, I had my eye on the rather sad looking patch of land at the corner of the street.  Despite the weeds and bare nothingness (excluding the few surviving melaleuca trees around the edge), all I could see was the epic potential.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn this barren, weedy patch of land into a thriving community orchard?

My neighbours, and one in particular, shared my enthusiasm and vision. Almost as soon as we moved in, the conversation began. At the start of this year, the actual work began, to turn the conversation into reality.

The Initial Idea: Creating a Food Tree Project

Rather than planting an orchard where the goal is to maximise production, we wanted a balance. Growing fruit trees alongside natives and groundcovers creates a more aesthetically pleasing, biodiverse and dynamic ecosystem that will be more interesting to walk through, creates more learning opportunities and is more resilient to pests.

The name “Food Tree Project” rather than an “Urban Orchard” reflects that our goals were broader than simply planting fruit-bearing trees and producing food. The permaculture concept of “Food Forest” didn’t really fit either, because although I followed permaculture principles in the designing, there are too many human inputs to be a true permaculture food forest.

Food Tree Project felt best.

Our Vision:

Community: to provide a space for collaboration, learning, volunteering and sharing; to encourage residents to learn more about growing food and have access to locally grown fruit; and create an attractive and sheltered resting spot close to the train station.

Environment: to increase tree coverage, canopy cover and greenery; to improve the streetscape close to the train station; and to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for birds.

The Plan:

The plan was to plant around 40 fruit trees of varying species on the unused space on the corner of two streets in our suburb, with wide pathways between the trees to allow and encourage public access for community members to see the trees and learn about them.

We also planned to plant native species on the border to encourage biodiversity, and interplant nitrogen-fixing acacias and other ground covers to create a green space between the trees.

The property next to the block has a bore, we are extending the reticulation so that the site will have water access in summer (this is essential in Perth – no water means no trees).

Goals of the Food Tree Project:

There are a number of goals we hope to achieve with this project.

  • Create a welcoming and shady community space by planting trees, and to provide access for residents to locally grown fruit.
  • Provide learning opportunities for interested residents on growing their own food and looking after fruit trees, and to provide volunteering opportunities.
  • To provide a demonstration project and framework that other volunteer groups can take to their local council to plant more trees on underutilised spaces in their urban environment.

The First Step: Getting Council Approval

The scariest step is probably asking for permission. Have you ever heard the expression “ask for forgiveness, not permission?” If we asked the council for permission and they said no, it would be hard to go ahead and do it anyway.

Should we ask for permission, or just do it and hope they didn’t mind?

However, we want this project to be an example of what can be done, a demonstration project to encourage others to approach their councils to plant on underutilized spaces. That meant going through the official channels. So we put together our vision and arranged to meet a council member on the site to discuss our plans.

We met on the site and talked through our ideas. We asked what restrictions they had (for example, banned or unwanted species) and were willing to listen to any needs that they had. I’d recommend meeting in person rather than chatting via email. It’s so much easier to connect with someone when you are face-to-face.

We agreed to put together a plan of the site detailing the trees to formalise the project. I took a screenshot of the Google arial view of the block, then pasted that into Powerpoint. I drew lines over the roads, paths and boundaries, and put cloud shapes over the trees, then deleted the photograph to keep the outline.

The initial outline drawn using Google Arial View and Powerpoint…

…and one of the working drafts (of which there were several!)

On one hand, we were lucky that the council were so supportive. But on the other hand, it wasn’t really luck. My co-conspirator neighbour had been working with the council on a community sump revegetation project for a couple of years prior to this, and had been able to build the relationship with the people there. He had demonstrated his ability to listen, to work together with them to resolve disputes, and show responsibility.

Although it felt like we got approval very quickly, my neighbour joked that the work actually began in 2012. In truth, it probably did.

Step 2: Formalising The Project

As well as submitting a plan for the tree planting, we also had to submit a pest control plan detailing how we would manage the site and deal with pest issues. For this, I referred to the council website and Department of Agriculture website to find out current recommended procedures.

Initially, the plan was to lease the site from the council. This would have required insurance, which we were planning to get through the local community garden (of which both my neighbour and I are members). There would have been a small annual cost for this.

In the end, the plans changed and there is no lease: the land remains under responsibility of the council. Whilst this may seem less secure, there are advantages. The site actually had a road running through it prior to 1990 before the road layouts were changed, and there was road base right through the land. The council came with a bobcat to dig out the road base, which might not have happened had there been a lease in place.

Funding Opportunities

Needing funds to purchase the trees and the reticulation, we approached the local football team (the West Coast Eagles). They have just moved to our suburb and are constructing a new training ground and stadium, and in the process angered the community greatly by chopping down 100 mature native trees.

As they emphasize their commitment to community in their media releases we thought it might be a project they would like to support.

Initially they seemed keen to sponsor our trees, but over time it became apparent that they had ulterior motives. The council had stipulated that all trees removed whilst building the training grounds must be replaced and maintained, and the Eagles were hoping that they could fund our trees as a cost cutting measure. (Funding a few $30 fruit trees would have saved them the cost of sourcing, planting and maintaining mature native trees.)

Without going into details, the Eagles were not transparent with us about this. When we realised (several months later) that, rather than supporting our project because they saw the value in investing in community, they were trying to get out of their responsibilities (clearly a small citrus tree is no replacement for a large gum tree), we decided not to pursue this further.

All the messing around meant time was ticking. It was now the start of winter and we urgently needed to plant the trees if they were to survive the summer.

Preparing the Site, Tree Purchasing and Getting the Community On Board

In short, we didn’t receive funding, and decided we would have to buy the trees, reticulation and soil amendments ourselves. We’d decided that the upcoming weekend would be perfect tree planting weather, and we began sourcing trees. My neighbour purchased seven citrus trees and I purchased another six trees, and we began setting the foundations for the project.

We planted the first few trees ourselves to get an idea of time and how best to do it all.

Next we put it out on the Buy Nothing Group that we were beginning a Food Tree Project in the area, and would anyone like to come and help us weed and plant?

And something wonderful happened.

People said yes, but many also asked us if they could donate a tree, or provide funding to purchase a tree. We hadn’t asked for money, but it was so humbling (and immensely appreciated) that our neighbours wanted to contribute financially.

One tree is not expensive (the costs varied from $20 to $70 depending on the species) but 40 trees adds up. Not to mention the reticulation costs, which my neighbour funded himself. When there’s a whole community on board, that changes things considerably. After our initial tree purchases, the others were paid for by the community.

It also showed us that people valued what we were doing, and wanted to be a part of it. (Thanks to Jayne, Deb, Miranda, Kath, Marisa, Lindi, Kate, Lana and Toni for your contributions.)

Just as importantly, people came to our busy bees. We weeded the rest of the site, dug holes, spread clay and compost and planted trees. Then we installed reticulation, and mulched the entire site. What could have taken us months was finished in a three weekends.

We now have most of the trees planted.

(If you’d like to know more about the project, I recorded a 20 minute video with some details of how we got the project going, and also a walk through of the site and the different trees that we have planted. You’ll find it on my Patreon page.)

What’s Next for the Urban Food Tree Project

Our biggest job is to ensure that the trees survive their first year in the hot Perth summer. With the reticulation in place, this shouldn’t be a big job, but it is a job nonetheless.

One thing we are doing now is establishing a community composting bank. We’ve put two huge compost bins on the site and plan to add to this as we find more suitable bins on Gumtree. If we can get all of our neighbours dropping good scraps off, we will have a rich supply of compost to feed the trees with. Plus it is another way to involve our neighbours with the project.

When autumn comes round I’m keen to work on the shrub layer and groundcover. Having sunk a lot into the project this year, we didn’t have the funds or the time to do this before now, and summer is not the time to start. We are keen to plant herbs and natives, and as the canopy layer grows these plants will have more chance of success.

At the moment the site looks a little barren, but by next year it should be completely transformed.

Now I’d love to hear from you! There’s so much more I could share about the project, so do you have any questions? Is there anything you’d like me to explain in more detail? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me, or experience with projects of your own? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below :)

Plastic Free and Taking the Challenge One Step Further

For most of us, living with less waste begins as a personal journey. As we start to discover more about the issues caused by waste, particularly plastic, and the options and alternatives, most of us begin wondering how we can get others involved. Whether it’s our families, our friends, our colleagues, the local school, the local cafes or shops, we want to spread the message and bring others with us on the journey.

Today’s post is about what you can do to take that step: to take the ‘living with less waste’ message out of our homes and into the community.

Host a Movie Screening

A movie screening is a great way to get people together to raise awareness of the issues, and start a discussion about solutions and alternatives.

One of the first things I did after signing up to Plastic Free July for the first time back in 2012 was attend a community screening of the plastic documentary Bag It. Even more than signing up to the challenge, that documentary changed my life. In a little over an hour I’d gone from feeling fairly relaxed about my plastic use to realizing that plastic was a huge problem but with so many solutions – and something that I could do so much about.

Movie screenings can be as big or as small as you like. Anything from:

  • borrowing a DVD from the library and showing it to a few friends and family;
  • Getting a community screening license from a distributor to show a movie in a public place such as a community hall or function room;
  • Using community screening platforms such as Tugg, which allows you screen documentaries in cinemas, through selling tickets in advance. The model works a little like crowdfunding – if not enough tickets are sold, the screening is cancelled.

If you’d like some inspiration for a good documentary to show, my top 10 list of documentaries might be a useful starting point.

Host a Plastic-Free Morning Tea or Supper

Invite others in your local community, workplace or school to attend a waste-free morning tea or supper, where all of the food has been purchased and prepared without single-use packaging.

You can invite community members to accept the challenge and bring a dish without packaging, or you can prepare or source it all yourself to ensure no sneaky plastic makes its way in.

Inviting someone to speak is a great way to engage the group with some of the solutions. Here’s some ideas:

  • Invite a local organisation to talk about the great waste reducing initiatives they’ve adopted;
  • Invite a local eco store to attend to talk about some of the products they sell and their benefits;
  • Invite someone who lives in the in the local area to share the story of how they reduced their own waste.

Set a table with some reusable alternatives to talk about, and give everyone the chance to share their ideas and ask questions. The idea is to get everyone thinking, and talking…and then acting!

Host a Litter Pick-Up or Beach Clean-Up

A litter pick-up is a powerful way to get others fired up to take action. Connecting others to places where litter ends up brings attention to the scale of the problem, and taking action by removing the litter goes a huge way towards protecting the ocean. Removing litter from the environment is also a positive reinforcement of the impact we can have when we work together.

To organise a litter pick up, set a date and time, gather necessary equipment (gloves, tongs, buckets, bags or old pillowcases to collect the litter) and start promoting it to your community. Offering a (plastic-free) morning tea is a great way to reward those who turn out to help and another way to continue to conversation.

Join (or Start) a Local Boomerang Bags Group

In an ideal world we’d all remember our reusable bags – but everyone forgets sometimes, right? Boomerang Bags was set up to reduce plastic bags by providing free bags for shoppers to borrow and bring back. But even better than providing bags, Boomerang Bags is all about communities getting together to volunteer to sew their bags, out of freely donated old fabric.

Before a group launches, they need to make 500 bags. (Nobody wants to launch and then run out of bags in the first weekend!) Boomerang Bag depositories are placed in shopping centres, and then the public are free to take and then return as required.

You can find out more about Boomerang Bags here, including where the current groups are and how to start your own group.

Get your Local Cafe (or Business) Involved

If your local cafe doesn’t give a discount for reusable coffee cups, your local store insists on giving plastic bags to everyone, or your local bar dishes out plastic straws with every drink, have a chat to them to see if they are willing to do something about it. You never know if you don’t ask!

Asking a local cafe, store or business to take part in Plastic Free July is a great way for them to be part of a global challenge and test customers’ receptiveness to charges or discounts, no longer offering single-use items and other initiatives.

Find out if there are other local initiatives that they can be a part of. Responsible Cafes is an Australian volunteer-run organisation which supports cafes who offer a discount to customers who use reusable cups. They have posters for display, and information that cafes can share with their customers. Plus all cafes that sign up are placed on a map, allowing locals to support the cafes near them who are doing the right thing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you taken zero waste or plastic-free living into your community, and if so, how? Have you been to any great community events? Are there any other ideas you’d like to add to this list? Any of these you’re planning to adopt? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Finding Solutions to Plastic Pollution (How You Can Help)

One person can make a difference. I believe this, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. Knowing that my actions matter, that is what empowers and motivates me to strive to do a little better every day.

Whilst one individual can have an impact, when individuals get together… well, that’s when change really begins to happen! Collectively, our impact can be amplified. That’s what a movement is – a group of people, working together for the same outcome.

Plastic pollution and over-consumption of resources are both massive, complex issues. The problem isn’t going to be solved just because I no longer have a rubbish bin, or can fit my waste into a glass jar. It’s not going to be solved if 10,000 of us can all fit our waste into a glass jar, either.

It’s going to be solved when we all work together to share ideas, apply pressure to decision-makers and organizations, and offer solutions!

If you’d like to do more, and be part of a movement, here are some options. Whether it’s getting out into your local community, volunteering, joining a campaign, learning more or donating to an organization doing great work, there are plenty of possibilities. If you see something you like, see if there is something similar in your local area… or start your own group!

If you have any others you’d like to add, please let me know in the comments below : )

Citizen Science + Litter Apps

litter-apps-and-citizen-science-treading-my-own-path

Litter apps are a simple way to add any litter you pick up to a national or international database. Citizen science in action! Simply take a photo of what you pick up, and record the location, litter type and brand. This data is collected to identify the most commonly found brands and products, and problem hotspots. The data can be used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions, and to influence politicians, councils and other decision-makers to make change.

– Litterati (US and Worldwide)

Litterati describe themselves as a community that’s identifying, mapping, and collecting the world’s litter. Based in America, they track plastic and other litter anywhere in the world.

Litterati App (iPhone only)

Website: www.litterati.org

– Marine Debris Tracker (US and Worldwide)

An American Debris Tracker app that collects marine debris data from all over the world, including 1200 locations in the USA.

Marine Debris Tracker App for Android / Marine Debris Tracker App for iPhone

Website: www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/

– Marine LitterWatch (Europe)

Monitors beach litter in Europe. The app was developed by the European Environment Agency to help aid data gathering in coastal areas.

Marine LitterWatch App for Android / Marine Litterwatch App for iPhone

Website: www.eea.europa.eu

– Tangaroa Blue (AU)

Whilst not an app, Tangaroa Blue’s Australian Marine Debris Database is the most comprehensive collection of marine debris data in Australia. All data can be submitted via this AMDI submission form: since 2004 over 2million pieces of debris have been recorded.

Website: www.tangaroablue.org

Litter Clean-Ups

beach-treading-my-own-path

Sure, it’s possible to just go outside your front door any time, and pick up litter. In fact, that is what many of these organisations encourage. But there’s also something nice about getting together with a group of like-minded individuals and making a much bigger impact.

– Responsible Runners (AU)

An Australian initiative to get runners and walkers clearing up litter. They organize weekly clean-up events around the country involving 30 minute litter picking, and have picked up 21 tonnes of rubbish to date. All rubbish is recorded, and the data is submitted to Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Database (see above).

Website: www.responsiblerunners.org

– Take 3 For The Sea (AU and worldwide)

An Australian movement that encourages everyone to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, river, or anywhere else. As well as running school education programs, they also offer a Guardian program for local groups to establish, and use social media to spread the #take3forthesea message.

Website: www.take3.org.au

– Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign (AU)

In 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a new marine debris campaign which involves organizing beach and river clean-up events, community engagement and education. At present this appears to be specific to Australia.

Website: www.seashepherd.org.au

– Ocean Conservancy (US)

An American not-for-profit organisation that promotes science-based solutions to protect the ocean. Ocean Conservancy organises the annual International Coastal Cleanup event (a global event), and helps individuals organise their own beach and river cleanups for other times of the year.

Website: www.oceanconservancy.org

– Two Hands Project (AU)

Two Hands Project embodies the spirit of international Clean Up Days, but asks – why not use your two hands and 3o minutes of your time to clean up on ANY day of the year? They occasionally run organized beach clean-ups, and offer secondary school education programs.

Website: www.twohandsproject.org

– Keep Australia Beautiful (AU)

Keep Australia Beautiful works towards a litter-free environment by running grass-roots programs in every state and territory in Australia. They run “Keep Austrlia Beautiful Week” annually, and assist in organising cleanup and other community events.

Website: www.kab.org.au

Campaigning

campaiging

Organisations often work on specific campaigns. Campaigns work towards a specific goal, such as changing legislation on particular issues, often by raising awareness and gaining the support of the public to apply pressure to decision-makers.

– Plastic Soup Foundation (NL)

Plastic Soup Foundation is a campaigning and advocacy group working towards eliminating plastic pollution from our oceans. Based in the Netherlands, they work on a number of campaigns including Reach for the Zero, Beat the Microbead and Ocean Clean Wash.

Website: www.plasticsoupfoundation.org

– Marine Conservation Society (UK)

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a UK ocean protection charity. They campaign on a number of issues including banning the mass release of balloons and sky lanterns, microbeads and clearer labelling for wet wipes (to prevent them being flushed down the loo). They also run a Plastic Free June fundraising challenge.

Website: www.mcsuk.org

– Surfrider Foundation (US and Worldwide)

Surfrider Foundation is a campaigning organisation dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches. Beginning in the USA 30 years ago, Surfrider Foundation has grown to 18 countries around the world, including Australia. Among other ocean-realted campaigning, they support local, regional, state and national campaigns on plastic pollution.

Website: www.surfrider.org
Surfrider Australia Website: www.surfrider.org.au

– Surfers Against Sewage (UK)

A UK environmental charity protecting the UK’s waves, oceans and beaches. Surfers Against Sewage campaign against marine litter, and recent campagins include “No Butts on the Beach”, “Return to Offender” (which has to be my favourite) and “Think Before You Flush“.

Website: www.sas.org.uk

– Story of Stuff (US)

The Story of Stuff project began as a series of education movies about the environmental impacts of “stuff”. As well as education, they now run campaigns fighting plastic pollution, including banning bottled water and banning the microbead.

Website: www.storyofstuff.org

– The Last Plastic Straw (US)

The Last Plastic Straw campaigns to get businesses to only give out straws on demand, and to use fully biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws. They also raise awareness of plastic pollution.

Website: www.thelastplasticstraw.org

Challenges

calendar

Collective challenges are a great way to raise awareness and build momentum on an issue, as well as creating community and inspiring further action.

– Plastic Free July (AU and Worldwide)

Plastic Free July is a month-long challenge to refuse and avoid single-use plastic. It’s what got me started on my plastic-free journey and has expanded from a local campaign with just 30 participants to a global initiative that spans almost 200 countries.

Website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Marine Research and Education

Ocean Plastic Research Treading My Own Path

Expeditions and research bring in the real scientific data, and allow us to understand the wider impacts of plastic pollution. It is this knowledge that raises awareness and drives campaigns, education and action.

– 5 Gyres (US)

Founded in 2008, 5 Gyres is a non-profit organisation raising awareness about plastic pollution through science, art, education and adventure. They have been involved with campaigns including the “ban the microbead” campaign, and run programs and expeditions.

Website: www.5gyres.org

– Algalita (US)

Founded in 1994 by Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Algalita have pioneered the study of plastic pollution in the marine environment. They focus on research, education and action, and lead marine expeditions.

Website: www.algalita.org

Umbrella Groups and Coalitions

lighthouse

Umbrella organizations provide resources and offer an identity to smaller organisations, whilst building a sense of community and inclusiveness. Umbrella organisations allow members to share resources and amplify their message, meaning increased effectiveness.

– Plastic Pollution Coalition (US)

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution. Founded in 2009 and now with more than 400 member organisations (you can find a list of current members here), they provide education, scientific research and solutions for both individuals and organisations. The Education page is a wealth of useful information : )

Website: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are they any great organisations I’ve missed off the list? Any campaigns or groups I failed to mention? Any I’ve mentioned here that you are already involved with? Any that are completely new to you? Do you work with local groups in your area? Do you know about great work being done at grass roots level? I love to hear about others making a difference and creating positive impact so share away! Any other thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too, so please tell me in the space below!

The Good Day Out: Organising a Public Zero Waste Event

When I found out that my local council were planning a new community event with a focus on sustainability, and looking for community members to join the Organising Committee, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to do my bit. A big part of any event is waste, and waste minimisation happens to be my favourite topic! How exciting to showcase what can be done in my own neighbourhood? :)

My objective was to run a zero waste event. By zero waste, I meant no plastic (compostable, biodegradable or otherwise), no sytrofoam and no single use packaging. Whilst everyone was in agreement to ban plastic bags and balloons and other single use items from the day, the idea of banning single use packaging altogether was something very new to the council.

Could we provide reusables? Where would we source them? How would it work? Would we manage demand? Who would wash them up? What about health and safety? Would vendors get on board? How would the public react?

I put together a proposal for how I thought it could work, based on my experience with running other events, and the experiences of others I knew who’d run similar events.

Fortunately, the rest of the team were up for the challenge, and so I got to work planning and scheming :)

good-day-out-town-of-victoria-park-sustainability-fair-poster

Our Proposal: Running a Zero Waste Event

All of our team had different roles and responsibilities with planning and running the event, and my responsibility was sustainability and waste. There were lots of other great sustainability initiatives in other areas (it was the overarching theme, after all) but my major focus was waste minimisation.

Our event was held in a local park, outdoors, with power and water available.

The first step was to outline our sustainability criteria, thinking about what would be practical and achievable. One of the key components was running a washing up station, which meant that we could request that all vendors used reusables rather than disposable packaging. Stallholders and food vendors who applied to attend had to agree to comply with our sustainability policy.

Here are some of the criteria for stallholders at the event:

  • No use of styrofoam or plastic (including bags);
  • No selling of bottled water;
  • No single-use packaged samples of wares;
  • No single-serve sauces, sugar sachets or condiments;
  • No balloons at the event;
  • Local suppliers considered where possible;
  • No single use packaging for food/drink;
  • Provide information on the source of all food and beverages, especially if fair trade or local;
  • Provide a vegan/vegetarian option;
  • Use recycled, sustainable, upcycled goods in workshops.

Whilst we asked that stallholders comply with our rules, we also provided the following to make it easier for them:

  • We provided reusable cutlery and crockery free of charge for vendors to use, and a free washing-up service;
  • We took responsibility for ensuring dirty dishes and empties were collected, and stallholders were restocked with clean crockery, cutlery and glassware;
  • We discussed crockery and cutlery with each vendor to ensure its suitability to their needs.

In addition, we made the following provisions:

  • We hired a water tank with water fountain and tap attachments to provide drinking water to attendees;
  • We hired crockery and cutlery for use during the event;
  • We organised a team of volunteers to wash up;
  • We posted signage to ensure people understood what we were doing, and why;
  • We ordered some extra bins to collect food and compostable waste, to take off-site and compost;
  • We organised “bin fairies” to stand by the bins and help people put the right thing in the right bin!

On the Day: a Zero Waste Event in Action!

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The Good Day Out Organising Committee (plus two performers who photobombed our pic!) Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

town-of-victoria-park-good-day-out

Our washing up station positioned in between the stage seating area and the food vendors, under a lovely big tree. Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

I’d love to tell you that it was perfect, but of course it wasn’t. There is plenty to improve on next year! For all the shortcomings, the day did work well, and the amount of single-use packaging we saved from landfill was tremendous.

One frustration was a food stall added last-minute to the event due to a cancellation. There was no opportunity to speak to them in detail about crockery before the event, and the products we hired weren’t suitable. They used cardboard-style compostable trays, and we collected these to compost.

It could have been worse (they could have used plastic!), but from a single-use perspective and also our objectives, it was not ideal, especially as it could have been avoided.

The juice vendor were at one stage handing out plastic straws, and plastic Biocups. They removed the straws when asked: they even put reusable metal straws on sale instead. They denied giving out the Biocups (I saw the Mayor put a plastic Biocup with a plastic straw that he’d been drinking from in the recycling bin – fails all round!) but did remove them from display after I mentioned it. They handed out a few disposable coffee cups too, despite having our mugs.

But overall, support from vendors, volunteers and the public was great. Looking at the bins at the end of the day and seeing them not even half full made my heart sing! And once everything was packed up, there was barely any litter in sight. Maybe not zero waste, but definitely near-o waste :)

washing-up-station-morning-volunteers

The washing up station with some of the morning volunteers. The buckets on the right were for food scraps and compostable waste, and soaking cutlery. Almost out of view on the left hand side (behind the volunteers) is the table behind is the hot water urn. The final rinse uses sanitizing solution and water above 72°C to meet Health and Safety guidelines, and everything is air dried.

washing-up-volunteers-at-the-good-day-out

The washing up station in action! Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

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The water refill station. There are water fountain attachments and taps for patrons to refill their own water bottles – no single use plastic required!

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Dirty dishes at the washing up station. The hot water urn, which is a key part in sanitizing the dishes, is to the right of the image. The straw you can see is a reusable metal one!

returnables-good-day-out-zero-waste-event

The juice vendor sells juice in returnable glass bottles, which they refill. I personally fished 30 or so bottles out of the bin to return to them. More signage next year! (The straw on the ground is a metal one.)

reusables-at-the-good-day-out

Collecting dirty dishes from the food vendors. Soul Provider were absolutely amazing in supporting us, using only our reusable dishes and never falling back onto disposables. Plus they never stopped smiling! :)

rubbish-bin-sorting-good-day-out

Rummaging through the bins at the end of the day. This was one of our two recycling bins. They were 240 litres, and were not even half full. We managed to remove some glass bottles for reusing, and removed all the compostable cardboard trays (which had food on them) for composting.

compostable-waste-good-day-out

This is Peg, with all of the compostable waste we collected. We had a ‘Compostable Waste’ bin and also collected food scraps at the Washing Up Station, but we still retrieved a bit from the other bins. Yes, it is in plastic bags. The bins had already been lined when we came to empty them. I assure you Peg will be reusing these bags many times!

What worked well:

  • Team spirit! The whole Organising Committee was on-board with the idea of reusables from the start, so it never felt like an uphill battle. The council were also receptive to the idea, so long as it was safe. We put together risk assessments and health and safety guidelines to ensure it fully complied with council requirements, and had their approval.
  • Support from vendors. Our event had a coffee truck, a juice truck that also sold coffee and three food vendors. They all had varying degrees of receptiveness to what we were trying to do, but overall we were well supported. Being clear from the outset of our goals definitely helped. Interestingly, we had more support from the stalls I hadn’t expected to be on board, and less from the ones I had.
  • We saved so much stuff from landfill! We had two 240 litre recycling bins, and two 240 litre rubbish bins at the event, and each bin was between 1/4 and 1/3 full. There were other permanent bins located on the perimeter of the park where the event was held, but these were mostly empty.
  • The washing up station worked really well, and the team of volunteers were awesome.
  • Attendees of the event were very supportive of the washing up station, and commented on what a great idea it was.Hopefully it raised awareness as to what is possible, and got people thinking.
  • The water bottle refill station meant there was no bottled water at the event.
  • We collected all the compostable waste from the event, and took it off site for composting.
  • We sorted all of the bins by hand to ensure the correct things were in the correct bins. Yes, I personally rummaged through the rubbish after the event ;)

What could have been better:

  • Signage! We did have signage, but we needed many more signs, explaining what we were doing, and why. It isn’t enough to do it – we have to tell everyone why! Plus we could have explained the system better. It would have been great to have a sign explaining our ‘no single-use packaging’ policy at each food vendor so that the staff didn’t have to explain to every single customer that rocked up what was going on. Signs telling people where to return things, and signs telling people to come and grab our plates and glasses for their own personal use. Better signs for the bins.
  • More communication! This definitely comes from experience, but more conversations and more discussion are always welcome – with volunteers, with vendors and with the general public. A  couple of stallholders reverted back to their disposable cups when they ran out of our glasses: this was spotted quickly, but we could have kept a better eye on it. Their priority was serving customers so as the event organisers, it was our responsibility to ensure the were well stocked.
  • Bin Fairies. Because we needed so many volunteers for the washing up station, and it was a day when lots of other events were happening around the city, we didn’t man the bins for the whole day. Consequently, we found every type of waste in every type of bin. We sorted by hand after the event, but it was a missed opportunity to talk to the public about waste.
  • Getting the right reusables. We hired a lot of equipment that we ended up not needing, and could have used extras of some of the other things. (Plus we had nothing suitable for the last-minute food vendor, except metal forks.) There was a feeling of it being better to have too much than not enough as it was the first year (which is true, of course!), but now we can use what we learned to choose better next time.
  • Less waste. Of course, I am always going to say that! And actually, I was really impressed with how little waste there was. I’d love to eliminate the single-use compostable waste next year, and ensure we have enough reusable stock to prevent any emergency single-use packaging emerging.

I’m hoping to put together a “How to Plan and Organise a Zero Waste Event” resource in the near future, so if this is something that you’re interested in finding out more about, stay tuned!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever been to any zero waste, plastic-free of low waste events? What initiatives had they adopted, and how did they work? Was there anything that didn’t work quite as well as it might? Anything you’d have like to see improved? Have you run your own low waste events? What experiences (good or bad) do you have to share? What have been your biggest successes, and your most dismal failures? Any lessons learned? Are you hoping to organise a zero waste event, but not sure where to start? Did you come to the Good Day Out? What did you think? What were your favourite bits, and what could be improved on next year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Fancy a Look Around My New (Sustainable) Home?

In case you missed the news, we’ve finally moved into our new home, and oh, it feels good! We have solar panels and solar hot water, a rainwater tank, solar passive design that means no air-con required even in our 40°C+ summers, and a veggie garden pre-planted with vegetables. We’re two minutes from the train station and there’s a newly opened bulk store within walking distance.

Plus we’re in the heart of a vibrant and engaged community and we can’t wait to join in!

I thought it might be fun to show you round, to explain some of the sustainability features and how they work and to highlight why we are so excited about our new home. Welcome to the tour!

Just to give you some background, my husband and I live in the city. Whilst we’d love to move to the country some day, buy a block of land and be completely self-sufficient, we don’t have the skills (yet) to do this. Not even close! Plus our work, friends and community are all based in this city and we’re not ready to leave.

We don’t have the money to buy a big block of our own within the city, and we don’t have the funds or know-how to renovate a doer-upper (is that even a word?). What we dreamed of was an apartment with solar panels that didn’t require additional heating or cooling, close proximity to amenities, space to grow our own food and a community feel. We’ve found it in this place and we feel really lucky.

There are 3 building on the site, with 7 homes in total. This is the back view of our building – there are 3 units in this one. There are 3 solar hot water systems and 3 solar PV systems on the roof – one for each of us.  The communal veggie garden sits at the back of our building : )

Solar Panels and Solar Hot Water Sustainable Home Green Swing

Solar hot water and solar panels, plus a communal veggie garden.

The veggie beds have to be my favourite part of the whole development and I cannot wait to start growing my own food. Luckily some seedlings were planted before we moved in meaning there is already food to harvest. The beds are second-hand and there is some leftover metal from the roof to make more if we decide we need them (I’ve already decided we do!).

The wooden boxes mark the boundary and have fruit trees in them. They are made from old pallet tanks / IBCs, which are basically huge square plastic drums for transporting bulk liquids. They’ve been cut in half and clad in scrap wood.

Communal Veggie Garden Sustainable House Green Swing

Garden beds in full swing, and plenty of space to add a few more ; )

Upcycled IBC Tank Sustainable House Permaculture Green Swing

An old pallet tank cut in half and clad in scrap wood to made a planter. The three planters all contain citrus trees. Pleased to report too that my compost bin had already been dug in!

This side of the building faces the sun, so normally rooms facing this way get ridiculously hot. In addition to double glazing and glass tinting, all the windows and doors have been fitted with solar pergolas. That’s what the big metal frames with slats above the windows and doors are.

When the sun is high in the sky in summer, the pergola blocks the sun from entering through the glass and heating the inside. In winter when the sun is lower, the sun’s rays can pass through the slats and warm the house inside. Despite seeming like a simple and obvious solution for keeping the heat out (or in), very few houses in Perth are fitted with these. They have huge air conditioning units instead.

How Does a Solar Pergola Work Sustainable House Green Swing

The sun is hitting the pergola and casting a shadow on the outside of the building, rather than heating the inside. The bottom right image is the inside of the building: were the pergola not in place, the sun would be heating the floor where the shadows are. These pergolas are fixed but if they were adjustable it would be possible to eliminate any direct sunlight from entering.

This is the central area where the three buildings meet. All the entrances come off this central space (the 3 upstairs units are all accessed by the stairway) – a deliberate design feature so people are encouraged to speak to their neighbours and create community!

The wooden box in the left of the picture is a degassed old fridge (clad in wood) which is the communal worm farm. Plus all the pavers are recycled.

I’m not a huge fan of the lawn. My first idea was to turn it into a chicken coop. Now I’m thinking I’ll just dig up the grass and grow food! However, as my husband points out, we are 1 unit out of 7, and we can’t just tear it all out before everyone moves in. Democracy and all that. They might want to keep it.

Maybe I’ll start by planting food around the edge…

Centre Courtyard Sustainable Home Green Swing

I love the central space, but it feels very new and sterile at the moment. Looking forward to bring it to life!

In rather exciting news, there is a communal bike shed! We no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom – hurrah!

Bicycle Storage Shed Sustainable Home Green Swing

Bike storage in action!

Bicycle Storage Shed Spare Racks Sustainable Home Green Swing

When not in use, the bike racks fold against the wall.

Rainwater tanks sound fantastic in a city that is so short of water it already uses two desalination plants to supply 40% of its water, and will be drinking treated sewage as of 2016. But red tape means it’s not quite as good as it should be. The units, which have a joint roof, are legally not allowed to use rainwater for anything other than the washing machine and toilet.

Ironic really, that we can’t drink rainwater for health reasons, yet drinking treated sewage is acceptable. Still, better than nothing. That’s why the tanks are smaller than you might expect – along with the fact that water is actually really cheap (it costs $1.50 for 1000 litres), meaning there is little incentive to plumb in rainwater unless you really care about sustainability.

Rainwater Tank 3000L Green Swing

A 3000l rainwater tank. Water in Perth costs $1.50 for 1000 litres, so it would cost just $4.50 to fill this from the tap. Madness!

This is the front of the house. The double garage that you see is actually a shared garage – each unit has one garage space and shares the garage with others. There are electricity points in each garage for the time when electric cars are the norm.

Front of Sustainable House Green Swing

This double garage is shared between two flats. There are more spaces for bike parking than car parking!

That’s the tour of the outside finished, so here’s a quick rundown of some of the sustainability features on the inside. Once we’ve settled in I hope to show you round the inside properly but until then, here’s some glimpses ; )

This is the floor in most of our unit – polished concrete. It’s a very sustainable flooring, great for helping to maintain the temperature and as homes are built on concrete slabs, it makes use of what is already there.

Polished Concrete Sustainable Home Green Swing

Polished concrete flooring. The cracked surface adds to the charm.

There’s no air-con in our home – insulation, double glazing, good thermal mass and correct orientation means we shouldn’t need it. There are ceiling fans to circulate the air.

Ceiling Fans Sustainable Home Green Swing

The ceiling fans have two modes – cooling in summer and heating in winter. You just need to flick a switch, apparently. I didn’t know that ceiling fan heating was a “thing”, so I’m interested to try this out!

I’ve had gas cooktops for many years, and I remember how terrible electric cooktops used to be. You’d lower the temperature of the hob, and your saucepan would continue to boil itself dry and burn your dinner because the hob didn’t realise you meant reduce the temperature NOW, not in about 15 minutes time.

Now we have solar power it doesn’t make sense to have gas too, and so we have electric hobs again – but induction ones.

Electric induction cooktops are a far cry from those dodgy electric hotplates. I’m in awe. I did not realise it was possible for a kettle to boil so quickly!

Not to mention they are easy to clean (always a bonus). I’m a convert.

Induction Hob Sustainable Home Green Swing

Convection hobs are a million light years ahead of those old electric cooktops. They’re faster and more energy efficient.

Finally I have to show you our toilet (yes, the toilet) because it has a sink built into the cistern. When you press the flush (there is a dual flush button either side of the tap) the water that ultimately fills the cistern runs into the sink so you can wash your hands.

You’d be amazed at how much water is needed to fill a cistern.

I’ll tell you. An old style toilet needs 12 litres. This one uses either 4.5 litres or 3 litres depending on which button you press. There is enough time to flush, walk over to the main (laundry) sink, remember that the toilet has a sink on top which is pouring water out of the tap and you’re meant to be washing your hands with this one, wander back, realise you left the soap over on the side, walk over to pick it up, return to the toilet-flush sink, wash your hands, dry your hands, return the soap and marvel that the water still continues to flow.

The reflex in me wants to grab a container to collect the water that’s gushing out of the tap…except it doesn’t work like that, obviously – it’s filling the tank!

Toilet Cistern with Integrated Basin Combined Pics Sustainable Home Green Swing

When you flush, the water that fills the tank first flows through the tap so you can wash your hands with the water.

That’s the tour complete – I hope you found it interesting! I’m looking forward to sharing how our new community develops and what the gardens are looking like this time next year – and all the learning and insights I have along the way. I’m sure there will be many!

Now I want to hear from you! What do you think of my new home? What are your favourite features? Do you have any ideas you’d like to share about what we should do with the space? What would you do if you moved in?! Is it the kind of development you could move into, and if not, why not? Anything else you’d like to add? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

A Podcast about Plastic and Advice from the Military

Last week I had the pleasure of being interview by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin for his weekly podcast. I say “pleasure” because Gavin is the King of living sustainably and blogging about it, so the opportunity to have a chat with him was very welcome. (Yes, that’s a capital ‘K’.)

I found Gavin’s blog when I was just beginning my own journey. Whilst he writes about all the things that I don’t (urban homesteading, cheese-making and gardening – and I’m pretty sure he’s never taken part in Plastic Free July!) we actually have a very similar story.

We both had our “lightbulb moments” after watching movies (his was “An Inconvenient Truth; mine was “Bag It”), we were both so inspired by our own personal journeys that we had to start sharing our messages with the world and started blogging, public speaking and running workshops.

Gavin’s epiphany came a long time before mine though… he began blogging way back in 2008, when I still thought being an environmentally-conscious citizen stopped at recycling : /

In case you can’t tell, I’m a little in awe of Gavin. His blog is great, his passion is all-consuming and very infectious (remember I was talking about passion last week? You only need to read Gavin’s work to feel the fire…) and this passion translates into blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, workshops, a side blog in cheese-making, and more. All whilst working (almost) full-time.

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you could be doing more? Gavin is the guy that proves it!

Here’s the podcast link – we’re talking about plastic-free living (of course!):

Once the interview was over I took the opportunity to ask my own questions. Or one in particular.

How do you get the time to do all this stuff?!

Gavin’s answer? I don’t have a TV.

Wrong answer! I don’t have a TV either, and I can’t  imagine getting a fraction of this done! I told Gavin I didn’t have a TV, and that he’d have to try again.

Maybe it’s because I was in the military? I’m very regimented.

Hmmm. I have no experience of the military, but this sounds plausible to me. Organisation. Planning. Things I know are important, but techniques that maybe I don’t always implement. I’m a dreamer and a schemer, but translating all of these into action? Not necessarily!

This isn’t the part where I tell you that I’ve decided to become more organised. (Of course I have decided that, but I make that decision weekly, and am yet to implement it fully!) This isn’t the part where I tell you to become more organised, either. But I do have some advice.

I left that call feeling really inspired, determined to learn more, share more, do more and connect more. In the way that negative people can make us feel demoralised and drain our energy, passionate people taking positive actions lift us up, inspire us to do more and make us feel more confident that we can achieve our goals.

If passion is a fire that burns within us, like-minded people doing inspiring things help to fan those flames. This is the part where I tell you to make those connections with people who inspire you. Reach out – by email, through commenting on a blog post, a phone call, via social media.

Don’t just stop there! Find out what local events are happening, what speakers are in your local area, and connect in person! Any way that works for you. Make those conversations happen. You’ll be glad that you did!

Right. Maybe I’ll begin getting organised after all… ; )
Now I want to hear from you! How have you connected with people that inspire you, and what did you learn? How did you feel? How has this impacted the way you do things in your own life? What ways do you find best to connect with like-minded and inspirational people? Do you have any tips? Or anything else to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comments below!