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The Future of Waste

What would you expect from a talk about the future of waste hosted by a city that’s proud of its sustainability credentials, promotes zero waste, is working on a program to divert all organic waste from landfill, and is trying to push through a local ban on plastic bags? You’d expect a discussion on reducing waste at source, closed loops systems, community education programmes, better recycling facilities and the role of entrepreneurs in repurposing waste, surely?

You certainly wouldn’t expect to hear the case for building new incinerators as the solution to the waste problem, would you?!

Here’s the flyer:

Waste Forum Freo Event Poster

Looking at the poster, I certainly didn’t. I was expecting an interesting discussion. What I didn’t know beforehand was that both Phoenix Energy and New Energy have applications in Perth for constructing incinerators, in Kwinana and Rockingham respectively. Not only that, but the Major of Fremantle has just come back from a trip to Japan to visit these plants, and was clearly impressed by the technology.

So what was billed as a talk about the future of waste for Perth and Fremantle became a talk about the role and benefits of incinerators, and descended into a slanging match between the pro-incinerator PR guys and the anti-incinerator community members. One of the original speakers had cancelled at short notice, and was replaced with Lee Bell from the National Toxics Network, who made the discussion far more balanced than it otherwise might have been as he was able to talk credibly about the issues incinerators have caused (and continue to cause) globally.

Before I watched Trashed, I had some idea that incinerators were bad. After that, my views were very firm and clear.

Even so, it wasn’t meant to be a discussion about incinerators…it was meant to be a discussion about the future of waste, and how to make it more sustainable! I wasn’t there to be convinced of the need for incinerators, I was there to hear ideas and solutions, new ways of doing things, how to make this idea of zero waste a reality. How to educate the public and look at changing behaviours. Positive solutions that don’t encourage wasting resources by turning them into (toxic) dust, but return them into useful production.

The Kwinana waste-to-energy plant (the more politically preferable name for an incinerator) is going to cost $380 million to build. Imagine if all that money, that $380 million, was invested in real green energy technology such as solar and wind, sustainable cradle-to-cradle product design enterprises, community waste education programmes and imaginative waste entrepreneurs who repurpose waste?!

Instead, the plan for the future is to take all that material, and turn it into (toxic) ash.

That makes me sad.

Is this really the future of waste?

And so it begins…Plastic Free July!

Yep, it’s the 1st July, and that means the Plastic Free July challenge is upon us once again. Someone asked me recently how my preparations were going. Thing is, they’re not..because every day is already plastic-free for us. Whilst I still get really excited about Plastic Free July, most of that excitement is directed towards encouraging others to take up the challenge, to spread the word and support plastic-free living with ideas and suggestions  – things that have worked for us.

This will be our third Plastic Free July challenge, so I feel we know a thing or two now about ways to reduce our plastic consumption by now! I thought to celebrate the start of the challenge, I’d trawl through my blog archives and share some of the most popular plastic-free blog posts that I’ve written; things that I learned along the way that have become a way of living.

If you’re new to the challenge, that’s great! Hopefully these posts will provide some ideas to get you started. If you haven’t signed up yet, go for it! There’s no minus points for starting late!

Plastic Free July: 5 “How-To”s for Getting Started

1. How to Line Your Bin with Newspaper

One of the arguments I always hear in favour of plastic bags, is “but what will I use to line my bin with?” The answer for us was the free community paper we receive each week. After we’ve read it, we line the bin. You can find step-by-step instructions by clicking the title above.

2. Make Your Own Deodorant

This recipe is really simple, uses ingredients that you’ll find in your pantry and most importantly, it actually works!

3. Make your Own Toothpaste

I even checked with my dentist that my toothpaste recipe was safe and effective, and she gave it her seal of approval. I use glycerin or coconut oil as a base, sodium bicarbonate as the abrasive, a drop of clove oil for its antimicrobial properties and peppermint oil to make it taste like toothpaste. Sort of. You may find it an acquired taste to start with, but it;s gets better with time!

4.  Make Your Own Nut Milk

cashewmilkfinalWe have found milk in glass bottles, but I also make my own nut milk. It works great on cereal and in smoothies and hot chocolate (yes it does!), and also for baking. If you can’t find milk in glass it’s a great way to reduce the amount you consume. This is the recipe for cashew nut milk, but you can try with all nuts (you may have to strain them) and even seeds!

5. Make Your Own Yoghurt

I started out making yoghurt with cow’s milk – it’s really simple and so much cheaper and tastier than buying it from the shops. Once I found out I had to cut out dairy, I had a go at making coconut yoghurt, which is a little more complicated but equally delicious! I’ve never tried with nut milks, and I still need to master making my own coconut milk for a completely waste-free experience, but I’m on the case and it’s a work in progress!

If you drink cow’s milk, try this recipe for natural yoghurt.

If you’re dairy-free, here’s the recipe for coconut yoghurt.

Are you taking part in Plastic Free July this year? Is there anything you feel stuck with? Or are there any great plastic-free tips and solutions you’d like to share? Join the discussion and leave a comment below!

Choosing Electricity that’s Greener (Sort Of)

One of the first things we did when we knew we were moving was to revisit our energy bills, and look into green power. Now you might be thinking, surely we were already buying green power? But actually, no, we weren’t.

When I lived in England I had both my electricity and gas supplied by Ecotricity. Ecotricity describe themselves as Britain’s leading green energy supplier, and when they launched in 1996 they were the world’s first green electricity company (you can read more about their history here). They supply UK households with electricity made from wind and solar, and they are looking into using wave power too. They are also looking into producing green gasmills that use renewable sources to make gas (such as organic material and algae). They have planning permission to build their first green gasmill, but in the meantime they promise that all gas supplied will not come from shale, meaning it is frack free.

Moving from the UK to Western Australia, however, meant I no longer had this option. In fact, I had no options at all. Energy supply is heavily regulated here, meaning there is only one electricity company and one gas company. They don’t even offer a range of tariffs. The electricity provider, Synergy, is actually owned by the Western Australian government and they offer one plan – the (uninspiringly titled) Home Plan.

Alinta (the gas supplier) don’t offer any green options at all, but Synergy offer “Green Energy”. It may sound good, but we’re not talking solar power or renewables From Synergy as such. We’re talking certificates.

As Synergy tell me on their website: “When you choose to purchase EasyGreen or NaturalPower, Synergy will use your premiums to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) from nationally accredited GreenPower renewable energy sources. The RECs purchased will match the amount of your EasyGreen or NaturalPower contribution.”

My understanding of what this means: Synergy will continue to burn fossil fuels to produce my electricity, but they’ll spend the extra that I’m willing to pay on pieces of paper (RECs) that “prove” that Synergy are being green (after all, they’re getting a certificate – what says proof more than that?). They get these certificates by giving my money to other companies who produce green energy (according to this list Synergy don’t own any green power generators themselves). These pieces of paper are issued by the government, and Synergy are buying these certificates with my money – so effectively I’m just reimbursing the government and Synergy is getting the credit. I wonder what the government does with the revenue from these certificates…dredge the Great Barrier Reef to sell more coal?

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the scheme. Have a look at the explanation GreenPower have on their website for how the scheme works:

How GreenPower WorksCould it be any more complicated and confusing?! I have no understanding of what this means either, but I’m not getting good vibes from this diagram! Seems like too much regulation and too little action to me!

In spite of my distrust for these certification schemes, I’ve signed up for NaturalPower anyway. Why, if I’m so skeptical?

  • It may not be Ecotricity, but its something, and something is better than nothing.
  • I need to make the best of what options are available to me.
  • I want to send a message that renewables are something that I support, and something that I want to see more of.
  • I want to put my money where my mouth is. I don’t have a roof to install my own solar panels (ah, one day…) so this is how I can contribute.

The NaturalPower scheme that Synergy offers means we can contribute up to 100% of our consumption to purchase RECs. We’ve opted to contribute the full 100%. We use 5 units of electricity every day, which will mean our bill will go up $1.76 a week.

Green Power Square Image

Now I don’t like paying more for energy than I have to… who does?! But I also believe in using our money to shape the kind of world we want to live in. I’m happy to pay the green premium, but I still want to pay as little as possible. In order to get my bill down I need to look at my electricity usage and see if there’s any way we can reduce it further. We’re already pretty good in this department, but a fresh look at everything won’t hurt! I’ve got a blog post coming soon on ways to reduce your electricity consumption in the home, so keep an eye out over the coming weeks.

My thought for the day: Don’t let the pursuit of perfection hold you back from taking action. Synergy’s NaturalPower scheme is definitely not perfect, but at least it’s a step in the right direction…

Right, I’m off to dream of off-grid living and solar panels!

What do you think about green energy tariffs? Do you think they’re a scam or do you think they’re helping renewable energy become more mainstream and accepted? Have I totally misunderstood the REC scheme?! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Cardboard Castles, Celebrity Coffee and Social Contracts

I had a busy, productive and inspiring weekend. Don’t you just love those weekends? It nearly didn’t happen – I’d been brewing a cold/virus for the previous few days – but in the end the sun was shining and it all worked out perfectly.

Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights.

The Celebrity Photo Shoot

Well, not exactly “celebrity”, but my boyfriend has been asked to be one of the faces for the new Plastic Free July campaign, which meant a photoshoot at 9.30am on Saturday morning along the main shopping strip where we live. So Glen spent 30 minutes pacing up and down past the shops, whilst a guy with the longest camera lens I’ve ever seen snapped pictures, and Rebecca (from the Plastic Free July campaign) and I looked on. As did a few other Saturday morning shoppers; it’s interesting how people are drawn to the camera.

No-one asked for his autograph though, which I found disappointing.

Annoyingly, I forgot to take my camera, so I’m going to have to wait for the official ones to be ready before I can share them. Hopefully not too long to wait!

The Mosman Park Eco Fair

The Mosman Park Eco Fair is a glorious day out; set in the beautiful community gardens at St Luke’s Church in Mosman Park, featuring all things green, including sustainability workshops, ethical and environmental stalls and with a real focus on reducing waste.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, but after organising the Less is More Festival not too long before, it’s nice to go to an event as a punter and be able to enjoy everything that’s on offer.

The Earth Carers have a big presence as always. In addition to running their Washing Up Station to reduce disposable cups at the event, they also ran a children’s activity – make cardboard castles!

CardboardBoxes

EcoFair2

I wrote about the Washing Up Station at last year’s event (and why I think it’s so important here), but the castle-building was a new activity and a very popular one!

It was really great to catch up with so many people I know, as well as learn about all of the interesting projects that people are involved in, and hear about their latest achievements. Personally, I find it really inspiring and motivating reconnect with people from my community, and I always feel like my passion is re-ignited afterwards.

Permaculture Day

Sunday was International Permaculture Day, and there were some workshops at one of the local Farmer’s markets. I’ve been wanting to learn about beekeeping for ages, and made the effort to trek across town on a rather chilly morning for the 8.30am workshop. It was so interesting! Something to save for another blog post, but I felt a real sense of achievement in having taken a step closer.

My Glass Jar Trade

A few weeks ago I nearly put some of my glass jars into the recycling. In fact I did put them in, but then I took them out again. Most glass in Perth isn’t actually recycled (it’s trucked to Adelaide, turned into road base or landfilled) and I was sure that someone could use those jars. Just after I retrieved them, a friend requested jars for bottling her honey. I exchanged several of my finest jars in exchange for one jar of her finest honey. An awesome trade! I wouldn’t have got that from the recycling peeps!

Honey

Even better, once home I turned the honey into a delicious cake. Yum!

CakeThe cake is a chocolate pear rosemary cake that’s gluten- and dairy-free. You can find the recipe here; I used honey rather than sugar and it was perfect!

The Social Contract

In my last blog post I mentioned that I didn’t have a “no junk mail” sticker on my mail box. I know I needed one, I’ve been talking about it for months, but I could never quite get round to getting one. In fact, I didn’t just mention it once, I mentioned it 3 times. I didn’t want anyone to miss it.

Why? Because if you have an intention, there is nothing better than to tell EVERYONE your intention. Comments were made to me both on the blog and on Facebook about how should get a “junk mail” sticker. People taking an interest not only reinforces what I already know (that I need to get a sticker), but also makes me feel guilt and shame for not getting on with it. I don’t want to be asked by these same people over the next few months whether I’ve got one and have to say no – so this is a great way to force yourself into action!

I’m pleased to say I’ve been and got a new sticker. No more junk mail for me! Except, it still needs to be stuck on. A minor detail!

JunkMail

So that was my weekend. How was yours?!

We’re leaving the tiny flat…

After a little over two years in our tiny flat, it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve signed the papers and handed in our notice, and in just over two weeks we’ll be moving out.

It was a tough decision. We really like our tiny flat, especially in the Australian summer. It doesn’t get any direct sunlight so it stays relatively cool, even when it’s above 40ºC outside (and in Perth in summer, that happens often). We like living in a small space, and it’s been an excellent teacher in living with less and making do with what we have.

Plus we like the area; as we don’t have a car we chose this spot as it had excellent public transport links, and lots of facilities within walking distance.

However, last winter was brutal. When you live in a flat that doesn’t get any direct sunlight, with gaps in the doorframes that cold air blows right through, huge panes of single glazed glass and a bathroom window that actually has a 3inch x 25inch gap with no glass at all, it gets pretty cold.

Australia might be hot in the summer, but temperatures can drop to 0ºC overnight in winter. Brrr. Not only that, but when you have a cold flat, it gets damp. Last winter our bedroom (and everything in it) went moldy. Whilst we cleaned it up successfully (with no nasty chemicals) and the mould hasn’t returned, I was quietly dreading the possibility of having to deal with it again this year.

There’s a couple of other things that are less than ideal. Our toilet/bathroom is en-suite, which makes it awkward when visitors come to stay. It’s too small to have more than a couple of extra people over at one time, and we’d like to have people round more often. It would be nice to have somewhere else to keep the bicycles rather than in the way in the bedroom, where I manage to fall over it at least once a fortnight.

We ummed and ahhed about it for a while (it’s such a lovely place to live in summer that it’s hard to remember the horrors of last winter, but I remember saying at the time there was no way I could face another winter in this flat). The flat is inexpensive for the area, and moving is another expense. We decided that if the landlord didn’t put the rent up, we’d stay for as long as we could stand, and then hopefully find somewhere else.

The landlord decided to put the rent up.

We wrote to him to ask whether they would hold off for three months, to give us time to adjust. The job I was working on finished at Easter, so losing an income source on top of a rent increase was not ideal.

They said no.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have to start looking, and then something perfect came up.

The flat next door!

In our block of 16 units, only four are one-bed units. The others are two-bedroom, and our neighbour’s flat is one of these. This means it is slightly bigger, and the bathroom is not en-suite. It also has a big front balcony area with some natural light which means we might be actually able to grow some plants at last! Also, it’s not technically next door but across the passageway with a different aspect and far more natural light. In the 8 years our neighbours lived there, it never went moldy. Plus, it’s the same price!

The downside? It’s not in such good condition as our current flat. Most of the features are original (read dated and falling apart). The kitchen is even less spacious than our current (and fairly tiny) kitchen.

We’re really excited to be moving, though…and yet glad to be staying where we are. The best of both worlds. There’s nothing like moving house for the chance to declutter, either – and we intend to move with far less than we currently have. All those things that we’ve been keeping in case they turned out to be useful? Well, if they haven’t been useful in two years, perhaps now is the time to let them go.

Two weeks tomorrow and counting…

An unexpected surprise in the mail

Checking the mail this morning, I found an unexpected letter.

LiM LetterjpgThe community event I organised last year has won an award! How exciting is that?! Read more

An accidental break from blogging…and some holiday snaps

As my parents are visiting, I’ve been making the most of the opportunity to have a holiday and I’ve taken them to some beautiful places in Western Australia over the last two weeks. Firstly we went to Rottnest Island for two nights, and then came back for a day before heading off on a week-long road trip to Denmark, Pemberton and Margaret River. My intention whilst I was away was to do some blogging, and I hauled the laptop away with me, but none of the places we stayed had internet reception and so I’ve been disconnected.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice not to have choices and to have the decision made for you. I would have loved to connect with the blogosphere, to read what people have been up to, and to share the thousands of thoughts I’ve been having whilst I’ve been away, but it was actually great to disconnect with the virtual world and connect with the real one instead. I’ve had a fantastic time and feel recharged, re-energised and re-motivated.

Want to see some holiday snaps?

Here is Rottnest…

rott1 rott2 rott3 quokka rott4 rott6 rott5Next we went to Denmark and Albany…

den1 den2 den4 den5 den6 den7 den8 den9 den10 den11 den12 den13 den19 den20 den15 den21 den18 den17den16

Here is the Gloucester Tree near Pemberton. If you look closely you can see metal pegs – the tree is a fire lookout and you can climb up it! I am not game for that kind of thing so stayed at the bottom and appreciated it from there.

pemb1 pemb2I have to say though, whilst the holiday was fantastic, being back feels good too.

Mini-break in Margaret River

I just got back from a short two-night trip to Margaret River, a beautiful region 300 km south of Perth that takes my breath away every time I go there. For those of you (that’s you, dad!) who think that Australia is just one big red desert, you couldn’t be more wrong.

(Generally when people talk about Margaret River, they are referring to the region, although there is a small town of the same name in the centre of the region and, perhaps not surprisingly, a river. I found this name-sharing somewhat confusing when I first arrived in Perth.)

Rather than write a post today, I thought I’d share some of my holiday pics. Nature is amazing.

MR1 MR2mr3 mr4 mr5mr6 mr9 mr8 mr7 mr10 mr11mr12 mr13 mr14mr15 mr16 mr17 mr18 mr19 mr20 mr21 mr22In other exciting news, whilst we were away my boyfriend asked me to marry him, and I said yes.

Recycled sculpture: the Castaways sculpture awards at Rockingham

This weekend I went to Rockingham for the last day of the Castaways Sculpture Awards 2013. The exhibition runs for 9 days on the Rockingham foreshore and aims to raise the profile of recycling and environmental sustainability through art. All exhibits must have a recycled component. Read more