The last few months have been difficult. I’ve had a number of challenging life situations arise, My daughter having health issues, a friend’s death and seeing my compatriots and a country I love under fire. Hence the writing of this post is a personal one.
We are at an important juncture and moment in history and the tide can go either way. I’d like to know that I did everything I could to help turn the tide towards the good and towards lasting peace. With gruesome deaths, disappearances and violence inflicted on my compatriots every single day, silence is not an option.
I’ve seen messages of solidarity and support – for those, I say ‘Thank you’. But if anyone knows me they know that I am a practical lass and I always live by the motto of ‘actions speak louder than words’. I know others feel this way, but it’s hard to know what to do from afar.
Here are things that I think we can and must do to prevent more deaths and ensure the lives lost have not been in vain.
Write to your local MP, the PM, the foreign minister. This is one of the most effective things that you can do. Not many people know how to do this, or what to say, so I’ve pulled together a template letter with actions that activists are asking governments to take. While some sanctions have commenced, they are not nearly enough and more tangible, targeted actions need to be taken, so contacting your MP will maintain pressure to direct them towards this outcome. Here is a link to help you find your electorate, then your local MP. This includes social media handles, and email addresses.
Stay informed The true story is getting barely any media coverage. If you really want to know what’s going on, I’ve found these sources to be helpful. It’s not comfortable reading, but to get the true picture of the scale and urgency it’s important to get up to date information. These are also reliable sources used by media and are volunteer run and independent. @Tasvir1500@Hengaw@HRANA_English I’ve also summarised the ‘struggle’ to give you a snapshot of what this movement is about HERE.
Share and repost on social media and use the #MahsaAmini, #IranRevolution or any recent person’s name (like #MohsenShekari #Majdrezarahnavard). The aim is not to have this movement and issue disappear and to maintain focus and attention. Why would governments do anything if they don’t think anyone is watching? Despite the hard internet lockdown, inside the country people do see these messages and it helps them to know they are not alone.
Influence if you are in an influential role, or have contacts – think about what can be done? Whether you as a business, customer, employee or neighbour. I’d love to see more businesses and the creative arts community get behind this. I haven’t seen anything really happen in Australia, though many examples from overseas. For example I’ve approached a number of restaurants in my local area about #Cookforiran and not heard back (again, I’ve seen active participation from restaurants and the broader community out of Australia). I’ve spoken to property owners about using light and art on buildings to show support – they’re still mulling it over. If more people approached then something might happen. There are so many opportunities with things like Sydney Festival and World Pride. I’m sure there are other events and opportunities.
Rally There are numerous rallies happening around the country. If in Australia, CHECKOUT: for the latest. If overseas, no doubt there will be local rally organisers. This is an effective way of maintaining visibility and spreading the word. All the rallies I’ve attended are peaceful and there’s a strong sense of solidarity.
We started the design process in earnest in 2017, but due to financial constraints stopped, then picked it up again in 2018. Our initial plan was to go up another storey, but we had a hard budget which meant that after spending many many thousands of dollars on plans and approvals, we had to re-start. It was obvious that the two-storey option was super tight from a financial point of view and we would have had to sacrifice all of our sustainability aspirations. So back to the drawing board (literally) it was.
I spent a long time thinking of what I could do then to maintain as much of the existing home as possible, while reducing the size to help meet budget and environmental goals. With new plans drawn up we went into full gear and looked to lock in dates for construction to begin. But something else happened in early 2020…..a global pandemic hit and we needed to pause. We needed to mentally gather ourselves because going into lock down and living in fear was not the mindset that is conducive to risky big plans. But with the situation in Sydney easing and us sensing some form of ‘normality’, we hit the ‘Go’ button in October 2020.
Moving out was hard work. We had over the years accumulated so much which I was not going to have space for funnily enough. We threw out way more than I was hoping to do, but eventually the house was ready for the builders to move it.
The first step was demolition and this was the first and most important lesson that I learnt about construction.
I went through painstakingly identifying walls to keep, walls to remove. It was this desire to keep as much of the embodied energy in the home that forced most of the design decisions. Well little was I to know that it meant diddly squat! But before I get to that, the demolition did show up some unique 1940’s features like windows which were hidden behind some joinery and a little nook in the wall for when milk was left by the milkman!
As for the rest of the demolition, well it kept going and going until I came back one day and there was pretty much no house left at all! Imagine my sustainable heart sinking.
This is also about when two big variations came in. As I am on a sloping block, the house was built on piers. Most of the brickwork was 80 years old and much of the lime mortar worn down, away or non-existent. So my builder convinced me that this was not on and that I should remove the piers and start again. I eventually gave way also because as there was no house left anymore, it allowed me to slightly alter the location of some walls to make my daughter’s bedroom and the kids’ bathroom slightly bigger.
You would have seen from my wishlist in Part 1 of these posts that avoid, reuse and recycle was really high on the list from a materials and waste point of view. The reality became that much waste was generated and while my builder meticulously separated and recycled, nothing was maintained, nothing was reused. Not that I didn’t try. I gave lists and excel spreadsheets and marked what I wanted to reuse. Things like my solid timber front door, kitchen sink, toilets, taps, showeheads. These items were removed and sat in the front yard, but eventually ended up somewhere too. So this was another lesson – if I wanted to keep stuff, I had to go myself, remove it straight away from the site and store it. I simply assumed the builder would keep things on site until he needed it again.
It was also just as well that I had mentally let go of a lot of my garden because all of the garden beds around the house were destroyed, so a lot of money and love including a massive frangipani tree ended up in those skip bins too.
What was I doing while all of this was taking place? I was living 10 minutes away in a pretty grotty small home, though visiting regularly to my builder’s chagrin. I was working (mostly from home because of Covid, and trying to keep on top of spiralling costs)!
With demolition finished within a few months, we moved onto construction. But then something else was been happening in Sydney the last few years – La Nina. Stay tuned for my next post on how that affected things.
If you’ve been following my renovation blog, you will have seen that not everything went according to plan! After the shock of seeing my house flattened, the construction process began in earnest. This followed what the house was prior – double brick and mostly to the footprint.
The crazy times certainly continued however. The major events marked this phase of our build:
Supply chain issues
Covid lockdown 2.0 in NSW.
I recall asking at the outset about supply chain issues and the impending rain and was scoffed off. Well both came back to bite that’s for sure.
Firstly there was the price and availability of timber. Prices jumped 20% and there were delays. Thankfully my builder did not pass on the extra cost (though he tried) and had pre-ordered the timber, so we had no delays there. I know that this caused big issues for other builders.
Then, just when the walls started to go up again, the torrential rain set in. The yellow tongue flooring was installed just before the rain and by rain, I mean crazy rain. Over that period we experienced the wettest March on record with widespread flooding. As you can imagine, that does not fill one’s hear with joy.
The result of all that rain was felt later when mould was seen on the underside of the flooring. My protestations to have the flooring replaced was met with scorn. No, my builder said that it was ridiculous to demand such a thing and that they would do a clean up before handing me the key. Well they did clean it up and as a consequence I also became alerted to this being a potential ongoing problem, which is why for an extra $5,000, I installed subfloor ventilation.
To this day, my daughter’s bedroom which was the worst affected still smells mouldy once the rain sets in. No amount of sub-floor ventilation can deal with moisture coming up from the floors. Had I known this, I would have investigated further and installed a membrane to stop moisture coming up from the floors given that my house is timber and on a sloping block. The moisture does come through the timber flooring I believe.
This is not to say that I can’t do this later, but always better to do it as part of the build. Therefore my advice to anyone doing a renovation, be really careful with how moisture is managed and speak to your builder about keeping water from outside out, and from the inside, allowing moisture to escape.
Other things I did to manage this was to have my rangehood in the kitchen and extraction fans from the bathroom and laundry vented directly out. Crazy that I had to insist on this, otherwise it is vented to the roof space to circulate there.
Linked to supply chain issues were my windows. Being on a busy street, I knew early on that I wanted double glazed windows. Through research and related to my work, I also became aware of issues related to thermal bridging () so wanted UPVC windows (being more affordable than other options). I checked out some suppliers and settled on a company which will remain name-less for now.
This became another bone of contention with my builder. He did include in his price aluminium double glazing (though he did spend quite a long time trying to talk me out of double glazing altogether), but I insisted on going with my UPVC option. This effectively meant that I took on all the risk associated with this decision.
As part of our build, the floor was lifted up, which then made all of the window openings needing to be also lifted up. Hence windows, their size and type of opening became an obsession of mine. Despite someone from the company coming out and measuring, a few late changes meant that there were a few windows I needed to measure myself. Timing of the order and delivery also became something that I needed to coordinate.
Not surprisingly, there was a lag – so the site lay empty – all waiting for the windows to be installed. When they came to be installed, one of the feature windows (a window seat) was not the right size. The window company were good about replacing it and sending the correct one – but again, we hit trouble. The Suez Canal and the blockage which affected the world! The company asked whether I’d like to wait. By now (April) I thought we were never going to get to lock up stage, so I declined the wait and accepted the window as it was. We added another row of bricks and that seemed to do the trick.
These windows which came from the most economical company that I had costed, still cost me $20,000 more. This was a large sum, but now that I have moved it, they are amazing and I think worth the investment.
By the time the windows went in, we got to lock up stage and the finish line was in sight. We were still living in a very small and grotty rental, so were desperate to leave. The fun part of choosing finishes was about to begin. What could go wrong?
Covid through us all another curve ball and hit Sydney again. We went into lockdown. Again. A strange time when most of the country seemed to be fighting each other, like it was a competition as to who could do lockdown better and who could remain sane under increasingly harsh conditions. Very little sympathy for Sydney folk, particularly from Melbournians who had it really tough I have to say. Still being stuck at home, not being able to go out and see family, all within a small radius of your home with helicopters and police everywhere is no fun for anyone.
This time construction sites were closed, so our site also closed up- this was literally very close to the end, so months of waiting and watching Covid numbers, then the number vaccinated further added to the stress of being back at home working and home-schooling. Again I’ll stress the tiny and grotty rental full of cockroaches and as we discovered mice – in the house – I mean finding mouse poo in the kids beds!
I did the choosing of lots of things including furniture all online. Thankfully earlier in the year to take advantage of the end of year sales, I’d purchased a bunch of things and arranged delivery for the middle of the year. This worked in my favour because supply chain issues continued for many people and are still going on.
Once construction were allowed to go back, it meant no work could really happen because Western Sydney was still in a harsher lockdown and nobody could enter or leave it (strange, strange times…). All of the trades for me were coming from western Sydney, so I remained impacted. Then there was the fun bit where only vaccinated people could go to work and some of my trades people did not want to be vaccinated. Eventually – we limped across the finish line and by late-September the house was finished and we moved in!
No big parties of course because we weren’t allowed, but a nice feeling to be in a brand new house as it turned out in the end.
I wanted to share this build with you because sustainability was one of my main drivers. My experience was that anything deviating from the regular churn was treated as a big cost and a source of much back and forth with my builder who was not a bad guy, just wanted to get on with it and do what he usually did. It took a lot of insisting for me to get my way. Now what did I get my way and how much did it cost?
Abolished gas: $1,800 to Jemena to abolish the gas connection). Now you can opt in for electric appliances without having to abolish your gas, but I chose to do this. To do so, I contacted my electricity retailer and filled in a request form which had to be approved.
Electric heat pump: total cost $4,890 – so about another $2,000 on what I would otherwise install). I chose the Sanden which was the more expensive option, but so far it is amazing and it also has low global warming potential refrigerants and it’s super quiet.
UPVC double glazed windows and doors: total cost, about $44,000 (ALL my windows had to be replaced and I included some large bi-fold type doors too). As I stated about $20,000 more than my builder’s allowance. I went with Integra Windows, but do be careful as their after sale service is not the best. I’m still waiting on a call back (more than two weeks later) for a broken handle.
Rainwater tank: $6,770. I was surprised with the cost to be honest, but I needed a concrete slab to be poured and the pump, so it’s quite involved. It’s a 10,000 litre tank which thanks to all this rain fills up in a few days! I only have it for irrigation because one of my failings amongst the Covid lockdown and busy-ness of life was I missed the opportunity to connect it to the toilets. This would have no doubt cost me even more.
Appliances: no specific costs here. I needed new ones, so made sure they were all efficient. I did buy a BOSCH induction cooktop which I am very happy with.
Electric vehicle charge point: about $300 – no biggie at all. My builder basically through this in for free. I did need to make sure there is the right wiring with capacity in place, but this was not a major cost. I have no electric car, but hopefully in the next little bit – fingers crossed!
Three phase electricity: $3,000. Given that I wanted to put in a lot of solar and to future proof the home, I put in three phase electricity. My meter box needed replacing anyhow, hence taking the opportunity to do this.
LED lighting – no extra cost
Low VOC paints – no extra cost
Water efficient appliances, taps, toilets etc – no extra cost
Ceiling fans – $700 extra as I wanted nicer fans than what the allowance in the contract would have allowed
So all in all, I got most of what I wanted, but for some I had to pay quite a bit extra. While the timing for the renovation was stressful, I am lucky that I completed the works before things got even more crazy on the cost side.
Of course, one is never done. Since moving in, I have a few more updates that to write about which have made my house even more sustainable.
As I sit here in my renovated home, I am able to enjoy the changes I made to improve the life of my family and I.
To make it our own though we enlisted the help of family. My father in-law who has now passed away was an architect, so he set off coming up with some plans for us. He came up with many different options. We pored over them from overseas and having never seen the house – but sustainability was always right up in the top of considerations.
This renovation was a long time coming. When we bought this 1940’s post-war house in Lane Cove we always knew we wanted to make changes. The house itself though was solid and had ‘good bones’, so we knew we wanted to renovate rather than knock it down.
We never actually saw the house as we were living overseas (Abu Dhabi) when we bought it. My mum checked it out though and confirmed it was a ‘good one’. We were lucky at the time that prices has stabilized in Sydney somewhat and we could put in a bid that was successful.
He was able to research and came up with good options for us. Top of my wishlist at the time was solar hot water and keeping as much of the house as possible to reduce waste and embodied carbon.
But when we priced this up, it was out of our budget and reach, so we decided to live in it first when we moved back with our two children. We managed a few updates like a new kitchen, bathroom, laundry, painting, ripping out carpet, rendering and doing a lot of work in the garden. You’ll see all my gardening posts over the years.
But with a third child and growing kids, it was time to think about what came next. I spent some time looking into opportunities to sell and move somewhere quieter, but as anyone that has lived in Sydney the last ten years will tell you – that’s a pipe dream. So after eliminating that option, it came time again to re-look at the plans that we had. We realized that at the time, we were a family of four and are now a family of five, so we needed new plans.
Through a friend’s connection we found a builder who listened to us and brought on an architect he regularly worked with. Again I made sure sustainability was at the top of the wishlist and went so far as to draw up an excel of all my ‘must haves’. I gave this to the architect at the outset who seemed extremely confused and wasn’t sure what to do about my enthusiasm.
So what was I trying to fix with this enthusiasm?
We also installed solar and tried to look into efficiency measures like LED lights. BUT the house was always uncomfortable. We had tiled floors which were absolutely feezing to walk on in winter. The windows leaked like crazy. In fact some had even cracked. One of the rooms clearly had moisture issues. Our gas and electricity bills were always really high, particularly over winter. Needless to say efficiency and good designs was on the top of priorities.
Some of our wishlist items included:
Double glazed windows
Efficient showerheads and toilets
Low toxicity materials, paints
Certified timber and materials
Good construction waste management
Reused materials and reusing what we demolish as much as possible
Keeping as much of the house as possible
Disconnecting from gas – so going fully electric
Highly insulated (walls, ceiling, floors, roof)
You can see from this list that there is nothing too crazy on this list. My builder though listened politely, but not only saw dollar signs for variations, but also thought I was being kooky!
So there began the journey of not only educating the builder, but of the battle of realise a lot of my vision.
Stay tuned for more blogs as I take you through the year that was which included Covid lockdowns, supply chain issues and many variations.
Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear your stories and share what lessons you learnt.
Yesterday I was looking at a note pad. It was my ‘to do’ list and aspirations for 2020. On the list were the usual things like eat well, exercise and ‘be in the moment’. Amongst the list was also my holiday plans for the year – camping, going to a coastal property and even skiing. Little was I to know that my world and that of everyone else on the planet was going to be turned upside down within a few months by a global pandemic.
I’ve spent the last five weeks at home with my kids and to be honest it’s been a whirlwind of setting up new routines and keeping my children happy and positive. It is only now that as I look to more weeks in physical isolation, that I start to chart a way forward to maintain the initial level of vigilance. The initial level was really a must – cases were going up – we were all scared and in shock.
Having come out of a horrific six months in Sydney plagued by a sense that the world was teetering on a precipice due to the devastating bushfires I already felt emotionally raw and carried a deep sense of sadness and anxiety. Many a time did I spend in tears at the state of the world and most of that really was about the sense that much of what I was seeing play out I knew would happen in a climate emergency situation. It really was the worst nightmare of many people who have worked and been active in environmental causes. I sensed like I’d failed future generations. That maybe I didn’t try hard enough.
So to so quickly have to deal with this health crisis was a shock. I have to say that the main thing I’ve been heartened by is that the government did take action and people listened. Well that is until I’m sensing this last week. We’ve breathed a sigh of relief as the curve in Australia has indeed flattened. What I am sensing now though is concerning, is that people are starting to not listen as much to the health advice. So my blog today is really about me sharing my tips on how to survive the next month or so as we try and keep the curve flattened and hopefully not have a second wave which will completely undo all of the hard work done to date.
So what’s kept me sane and the family fairly happy these last five weeks?
Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of ourselves. I start each working day with an early morning walk. It keeps me away from crowds, it’s quiet and tranquil and amazing to see the sun rise every day.
I also go running and do yoga. This is also extending to my children. Each of their school days (even if this is at home) starts with a walk around the block in the morning and afternoon. It’s a way of mentally opening and closing the school day. This is all in our local area which I know I’m lucky is a lovely part of the world surrounded by trees.
There are loads of online exercise classes if you can’t get outside, these are just some (please take care when exercising at home):
I love nature and one of the blessings of the recent shut downs has been that I have more time on the weekend where I can take my children on a bushwalk. We do a different bushwalk every week and through it we’ve really discovered places on our doorstep and within our neighbourhood. It’s been great. My kids started off by moaning a lot when we would want to go out and while tearing them away from another day in their pyjamas is still met with a groan, they’re actually getting a lot out of it. They’re taking photos and really exploring and looking deeply at nature, the trees, the bugs, leaves and branched and listening to the trickle of a creek or waterfall. This is one of my favourite things to do. I’ve even noticed the sound of birds and discovered that I have a blue tongue lizard that lives in my backyard. Things I probably would not have noticed had it not been due to me being forced to strip some excess from my life.
On this day, she decided to wear her school uniform even though she was going to be at home
Yes, I have been anxious and worried. The thought of anyone in my family being taken away by the horrible virus is terrifying. The thought that this can go on for years and the economic impacts, social and emotional impacts on peopled including my children is horrible. Still, every day there is something to be grateful for. Simply still breathing and being here for me is a reason to celebrate. So every night at the dinner table, my family and I talk about what we’re grateful for. It’s a really important part of finding something positive and a silver lining even in the most terrible circumstances.
On this day, she decided to wear her school uniform even though she was going to be at home
Nightly dance off
Another fun thing we’ve instituted in my family is a nightly dance off. We put on a happy and upbeat song and dance around. No matter how angry, emotional or terrible a day we may have feel like we’ve had. The act of coming together and dancing lifts our moods. I really recommended it. We even take turns choosing the song. Through this I’ve introduced my kids to a bit of 90’s hip hop, Madonna (early Madonna) and Stevie Wonder.
I have a few old folk in my neighbourhood. My youngest daughter decided to write them cards and drop it in their letterbox. Hoe lovely it was to receive a reply and in one case some goodies as a thank you. I know they’re appreciated knowing that we’re looking out for them and it’s a good thing to teach to be kind to those that are vulnerable and may need help. If you can reach out to someone please do. Here are also some organisations that can help you connect with someone in need:
It’s very cool when your 11 year old comes to you and you brainstorm a Personal Interest Project. My son is very interested in technology so we thought creating an APP would be a good personal interest project and of course I had to put my eco-mummy twist on it, so the APP became about how to create a waste free life.
My son researched and wrote the content for the APP and spent afternoons with my brothers putting it into code. I thought ;d share his insights – so today, he is my guest blogger!
Live Waste Free
Waste is responsible for 3% of global carbon emissions (https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/), releasing methane which is a stronger greenhouse gas than Carbon dioxide. There is so much that we can do to eliminate this – and I’m here to show you how you can live a waste free life to help save out planet!
About our waste
What is it?
Food waste is food that is thrown out, lost or uneaten. It makes up over half of all waste disposed of at landfill. Wasting food is not only bad for the environment, but its also bad for your hip pocket. Australians throw out around $3,500 worth of food every year!
Want to have zero food waste?
There’s so much you can do to avoid food waste. Here are my tips:
Buy only what you’re going to eat! People buy too much food and it goes off – better not buy too much. Take a list and stick to it 🙂
If you do buy food and it starts to go funny, there are recipes that will help you use it up instead of throwing it out. Check out: https://foodwastefeast.com/recipes/ for some ideas.
Store your food properly. You can freeze things like bananas and berries and make shakes for example. Store thing in air tight containers to keep them longer.
Also check out these websites to find out more about avoiding food waste and take the zero food waste challenge:
Once you’ve done what you can to avoid and use up all your food, anything left over should be put in a worm farm. Luckily, you can make this yourself at home: LINK
What is it?
Plastic is a really useful product. It’s light, flexible and doesn’t break. The problem though is that a lot gets thrown out and ends up in our oceans, rivers, streams and bushland which causes pollution.
Australians love plastic so much that we use more than 10 million plastic bags a day and over 85% of soft plastics ends up in landfill!
Thankfully there are so many things that we can do to reduce our use of plastic.
Want to have zero plastic waste?
Firstly you should avoid plastic by using a reusable water bottle; and taking your own containers and bags to fill up at the supermarket;
Use beeswax wraps or lunch boxes instead of cling wrap for your lunch;
Where you can, reuse your bags and containers as much as you can; and
Take your soft plastic waste (wrappers, bags etc) to the supermarket for recycling (like some Coles and Woolworths stores accept this).
Check out these websites for more information and take the zero plastic waste challenge!
Paper and cardboard are made of trees. It also uses water and energy to produce. In fact, Australians use around 230 Kg of paper each year (https://waster.com.au/recycling-facts-australia/). Luckily Paper and cardboard waste should really be a thing of the past. Here’ what you can do:
Avoid using paper – work on line, double side print and where you do have waste, use the paper as scrap paper;
Recycling paper can have loads of other benefits too. Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves: 13 trees, 2.5 barrels of oil, 4m3 of landfill, 31,780 litres of water and 4,100 kilowatts of electricity.
My family has a big garden, so all the leaves, the grass clipping and trimmed branches created garden waste. When this ends up in landfill it creates methane which is a greenhouse gas. Garden waste though can easily be returned back to the garden as mulch or compost.
Here are some ways that you can have zero garden waste:
Compost, compost, compost! here is how you can make your own compost bin: Compost
I’m really excited because I just got my first mobile phone and for school will get my first laptop. While I’m excited, I’m also aware that electronic waste is a really big problem. In Australia, there are more unused phones than people in Australia and unfortunately we only recycle about 10% of our old phones.
Unfortunately a lot of electronic waste ends up in poorer countries like Uganda, China and India where people including children go through them to get out precious metals. These areas become really polluted and it affects people’s health.
Electronic waste can also include other things like TVs, printers, DVD players, fridges and other electronic appliances.
What can you do?
Think twice before buying electronics. Do you really need the latest phone or laptop?
Donate – but please don;t dump. There are charities that will accept electronics in good condition;
Plastic is a visual and insidious material and source of pollution. It is something that seems to be uniting young and old to try and take action. In fact while Australia continues to be an embarrassing laggard when it comes to climate action, Scott Morrison and the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) announced a ban on plastic, paper, glass and tyres with a $20 million fund to boost national recycling. This is welcomed especially following recent turnbacks of our waste in Indonesia and Malaysia.
With this in mind, it’s been an interesting time to participate in Plastic Free July. This month long pledge is now officially over. The last week saw us staring at the finish line in anticipation. Would our plastic free life style carry on to August and onward? I’m afraid not so much. We learnt a lot. About how prevalent plastic is in our every day life and how convenience has made it hard to give up. Despite that though, we are determined to continue to try and carry as much of the plastic free ethos beyond July. But in order for us to be able to avoid the use of this material and the environmental impacts of its production in the first place, a broader societal shift needs to occur led by supermarkets.
Are our major supermarkets willing to take this challenge on though? Let’ check out the Coles ‘Sustainability’ page: https://www.coles.com.au/corporate-responsibility/sustainability/environment
We understand the important roles packaging plays in maintaining food safety, supporting product longevity and reducing food waste. At the same time, we are committed to reducing our impact on the environment and have implemented a Sustainable Packaging Policy.
This Policy extends to plastic packaging and plastic bags with a focus on recycling infrastructure to recycle these plastics, rather than try and avoid them. With the recent cases of turnback of plastics, it’s unknown whether this policy is even practical and achieving its stated aim.
Let’s now take a look at Woolworths which has a lovely ‘sustainability’ page: https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/discover/sustainability
Our plan to tackle the plastic problem is focused on eliminating plastic where possible and to work towards ‘closing the loop’ by encouraging recycling through design, technology and clear communication to our customers.
The Woolworths Policy and its actions are certainly fairly comprehensive and while it isn’t easy to avoid plastic, reducing unnecessary use should be an absolute must.
Therefore it’s with disappointment that both supermarkets, in the month of Plastic Free July, decided that it was a super idea to have silly toy giveaways – both aimed to children and the pester power that they have. This is certainly something that I never buy into, but that doesn’t always stop extended family from doing the same. We now have a number of Lion King Ooshies in our house. This despite all that I tried to teach my children about plastic and ways to avoid it in the last month.
While the ooshies are in our house (not many), I’m pretty sure this will be one of the last time these cheap plastic toys make their way into my home. At least the ooshies are giving me a chance to really drive home the message that unless my kids plan on keeping these toys for life, they are likely to end up in landfill or polluting the ocean and after all we did in July – won’t that be a shame? It is hard though when I must be about the only parent at the school to hold these views, as I see many children with bags and bags of ooshies at pick up time.
So it is with interest that I observe the intersect between environmental issues and science with art because artists will be able to clearly communicate in a creative way, what many scientists have failed to do for so long. In the case of the ooshies, this has been through the Future Landfill initiative which is using cheeky art to make a point about the pointlessness of these cheap promotions.
So if there’s one last tip that I can give – it is that, while it may be hard, it isn’t impossible to significantly reduce our plastic use and it all starts with a simple ‘no’. No, to taking a ‘free’ ooshie or other cheap toy giveaway, no to plastic waste, no to takeaway cups, cutlery and containers and no to plastic water bottles. Our world really does depend on it.
Plastic free July is in full swing in my house and it isn’t getting any easier I have to say! Once you start this journey and start to really look at this issue, you realise that plastic is literally everywhere. Within the food supply chain it touches almost everything, so complete elimination is near impossible in a modern world. For example, I haven’t figured out the cheese and tofu situation yet!
Overall we are really trying to stick with the plastic free ethos and we’re having some success. We’re discovering alternatives to plastic and are taking the opportunity educate retail staff.
One of our challenges is buying meats. Though I am vegetarian, my kid are not, so we do buy meat most weeks. Even when we go along with our containers to the deli, or butcher in the supermarket to allow them to put the meat straight in, I’ve found that the poor staff are confused and often use a plastic bag to pick up the meat anyway – so the container solution is often defunct. Maybe if enough people ask for this, they’ll get it.
The other challenges are also around buying fruit. So many come in plastic containers, so our no berries and cherry tomatoes month continues. I often find myself staring longingly at those berries!
Shopping also really does take quite a lot longer and with my husband as the one who does the shopping much of the pressure is on him. He often comes homes a bit cranky by it all. While he supports this initiative, I know that he’s secretly counting down the days until he can shop with ease!
But with the challenges come the good vibes from knowing we’re really making a difference. My kids are totally into it and relish the opportunity to point out a lapse in something that my husband I may do. This week, I’ve also really noticed the difference in our bins. So much less rubbish and probably a lot less food waste too. While we are good recyclers and have a worm farm and a compost, the forced simplification of our shopping trolley is resulting in less overall waste.
Our diets have become more basic because of necessity and we’re learning to try some things out that we’ve never done before – like make yoghurt. This has been my discovery of the week and trust me the yoghurt was so delicious – much nicer than store bought. This is something I’m keen to stick to post July. Here is a great instruction. My mum’s tricks are to heat the milk to the required temperature. Add the yoghurt, then put it in a pre-heated oven (the oven is turned off by the way). Keep it there overnight, then take it out of the oven. Let it sit on the kitchen bench for a few hours, then put it in the fridge. In essence it’ about managing the increase and decrease in temperature. And is this all worth it. It honestly and truly is. So yum. Nooshejan.
Last weekend, I excitedly decided to jump into Plastic Free July and do so with my family. I mean – really, how hard can it be?
Very hard. I feel as though I have spent the first week in shock. Shock by the realisation that plastic is literally everywhere and changing that is going to be really really hard. I’ve had many failures this week. Here are a few:
Caving into hunger when offered a little pack of cheese and crackers;
Milk – where can you easily find an alternative to plastic?
Same goes for bread;
Bin liners. Despite seeing things online about paper lined bins, I am not going there yet;
Italian chocolate in its wrapper!
Despite these failures though, I am feeling good. It feels as though my house is going through some sort of detox. I have however spent the first week finishing off food items that had plastic containers and I’m not sure how to replace them all.
I sent my poor husband off to practice Plastic Free July during the weekly shop. The result? The shop took twice a long because of the to-ing and fro-ing between different shops (baker, butcher, greengrocer etc) and cost more.
It’s also going to take some more practice to buy some things where we’re relying on others’ participation. For example, last Friday I made my kids chicken and was feeling pretty fab to ditch the pre-packages by going to the butcher. When I got there though, I had to explain that I didn’t want the chicken in a plastic bag after which I was told that I could take in my own container. I returned with the container, only to have the butcher take the chicken out using a plastic bag! so it kind of defeated the purpose of the container! It honestly was a bit of a comedy routine.
Even though we went shopping yesterday, our fridge is nearly empty because so many things that we buy come in plastic (no berries for July and no cherry tomatoes!). While we’re trying to figure a lot of things out, we’ve also found some things are easier to get than we thought.
For example, I’ve discovered a shop in Lane Cove called ‘Source’. It has everything from different types of oils, to a wall of different types of chocolate, flour, legumes, cereals, shampoo, cleaning products and soap. While I’ve been there sometimes from time to time, I will probably return more even after July.
For week 2, I’m going to follow some of the tips my son put together:
Bring your own shopping bag (also your own container if buying things like meats, olives etc);
Don’t buy bottled water;
Bring own KeepCup to the coffee shop;
Don’t use single use straws;
Don’t use plastic cutlery;
Try to avoid food in plastic wrap (easier said than done. I have no idea how I’m going to buy cheese!);
Carry your own box for leftover food;
Join the Earn and Learn program (in NSW);
Buy bread without a bag or with a paper bag;
Clean with vinegar and water;
Use a bar of soap instead of a plastic dispenser;
Use a stainless steel lunchbox;
Instead of getting takeaway smoothies, make your own!
Make your own icy pole instead of buying ice cream; and
Don’t use plastic plates.
With that – i thought I’d sign off with some ways to avoid some of the tough plastics like bin liners:
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending The Climate Reality Project’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training along with 800 other like-minded people. It was three days of meeting and listening to inspiring people – all with the aim of tackling global heating.
I have always been quite green and have been writing about my journey as an eco-mummy for a few years now. While I was there though, I met someone who also said they really cared about plastic pollution in the oceans. She said it like she needed to choose which issue was more urgent and pressing and thereby worth her time and dedication. Then it struck me how both issues are so inter-related.
The process of making plastic is quite complex, as I recently discovered when trying to explain it to a group of year 3 students (part of my Climate Reality presentation advocacy). One thing that isn’t so complex though is the base material that goes into making plastic – fossil fuels (crude oil and gas). It releases many tonnes of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere during its production and uses energy too, to manufacture. So all in all a very fossil fuel hungry material. In fact, plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8% of global yearly oil production. Despite all of the renewables coming online in the last year, the significant increase in plastic production has been blamed for the increase in CO2 emissions in 2018.
But plastic is fantastic isn’t it? It’s durable, light and doesn’t break. It’s so flexible that life would seem almost impossible without it. We love plastic so much that the World Economic Forum estimates that plastic production has sky rocketed from 16.5 million tonnes in 1964 to 343 million tonnes in 2014 with predictions that this will double by 2036! Since 1950, humans have made 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic and despite the fact that plastic is durable and reusable, most has been disposed, so we keep producing more and more. I remember travelling in Cuba as part of my year of backpacking before children and seeing plastic bags hanging out on clothes lines to dry. Obviously Cubans saw some value in these bags in that they reused them. The rest of the world though is in an unrelenting cycle of throwing things out.
So where does all of this plastic that is thrown out end up? Very little is recycled and most (79%) ends up in either landfill or the world’s oceans (8 million tonnes every year) slowly breaking down. It takes plastic between 500 – 1000 years to break down. That is many millions of tonnes of plastic waste – everywhere for millennia. When plastic does break down into micro-plastics, then where does it go? Likely in animals and ultimately us!
When thinking of plastic and plastic waste – also consider that many ‘rich’ countries offload this problem to the developing world where environmental laws are more lax and the problem is ‘out of sight’. The health impact on those communities from our waste, is shameful. Some countries like China, the Philippines and Malaysia are wising up and sending the waste back.
Going back to the Climate Reality training conversation, I was struck by what Natalie Isaac from 1 Million women said: Don’t just talk – you must live your values in your everday life. Now I am generally good about my plastic use and I’ve resisted going ‘full hog’ in eradicating plastic in my life because – well I’m a busy working mum trying to live life on a budget of sorts. So the idea of going to 5 different shops to get my weekly groceries doesn’t have much appeal. I have seen articles about people with a little jar showing how much waste they’ve produced in a year and have rolled my eyes about the improbability and impracticality of it all!
BUT, when I went to my daughter’s class to present on climate action, I used plastic as a way for kids to make a difference because through this action, the benefits are two-fold: reduce plastic waste and reduce carbon emissions.
After the talk a few days ago, I got thinking about my own home. Luckily Plastic Free July: https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ is about to kick off and my family and I have decided to participate. We’ve taken the challenge to avoid single use plastic packaging and target takeaway items. I have no idea how we’re going to go, but I will share our ups and downs every week.
I encourage you to also take the challenge and to get you started here are some resources that can help:
For me, I have started! I went to a wholefood store in Lane Cove (Source) and stocked up on some snacks for the kids that I can put in their lunch box. Keep an eye out for my weekly blog where I’ll share tips and an uncensored take on how we’re going as a family. Please join me in taking the challenge.