Thursday, January 28, 2010

Batteries and evil eggs

I had to go to the local supermarket the other day to buy a new battery for the smoke alarm. I know, necessary evil. Unfortunately I've never seen a rechargable in the ginormous size required required for this purpose. I did however recycle the old one for the first time in the carton thats been set up in local library. Apparently 18 million household batteries are thrown away each year in my state alone. When batteries end up in landfill there is a risk of the potentially dangerous elements they contain - such as arsenic, mercury and lead - eventually toxifying the environment. Not good. Luckily Australia's first household battery recycling initiative was recently set up in W.A.. Apparently regular alkaline batteries are composed of about 20% zinc which can be recovered and reused to make things like street lights and automobile parts. Cool, huh?

While I was in the supermarket buying the battery I overheard a father talking to his two young children as they selected a carton of eggs. He was explaining to them why he chose to buy a carton of freerange eggs rather than a carton of battery farmed eggs.
"See, these guys are horrible to the chickens, so we buy these others ones and make 'em go out of business"
"Why don't we just tell them to stop it?" the little boy asked his Dad.
"No, that won't work!" Dad said vehemently, "we gotta make 'em go out of business!".
"Yeah!" agreed the little boy with relish "thats eviller!".
Enough said, don't you think?

See link below for more info on household battery recycling in W.A.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making a gorilla's day...

My mobile phone was recently liberated by a quick fingered opportunist. While I was a bit shocked and stressed out at the time (more so by the contemporaneous liberation of my wallet and keys) now I'm not so sure that I miss it that much. I was notorious for never having it charged, or, if I did, never hearing it ring anyway. However, The B.H. points out, fairly, that I probably should have a mobile phone in case of emergency. Its true that when I went out and came across someone in need of an ambulance the other week, it probably would have been best if I hadn't had to leave them and run to a fish and chip shop to make the call.

We have a 'spare' phone at home available for use but, I must confess, its just not as appealing as any of the multitude of shiny new upgrades available. Whats the point of a mobile phone if it can't also provide me with internet access, MP3s and blowdry my hair while its at it, right? And it looks like I'm not the only one tempted. According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association most people buy a new phone every 12-24 months, and there are an estimated 14.3 million unused mobile phone handsets being stored in people's homes or at work. Assuming people aren't storing useless handsets, this suggests to me that many are replacing perfectly functional phones.

So, these are some reasons I've collected to reinforce my resolve not to break my pledge not to buy new things by needlessly upgrading my mobile phone:
* think of all that metal and plastic embodied in a mobile and the energy it takes to make and import them.
* a vital ingredient in electronic capacitors is coltan - the industrial name for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore. The majority of the world's coltan is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, apparently mining of coltan in the DRC has resulted in deforestation and loss of eastern lowland gorilla habitat - unsurprisingly, between this and the poaching, their numbers are dwindling. Furthermore it has been postulated that the mining, smuggling and trade of coltan in the DRC has helped finance ongoing civil conflict which millions of people have already been killed.
* mobile phones contain potentially hazardous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and brominated best not in landfill!
* call me old fashioned, but if I need to check my email....I've got a laptop! If I need to listen to music....I've got an i-Pod!

To address some of these problems the AMTA has set up a mobile recycling campaign - "Mobile Muster". I think that I've seen collection boxes in my local Post Office. According to the AMTA over 90% of the metals and plastics contained in a recycled mobile phone can be recovered and reused to make things like plastic fence posts and batteries. In 2008 famous gorilla conservationist Jane Gooddall also launched a mobile phone recycling program at Melbourne Zoo.

So I guess I'll be putting up with the boring old household 'standby' phone for now.....and when it dies and goes to silicone heaven* it'll be reincarnated as a fence somewhere.

See link to Mobile Muster campaign below.

Tanya Ha, ABC The Science Show, Nov 2009
Stephen Cauchi, The Age, March 22 2009
Mobile Telecommunications Industry Statement Of Commitment to Mobile Phone Recycling, found at

* for anyone to whom this reference is foreign....check out the BBC series Red Dwarf

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On the love of the preloved and the sanctity of stuff

I was in a "getting things done" mood on the weekend. We capitalised on this rather rare occurrence by finally relieving ourselves of the boxes of unwanted books that have been mooching about in our spare room. Some were freecycled. Others we took to a secondhand bookshop - a rather bizarre establishment. There was barely standing room for all 72 000 (at last inventory, apparently) books stacked precariously upon eachother in vast teetering towers. I was a bit worried about triggering a book avalanche.

I felt a bit bad leading the rather eccentric owner into temptation with more potential stock that he clearly did not need - he was obviously suffering from a serious book habit! But I could relate to this, I love secondhand books too. They have a special smell, the pages are thick and soft from repeated handling, there may be intriguing personal inscriptions made by strangers....Needless to say a couple of special specimens insisted on coming home with us.

We then took the remainder of our unwanted books to the local charity warehouse. This particular place has a good collection of old chinaware - which I'm also a fan of. I discovered a beauty - an old English cup and saucer patterned in a white and navy oriental design. Maybe its because I used to have a casual job in a department store selling new homewares (which I came to despise) but the used variety have so much more appeal for me. They have a bit of character, or soul if you like. A story to tell.

I used to pride myself on not caring about 'things' - I equated this with being 'anti-materialist'. I think thats why, as I've said before, I'm notorious for trashing and losing my possessions. But the realisation I've come to is that while we shouldn't lust after what isn't ours or let our things define us, we should care about them. Material goods are made up of the Earth's precious resources, and should therefore be treasured. As Colin Beavan writes in his book No Impact Man, "Our problem is that we see the material - and the associated planetary resources - as base and trash it, treating it as though it has no divine value". Food for thought.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Confessions of a Chocaholic

I have pretty a serious chocolate habit. I need a fix everyday. And its a pretty simple equation for me to get my hit - go and buy some, consume it, happy belly! Right? Well, lately its not so simple for me. Even less so since I just did a bit of research about the implications of non-fairtrade chocolate. I already had an idea that, as The European Fair Trade Association has reported, the average cocoa producer in a developing country receives only 5 cents out of every dollar spent on chocolate. This might leave them with barely enough money to feed their kids or to buy their family medicine if someone gets sick. What I wasn't so aware of is that apparently the West African cocoa industry is guilty of widespread use of child workers who may be victims of child trafficking and slavery and working in unsafe conditions. Suddenly that chocolate doesn't taste so good, huh?

Something I've been thinking about lately is that in this strange capitalist world we live in the most powerful political statement we can make is what we do or don't spend our money on. We vote with our wallet. So is it a bit over the top to make such a song and dance about what chocolate or coffee or tea I consume (the latter two industries having equally dubious track records)? I think not. Whether I choose the fairtrade chocolate which guarantees fair labour conditions and a fair price paid to producers or the chocolate made by the unscrupulous multinational corporation ....well, that choice does actually affect other people's lives somewhere down the line, whether its convenient for me to think about it or not.

See links below more more info on fairtrade and the cocoa industry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Pest and Post

Well, in my last post I was celebrating the fact that The Booba's sleep habits were permitting me some time in my 'garden' in the evenings. Ha! If there's one thing I've learnt over the last 11 months in baby-world (the parallel universe we enter when we become parents), the only constant is flux! Negotiations with The Booba over when he will go to sleep in the evening have recently deteriorated to the point where the B.H. and I are eating our dinner in shifts. Thus, unfortunately, not much time left for blogging (or, in fact, much else). As I often say..its just as well he is so cute!

Its probably time once again to take stock of how my 'no new stuff' excursion is faring as a whole. Well, so far I have to say its a positive experience for me - honestly, at the moment I don't feel deprived at all. This sounds corny but if anything I feel like its probably enriched my life. Having a 'no new stuff embargo' has forced me to be more creative, and its certainly freed up some time (not to mention cash). We have never been diehard shoppers, but still quite often precious weekend days seemed to be consumed by seeking out one thing or another that we 'needed'. When we recently went to Melbourne - shopping mecca - we had a more relaxing time than we otherwise would have done, I suspect, because we didn't feel pressured by that special opportunity to go and acquire things.

Other than Christmas gifts my only misdemeanour in the last month took place yesterday - and I think you'll agree it was justifiable. We're currently under siege by wasps - I've had to kill three that I've found in The Booba's bedroom over the last two days (not a nice feeling). I did try to lure the wasps with a D.I.Y. trap constructed from a cut up soda bottle and some apple juice laced with dishdrops (manna from heaven for a wasp, supposedly) that I put outside. However this was met with upturned little waspy noses - our cats' outdoor water dish clearly offers a much more highly rated wasp beverage. So off I went to the local hardware shop in search of heavyduty wasp-murdering equipment which the B.H. put to good use yesterday evening. I'm disappointed to report however that the new fandangly 'irresistable to wasps' plastic traps that I purchased are, at this point, rather lacking in the dead wasp department.

In between anti-wasp missions yesterday I went to the Post Office to send off a birthday package, regretting the fact that I didn't have any old parcels to send it in. I used to think that reusing old parcels wasn't 'allowed' or something, but, emboldened by receiving one from someone else, I sent off my Christmas gifts in old packages I had luckily been saving for no apparent reason (as is my wont). Anyway, yesterday I was pleased to find that you can now purchase parcels at the Post Office made from 100% recycled paper. Unfortunately the lady working behind the counter considered it her duty to inform me that "they're heavy you know" and that it would therefore be costing me, I don't know, a whole extra 50 cents in postage. When she then went on to tell me that my not-at-all-urgent parcel would be taking a whole extra day to arrive than if I was using the 'Express' post option I started to feel a bit ratty and said as lightly as I could "oh well, it doesn't matter, its worth it". I was annoyed by the assumption that the extra 50 cents and the day's delay in parcel arrival would deter me from choosing the more environmentally friendly option - and a little saddened by the suggestion that for this lady at least, it would. Lets face it, unless you're on the street, 50 cents isn't going to break the bank, and maybe its ok if sometimes things don't happen as instaneously as they possibly could. Ok, rant over.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I got the guts to plant a garden....

Remember those straggly little 'Tomato Boobas'? Look at them now!

The last few nights The Booba has gone down to sleep with minimal protest (only to awake at midnight and howl for an hour or two, but that another story!). Anyway, this has left me with a little window of daylight to myself that I've been spending in the garden. Its turned into my favourite time of the day.

We live in a little complex of 'villas' (this word brings to mind visions of something whitewashed and far from the truth!). There is a strip of garden bed that runs along the driveway - kind of communal but really the bit opposite each property is the responsibility of that house. Our landlords are meant to look after our bit but ever since we've been here its been a fairly uninspiring, largely vacant patch of sand. A couple of weeks ago a tomato plant sprung up there - thanks to our Italian neighbour's tomatoes which last summer hung over the fence at this spot. This inspired me to try and grow other things there. Being a bit of a goody-two-shoes I was a bit nervous about it, but buoyed on by The B.H. who insists that noone will care, I've embarked on a bit of psuedo guerilla gardening. After working in some manure and other bits and pieces to try and make the sand a bit more palatable to plants, I've installed some capsicum and chilli seedlings alongside the tomato. Now I just have to remember to water them!

I'm still awaiting my parents' verdict about converting their front lawn into a vegie patch. I came across another fantastic frontyard edible garden the other day which renewed my enthusiasm. Couldn't see a lot without actually scaling the front fence (as it was I was probably pushing the bounds of etiquette!) but I made out a great swathe of silverbeet, beans and what looked like a persimmon tree.

The latest new old loot haul...

I went op-shopping with my mum and my sister last week. It really is such a fun social activity. Got a particularly great swag of really nice clothes for me and The Booba this time, along with some toys and cute antique plates (all for next to nothing, of course).

I've had a yen for sewing lately but haven't had appropriate fabric for the projects I've had in mind. Since shunning haberdashery shops my stash has been running a bit low! So I went to my favourite secondhand haunt yesterday to investigate my options. Going through the section of tablecloths, doona covers and pillow slips I discovered what amounted to vast lengths of fabric which was in great nick and often in cool retro patterns. Even came across some cloth napkins (unused, I suspect) - which helps me with my mission to break the paper napkin and tissue habit. Hurrah for secondhand!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Concerning 'Convenience'

I've raved in a previous post about the book No Impact Man (Colin Beavan) and the blog of the same name. When I enthuse to friends and family about same I tend to be met with a bit of a dubious response. I think people get the impression that by attempting to live with no impact, Colin Beavan was trying to spread the message we should all be living that way. This isn't the message I got. I think the point was to strip back the nonessential aspects of life - the trimmings, if you will - in order to actually examine what is necessary, and whether it makes us happy, and then to put things back in a mindful fashion, and not just because its 'the way we do things'.

This brings me round to today's musing....It seems to me that we often defend some environmentally unconscionable practices by saying "its convenient", when in fact it probably isn't actually all that more convenient than a more sustainable alternative - its just habit. Maybe it just takes a little bit of mindfulness to break that habit and then the new, more sustainable practice will become the new 'default mode'.

Take, for example, taking canvas bags to the supermarket. I think (hope) most of us try to do this these days at least most of the time, but there was a day when it was a bit unusual, and many people defended their use of plastic bags as more 'convenient'. But is it really that hard to stick a handful of canvas bags in the car before going to the shops? Probably not. I think the real problem was that we just used to forget all the time. Now we don't, because its a habit.

I often come across this issue when people question my use of public transport. It seems to be assumed that its such a burden to me, especially with a baby in tow. Its really not, because I'm used to it. Plus I don't have to worry about parking, petrol, traffic....and The Booba loves it (so many new faces to stickybeak at!). I was on the bus last week when I saw a heavily pregnant woman with not two, not three, not four, but FIVE other kids. Travelling in this way would be my idea of a nightmare, but from the look of the woman and children, who were all being remarkably well behaved by the way, it was clearly an everyday occurrence and really nothing to make a fuss about. Probably just as well as they'd need to own some sort of bus otherwise!

So what 'convenient' habits am I going to try to be more mindful of? Well, I'm going to start with paper napkins and tissues. For a household that carefully saves every potential bit of scrap paper, we tend to think nothing of mindlessly accepting the great wad of paper napkins provided everytime we get takeaway, for instance. Is it really that much less convenient to just use a cloth napkin at home? Well, no...especially now that I've started to sew some more. So the other night when I went to pick up our kebabs, for the first time I knocked back the napkins. Hopefully this'll soon be a habit for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A little review for you....'Who Killed Dave' by Linda Cockburn

I credit my first spark of real interest in living a bit more sustainably to a book called 'Living The Good Life - Tried and Tested Strategies for Sustainable Living' (Hardie Grant, 2006), which documents efforts made by Linda Cockburn and her family to live self sufficiently. This inspirational and at times very funny story was written with great skill, humility and warmth. So its been with great interest that I've followed Linda Cockburn's ongoing work as regular contributor to the ABC Organic Gardener Magazine, and her blog, which documents the ongoing 'good life' from a block in Tasmania where the family are building a strawbale house.

Needless to say, I was very excited to learn that Linda Cockburn had published a novel, 'Who Killed Dave?' (tOgether Press, 2009). The tOgether Press is committed to producing books with a minimal carbon footprint, by planting trees to offset emissions created by production as well as using 100% recycled paper and vegetable inks. Linda kindly offered free copies of this book to followers of her blog who were willing to review it.

So for all of the above reasons, I really wanted to love 'Who Killed Dave?'......and I did! Despite its virtuous origins, it is not, as one might expect, used as a vehicle for disseminating environmental propaganda, its just a really funny, well-written read. The main character, Robyn, is a feisty, Stephanie Plum-esque tarot card reader who gets entangled in a mess of mystery and intrigue involving the colourful characters in her street after one of them is killed in bizarre circumstances. Yes, the figures who populate this novel have clearly been crafted with a nod to inclusivity - the blind phone sex worker for one, or her African refugee friends - but not self consciously so. And with a dark and brooding cop in the picture, this book is sexy too (maybe not one for Grandma). I for one was very entertained by 'Who Killed Dave?' and I would certainly recommend it to you all. Anyone interested in chasing up their own copy should head to the tOgether Press site (see link below).

'Who Killed Dave?' cover art appears courtesy of the 'Living The Good Life' blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Regarding re-carding

Call me old fashioned, but I've always found the whole concept of regifting a bit, well...rude. Re-carding, however, is another matter entirely...A relative of mine has a birthday coming up so I wanted to send them a card today. Usually I would make a card myself...but as this particular relative is a professional artist I feel a bit self conscious sending them my own crap pseudo-artwork! Given my commitment to not purchase things like new cards, this posed a bit of a dilemma, until I rummaged around and came across a 'merrygoround' card given to me by a friend recently. These really are such a great concept - the area of the card where you write your message is fitted with a replacable slip of (recycled) paper, so that the card can be reused by removing the slip with the original message and replacing with a fresh slip of (provided) paper for your own message. Neat, huh? Some quick cutting and pasting enabled me to reuse the envelope, too. See the link to merrygoround cards below.

On a different note, in a previous post I lamented that my pledge restricted me from going out and purchasing my newly discovered 'funeral music' (ie some music I heard that I liked so much I wanted it played at my funeral). For the record, this was 'Solveig's Song' - from Peer Gynt (Grieg). Well today at the local library I was browsing through some old stock they were selling off and what did I find? A recording of Peer Gynt - for $1! (And only marginally scratched too).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I had a cool Yule

Well I have been a rather remiss blog-mama of late, haven't I? Too busy eating! Yep, thats Christmas for you. I really did have a very nice time (and don't you all love my highly original pun?). A highlight for me was that it seems that people have been taking more notice of this blog than I had thought. Some friends and family obviously went to great lengths to source recycled gifts for us for Christmas - such as a large carry bag made from recycled billboard, shown above (see link to haul below). I was really touched. And when someone recognised the paper I'd used to wrap her present as the very same paper she had used to wrap mine last year (whoops), she took it with very good grace!

One of the best things about the holiday period was that, with others around to help with the wrangling of The Booba, I got a chance to catch up on my favourite of all pasttimes - reading. My favourite holiday read was No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, published in 2009 by Piatkus. I loved this book! This writer spent one year attempting to live with minimal environmental impact in the New York City apartment he shares with his wife and baby daughter. No rubbish, no non-local food, no power, no mechanised transport....Yes, interesting! And if you expect there would be a lot of sermonising holier-than-thouness'd be wrong. Just a very frank and humble examination of modern life, and a question - does it really make us so happy that its worth the Earth? The blog of the same name is also well worth a look (see link below).

Finally, my sunflowers, when I thought they'd never stop growing (surely these plants inspired the story Jack And The Beanstalk??), have finally flowered. Pretty, huh?