21 August 2017


One too many rounds of frozen fruit at the back of the fridge and I decided it was time to replace our refrigerator.

The old fridge had served us for eleven years. It was secondhand, so had a couple of years life already before that. On average, your fridge makes up about 16% of a household's electricity use; it seems our old one accounted for between 25% and 40% of ours.

Tyson did the research and sourced us a brand new fridge that was the most efficient model we could afford. Although almost 50% bigger (inside - strangely, not 50% bigger outside) it was rated as using only about 60% as much electricity.

Note that the star ratings compare 'like products' (similar size and configuration) so are not directly comparable; also star ratings are reassessed every few years, so an old 4-star and a new 4-star are not equivalent. The important information is the red 'kWh per year' estimate - that IS directly comparable.

Initial Time: Approx 5hrs (including research, visiting the store, arranging trailer, doing pick-up and swap over)

Initial Cost: $720    

Ongoing time or cost commitment: zero time; cost saving


On the ratings alone we would anticipate saving 269kWh per year ($71 on current prices)

However, Tyson hooked up a nifty device to check how much electricity the fridges REALLY use.

We measured the old fridge for two days before unplugging it and found it used 4.8kWh in 40.5hrs - which works out at 1,038kWh per year - considerably worse than it is rated. Given that we measured in the middle of winter, it is likely that the actual number is higher than that, as the old beast would use more electricity in summer.

The new fridge, in comparison, has used 14.4kwH so far over 24 days, which is 219kWh per year - far FAR better than it is rated.

Comparing these real measured figures, we are saving 819kWh of electricity per year with the new fridge: $217 (at current prices); 672kg of CO2 (on data from 2014)

On these figures, the fridge pays for itself in 3yrs 4months. However, as I imagine the difference between the two would be greater in summer, it is likely to be even less.

But what of the embodied energy used to manufacture, transport, sell and ultimately dispose of the fridge? This academic paper by Jenessa Doherty (York University Faculty of Environmental Science, Toronto, c.2015) calculates everything from raw material extraction to the fridge reaching a customer, comparing a fridge that is approximately three times more efficient than the one being replaced, which saves 935kWh a year. She determines that the embodied energy in a new fridge equates to equates to between 2.3 and 2.9 years of electricity savings (depending on what portion of fridge is made from recycled materials, and whether there is a computer in the fridge - high in trace metals). Other websites, which were mostly much more vague, also threw around an approximate three-year figure.

This doesn't allow for disposal. However, it looks like from around November 2020, electricity savings on the new fridge will have paid off both its embodied energy and its purchase price, and it will be all savings from there on.

And that is without calculating how much less food we are now wasting as the fridge is doing its job properly at last.

(The gpo power meter cost $49 for a pack of three. We are now measuring electricity use of the computer system, washing machine and fridge. I will let you know if anything exciting results)


http://www.academia.edu/22753163/Efficient_Refrigerators_The_Embedded_Energy_Footprint_in_Modern_Technology  - Jenessa Doherty paper

www.energyrating.gov.au - Australian government website where you can compare energy ratings for specific models of a whole range of products, if you no longer have the ratings sticker that your appliance came with.

19 June 2017

Doing better on toilet paper

Time to talk toilets. Or more precisely, toilet paper.

We recently converted from using off-the-shelf recycled/ unbleached/ plantation-grown etc toilet paper to ordering from an Aussie business combining environmental sustainability, toilet paper and support for great poverty-reducing aid projects, the cleverly-name 'Who Gives a Crap'.

In addition to being made of either recycled paper, sugarcane or bamboo fibres, and being produced with less water use than most toilet paper, WGAC donates half their profits to build toilets for people don't have access to toilets. Which is 40% of the world's population.

Initial Time: fifteen minutes getting online and placing an order. 

Initial Cost: $48 for a box of 48 'double length' rolls. Orders over $30 are delivered free, and arrived very promptly. Due to a *slight* miscommunication between Tyson and I about who was ordering the toilet paper, we started with 96 rolls. But as you can see, 96 rolls of toilet paper are good for many things besides wiping bums.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: As above, repeat. 

Impact: Five years ago I wrote that Australians use 1.3 billion sheets of toilet paper a day (57 sheets per person), of which 95% was not recycled. I haven't found anything to say this has changed significantly. So the first impact is to continue ensuring we are reducing our consumption impact as much as possible on the toilet paper front.

But the more important reason for supporting WGAC is so that our consumption also contributes to improving health, life expectancy, education, women's safety and quality of life for people less fortunate than us. 

Waterborne disease is a major killer world-wide, especially of children. Every two minutes, a child dies of disease caused by not having access to clean water; every minute a newborn baby dies of infection caused by lack of clean water. Worldwide, 2.3 billion people do not have access to a toilet, and many of these defecate outside, polluting water sources used by the whole community. Women going to the toilet outside are subject to harassment. Children (especially girls) without adequate toilets are more likely to drop out of school - and 34% of the world's schools do not have adequate toilets. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half the population cannot obtain clean water, 42% of health care facilities also do not have access to clean water; in South-East Asia, a similar percentage of health facilities do not have adequate toilets. (Stats source)

WGAC claims to have donated $478,500 to sanitation projects since they launched in 2012, along with saving 30,797 trees, 74 million litres of water and 5,922 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That's something I am glad to be part of.


https://au.whogivesacrap.org/  - Who Gives A Crap main page, inc online shop and plenty of info on the product, and the way money is used to support the poor. 

http://www.wateraid.org/au - Water Aid, the main agency WGAC supports - their website also has heaps of information and links about the global sanitation crisis.

http://washwatch.org/en/ - updates on improvements in world sanitation and water access, with funky graphics

Note: We are not personally associated in any way with this company and have not been given any incentives to promote them.

28 February 2017

Make an apron from a couch (not a cow)

Tyson spends a lot of time in his shed and wanted a decent work apron.

After pricing both pre-made aprons and commercially available leather, it was looking like an expensive project. But then our neighbourhood had bulk waste and the problem was solved.

Given the number of leather couches we have seen on verges in the past six months, it seems there is at present a cultural trend to chuck them out. Perhaps the leather is irredeemably cracked or worn - but almost always only on the front. The back is often nearly two square metres of undamaged leather.

This provided all the leather Tyson needed to craft himself a beautiful apron, complete with clips salvaged from an old back pack.

Initial Time: Cutting leather from the couch down the road was a lot quicker than getting to a shop to purchase new material. Making a hand-crafted apron took many days.

Initial Cost: Two reels of heavy-duty thread and one pack of rivets (approx $15)

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero (and a LOT cheaper than buying new leather!)

Impact: Lets be honest - this action was motivated by convenience and finance, along with our commitment to recycle/ upcycle wherever possible. I won't bore you again with the figures about how much waste Australians make, but this took a big piece of leather out of landfill.

I have since done a little investigation into the environmental impacts of leather production and it seems this choice was also 'green' on several other counts. (As I am not ethically opposed to the killing of animals per se, this is not one of those counts for me, but it needs a mention as I know it is a deal-breaker for many others)

Firstly, tanning of leather involves toxic chemicals. I haven't found a solid source explaining what chemicals are used, but various (anti-leather) sites suggest formaldehyde, azocolorants, pentachlorophenol, lead, chromium, cyanide, arsenic, sodium sulfide, sodium hydroxide, sodium hydrosulfite and dimethyl amine (along with several other scary sounding compounds that when I looked them up turned out to not be toxic). Several of these are bioaccumulative heavy metals, building up in the bodies of tannery workers, the land on which tanneries are sited and the waterways that tanneries feed into. At the lower end of health concerns are skin and respiratory complaints (and that tanneries smell really bad); at the higher end are risks of blindness and up to 50% higher rates of cancer.

Then there re human rights concerns about the conditions that workers are under while producing leather - much of which reportedly comes from Bangladesh, where protections for workers are acknowledged to be poor. Many leather workers are children.

There are also concerns about excessive water use, especially when linked to also polluting waste water in ways that do not allow it to return safely to the ecosystem.

Cattle raising brings its own sustainability concerns (It should be noted that this relates particularly to more intensive forms of farming, which are less common in Australia's cattle industry, although animal rights groups believe the use of feedlots is on the increase here also). And although leather is a by-product of meat production, it is not a waste product. As meat consumption is in decline while leather consumption is increasing, it is likely at some point animals will be raised primarily for their skins rather than their meat.

There are also environmental concerns with faux leather, not least being its use of petrochemicals. Also, as it generally wears much quicker than leather, it becomes waste and needs replacing more regularly than leather products.

Both real and faux leather have the perpetual issues of energy use and pollution in production, transport, packaging and retail.

When I searched for 'recycled leather' I found either Pinterist craft ideas for reusing scraps, or options for commercially pulping scrap leather to roll into a new semi-leather product. All good, but meanwhile great big pieces of good leather are going into the bin with each bulk waste collection, as couch after couch is crushed and carried away. Get out there with your Stanley knives people and rescue some leather*!
(*from discarded couches that are clearly too worn out to be reused as couches)


A whole website dedicated to sustainable leather - talking chemicals, supply chains, waste, etc

Human Rights Watch report on tanneries in Bangladesh

Guardian article discussing environmental impact of leather vs faux leather

Shop Ethical Guide on issues in leather (although mostly quoting straight from PETA website)

RSPCA stance on leather

Someone else's blog considering these issues

Info for businesses wanting to recycle leather

31 December 2016

Gumboot pots and Paper chains

Want to make your house pretty without consuming more, find creative activities for children that don't involve buying more, and/or re-use some of the stuff around your house that is no longer wanted? Here are two ideas that do all three.

Gumboots! There are so many cool kids' ones around but, no matter how funky, they still wear out or (if you're lucky) kids grow out of them. What to do with all that rubber-plastic prettiness?

A few spring flower punnets and an hour of working together and we have had these decorating our entrance for the last two months.

Although we did buy potting mix, more than half the soil was made up of our own compost. (We have three compost tumblers and our guinea pigs contribute substantially to this enterprise!)

Five of these six gumboots drained sufficiently without any help; the sixth needed a couple of holes added. Summer has nearly killed them off now and direct sun has faded the gumboots significantly, but we may get second season out of them and meanwhile, it has been a lot more fun than just binning them.

Your children might not rip through gumboots at quite the rate we do, but if you have anyone small in your house you are certain to have a pile of kids' artwork mounting up. And old posters. Calendars. Wrapping paper. (Most people I suppose have junk mail or magazines, but we don't receive them here)

Eva got inspired to make paper chains for Christmas and it was a great use for the build-up of paper.

Because they were using their own old artworks and posters they were willing to 'repurpose' things that I had not been allowed to throw away (sneaky, huh?!).

Note the hole-punching above. If you have someone who loves hole-punching, its not a bad way to add interest to strips from old calendars while keeping those hole-punching-hands from less productive outcomes.

They both loved making the chains and I am happy to have our living room decorated by their creativity and enthusiasm.

Initial Time: Both of these activities took about an hour. That was part of the point. We have no TV and its school holidays again. Creative, engaging, sustainable activities are what we need plenty of here. (I last wrote specifically about this when Eva was quite small but if you search the labels below for 'free kids activities' there are also other places it has come up as she has got bigger)

Initial Cost: Gumboot pots: about $30 for seedlings and a bag of potting mix; Paper chains: a couple of dollars for a big box of staples.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: We will eventually have to take both these things down and they will ultimately end up in the recycling (chains) or the general rubbish (boots).

Impact: It is impossible to really calculate an impact for these activities and, to be honest, it would probably be quite small anyway. But both are little bits of a bigger picture: finding ways to reuse everything until it really is beyond use, rather than chucking it out after its first purpose; avoiding buying stuff to meet a need (and considering whether it is in fact a need at all); helping children to be creative; celebrating colour and beauty and natural things; finding the quality in our own creative effort rather than needing a professional or 'perfect' outcome (often with associated waste) in order to be happy; sharing activities together and working collaboratively on a combined project.

25 November 2016

A visit to the super composter

This 'sustainability action' was one to educate ourselves.

We were given the opportunity to join a group from Uniting Church in the City for a tour of the Neerabup 'Resource Recovery Centre', which is operated by Mindarie Regional Council. Basically, it is a huge composting plant, taking the waste from general (green lid) rubbish bins and processing it to extract organic matter and make it into usable compost.

If this doesn't sound like fun to you, ask any pre-school child how they would like to see where the bin trucks go with our rubbish.

Our small boy was beside himself with excitement; our big girl was jealous because she had to go to school instead. The word 'grapple' entered our basic vocabulary and play.

The Mindarie Regional Council serves the local government areas of Wanneroo, Stirling, Perth, Joondalup, Cambridge, Vincent and Victoria Park. However, the bulk of the waste taken to the composting facility comes from Joondalup, Vincent, Wanneroo and Victoria Park. The facility processes 100,000 tonnes of waste a year; the seven councils that make up the MRC together put about 160,000 tonnes of waste into our general rubbish bins, so quite a lot still goes straight to landfill. About 30-40% of the tonnage received at the facility comes out as compost; the non-organic remainder also ends up in landfill. So, there is still lots of behaviour-change work to be done, but 30-40,000 tonnes of compost each year diverted from landfill is a great thing.
half the giant compost tumbler - waste takes three days to get through it

Here's the page that explains how the 'Resource Recovery Facility' actually works to extract compost from general rubbish. Or here for the commercial version.

Initial Time: Half a day

Initial Cost: $10 for the bus.

Tours are offered free, but you need to book. Here's the website with details for various tour options (I have heard there is more rubbish truck action at Tamala Park landfill, if entertaining children is part of your brief). Our tour was run by the inimitable Peg Davies, who I think does a great many of them. She really knows her stuff.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Continued sorting of rubbish into regular or recycling bins, with greater attention to keeping glass and ceramics out of the regular bin.

Impact: I learnt a lot. I also found it really encouraging to see the efforts being made to keep organic matter out of landfill. It helps me to keep doing our little things when I see organisational attempts at bigger things like this.

removed section of composter
The biggest learning was the call to keep glass and ceramics out of general rubbish. Put them in the recycling, broken or not. Glass in the compost is a major problem, because it is nearly impossible to completely sieve it out. I had not taken the notices about keeping glass out of general waste very seriously, because I couldn't conceptualise how general waste could be turned into compost anyway. Now that I have seen it in action I get it: If you live in Wanneroo, Stirling, Perth, Joondalup, Cambridge, Vincent and Victoria Park DON'T PUT GLASS IN YOUR GREEN-LID BIN. Thanks.

If you are in the East Metro Regional Council - Bassendean, Bayswater, Belmont, Kalamunda, Mundaring and Swan - planning for a similar facility at Redhill is underway, aiming to be operational by 2019. So when the 'no glass' notice comes around, take it seriously! 

If you are in another area - how about writing to you local council to let them know that you think these places are a good idea?

23 September 2016

Tip Shop

As our gorgeous girl approached her 7th birthday we decided her present would be a bigger bike.

Friends had mentioned that these were often available at the tip shop, so we set off to find a suitable machine to hide in the birthday wrapping (cloth, of course - which is much easier to wrap a bike in than paper would have been!)

We found a treasure-trove of bikes and much, much more.

The inside section was much like any op-shop, only with more electrical goods and hardly any clothes. A whole rack of vacuum cleaner cords, and a multi-level shelf of cordless drills. But the yard outside had everything you could possibly imagine.

Bathroom hardware? Check.

Law mowers? Check.

Screen doors? Check.

Internal workings of a life-size dinosaur model? Check.

Initial Time: Road trip to the tip shop: half an hour each way to reach the City of Armadale's Canning Vale tip shop. Time taken walking about resisting all the other good stuff: at least an hour. 

Initial Cost: One kids' bike in good condition cost us $10. Those in poorer condition were only $5. We stored the bike at Tyson's parents for a few weeks so it would be a birthday surprise and I believe Grandad quietly did some renovation works while it was there, which likely included a small cost for materials and some time but I don't know how much.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero. However, we will be considering donating items to the tip shop in future if they are not picked up before the truck comes on chuck-out day. I would like to have someone take them off our lawn for free, but once that truck comes they are crushed into landfill refuse, so better to reclaim them and take them somewhere they could be reused.

Impact: Australians, as I have noted before, each generate around one tonne of rubbish every year. Our rate of waste generation is increasing more than six times faster than our population growth. We desperately need to turn this around. The good news is that since 2005, in most parts of Australia, the total tonnage being sent to landfill has reduced, as rates of recycling have increased over the last ten years. (April 2016 article). However, these statistics should be held cautiously as firm figures on waste are very difficult to obtain and nothing solid on the matter has come out of the ABS for over six years.

I have known people for years who pick up 'treasures' at the tip and have always privately thought this a little kooky. My mental image has been something about rummaging through dirty piles to bring home broken things. Our visit to the tip ship was enlightening: it was clean, things were sorted neatly and although some things needed repairs on the whole items were in fair to good condition.

Basically we all need to both consume less and waste less. Supporting tip shops does both.

Where to find a tip shop:

Find where your local government sends rubbish to (it may not be near to you) and check if there is a tip shop associated with it. In Perth, your options are:

Canning Vale/ Armadale Lot 600 Hopkinson Rd Hilbert, Thurs-Sun, hours vary.
Cockburn/ Henderson 920 Rockingham Rd, Fri-Sun and public holidays, 8-4pm
Tamala Park/ Mindarie 100 Marmion Ave Tamala Park, Fri-Mon, 8-4:45pm
Balcatta/ Stirling (includes a cafe) 238 Balcatta Rd Balcatta, Mon-Sun 7:30-4pm

East Metropolitan Regional Council reports they are three years into a project to expand their facility at 77 Lakes Rd Hazelmere to include a re-use store, but this does not appear to be operating as yet.

24 August 2016


I live in my jeans. I work from home and often wear jeans every day of the week.

So when all three pairs came through the same washing load recently with irredeemable holes it was a small-scale clothing crisis. I had mended and patched my jeans many times over, but they had gone beyond repair. 

I have been vaguely aware that jeans have many levels of ethical concern. I decided that as this is an item of clothing I rely on so heavily, it was time to research properly and find ethical jeans. 

According to the Shop Ethical website, there are at least six areas of potential concern around jeans: transparency in the supply chain, use of sweatshops overseas, use of underpaid Australian outworkers, forced child labour in cotton production, excessive pesticide and insecticide use in cotton production, and toxic sandblasting in preparing denim. It was quickly apparent that if I wanted to attempt an ethical purchase on all six fronts I would need to purchase from a small operator, almost certainly online. If I wanted to walk into a store and buy jeans over the counter my best option looked like being Jeanswest (pretty good on addressing labour and supply chain issues; not so good on the pesticides/insecticides/sandblasting issues). 

The options I found online that looked reasonably sound were: Kuyichi (from the Netherlands), Nudie Jeans (Sweden) and Monkee Genes (UK). Australian brands Denimsmith and Nobody Denim (both Melbourne) are each accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia. However, this considers workers pay and conditions but not broader environmental considerations.

The only problem was: none of the jeans available through these companies was a style I was prepared to wear. The trend at present is for super slim legs and I am not of a build that takes kindly to skinny styling. Where I could find some looser designs the fabric was artificially 'aged' with fake wear and tear. Having spent plenty of time patching worn or torn knees I can't come at buying clothes with holes in them, however stylishly arranged.

In the end I chose to visit an op shop. There I found jeans in a size and style that suited me. Perhaps they were originally made in sweatshops using cotton doused in pesticides and picked by child slaves, but my money did no support any of those things: it went to the St Vincent de Paul Society, who provide services for the poor. Further, by supporting op shops I am encouraging recycling of clothing, hopefully reducing the demand for the blood-sweat-and-poison soaked clothing of mainstream stores. (Is that too dramatic? Over 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 25% of its insecticides are used in growing cotton, of which jeans are made; in Uzbekistan, the world's 5th largest cotton exporter, the government enlists children as forced labour to harvest the material; thirteen other cotton-producing countries also use child labour, with children reporting health issues as a result of exposure to pesticides; silicon used in sandblasting denim causes emphysema; in sweatshops throughout Asia underpaid workers are crowded into unsafe conditions to sew Western clothing and periodically these conditions kill them)

Initial Time: researching online took a couple of hours; visiting the op shop took about half an hour. I find the lack of choice liberating: there were only about seven pairs of jeans in my size in the store; three were acceptable so I bought them. Simple.

Initial Cost: Had I been able to find a style that suited me, the online ethical options had jeans from about $100, with a wide selection around the $120 mark. Buying at an op shop is of course a cost saving. However, as I can afford to pay more than $4 for my jeans, I also made a donation to the store above the shelf price. It was still a lot cheaper than buying jeans new.

Ongoing time or cost commitment:
It is now over three years since I committed to twelve months of buying only ethical clothing for myself. In that first year I bought one jumper and a couple of bras. In both instances I used the Shop Ethical Guide to check that my purchase wasn't from a company with terrible human rights records, but I didn't got out of my way to chase up the most ethical option. I had some worthwhile conversations with shop assistants about ethics in clothing, raising issues with them that they had never had customers ask before. Those conversations were probably more important than the impact of where my dollars were spent.

Taking action about jeans is an outworking of that earlier commitment and will hopefully lead to other related actions.

Since the first year I have bought a few items from op shops, a few rounds of unconsidered underwear, and some clothes from Kathmandu (a big chain doing pretty well on several fronts: workers' pay and conditions, source of materials, and reducing packaging) and Nomad Gnome Fremantle (a local store personally sourcing from ethical small producers in Nepal). All up my 2013 commitment has, as I anticipated at the time, meant I have spent far less time and money overall on buying clothes. Never a big clothes buyer anyway, my acquisition is down to a trickle. It makes me happy not to be overfilling my wardrobe.
Nomad Gnome shirt with Op Shop jeans

It will be a few years before I need to buy jeans again, but I am committed to having another go next time at finding something ethical that I am also happy to wear, even if it means paying a little more (perhaps fashion will have changed by then). In the meantime I will tell my slender friends about the great online ethical jeans options they have available to them!

Impact: This has mostly been discussed above. I recommend the Shop Ethical Guide's discussion of ethical issues for denim (click arrows for detail on each issue) - this explains things clearly and concisely, so I have not repeated most of it here.

One area not mentioned is packaging. This is a concern of mine with online shopping, as everything seems to come packaged in plastic to ensure it arrives safely. Any store that is not producing on site is likely to use packaging in transporting goods - the more stages in the production, the more rounds of packaging. I put my unwrapped purchases in my bicycle basket to get them home: zero packaging.

And of course the carbon footprint of transporting from farm to fabric production to clothing production to warehouse (usually multiple stages of) to store is not insignificant either. Clothes at Vinnies may have been moved around the city a couple of times from donation bin to sorting centre to store, but its hardly comparable with the way new clothes criss-cross the globe, as raw materials, fabric and finished products. Opting for an op shop meant drastically reduced carbon footprint on transport and almost zero waste on packaging.